Political campaigns seeking to elect city council candidates and pass measures on Boulder’s 2021 ballot raised about $215,000 in total this election cycle, largely to advance or block policies related to housing density and development.
That’s a light haul compared to prior years. But the 2021 city election season has been politically fraught nonetheless.
Campaigns behind city ballot measures that could increase Boulder’s occupancy limits and student housing stock raised more cash than their counterparts ahead of the Nov. 2 election, according to the city’s latest campaign finance reports.
The Bedrooms Are for People campaign, which put forward Question 300 to increase the number of unrelated people who can live together, raised $29,242. That’s almost twice as much money as the measure’s opponents raised.
And organizers behind Question 302, which seeks to block the city’s CU South agreement with the University of Colorado to build student and faculty housing and a flood mitigation project in South Boulder, pulled in $15,705. The campaign seeking to squash the measure raised $18,179.
The ballot questions — both largely dealing with housing — highlight a split between two political camps, or slates, in Boulder. More pro-growth advocates and candidates generally want more housing and density in Boulder. Their slow-growth counterparts generally want to keep neighborhoods looking the same and prefer new housing in places such as old shopping centers and empty lots.
Most candidates vying for the five seats on the nine-member council align with one of the two slates. And most raised about equal amounts of money, in part because they accepted matching funds from the city and agreed to spending limits.
These slates do not necessarily represent the diversity and the complexity of the community's views about housing and development. While most individual donors donated to only one of the slates, some donors gave to candidates and causes in both, according to campaign finance data.
The more pro-growth candidates are Matt Benjamin, a freelance astronomer; Lauren Folkerts, an architect; Nicole Speer, a researcher; and Dan Williams, a lawyer. The candidates support the measure to increase occupancy limits and generally back policies to increase housing density, such as by adding accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in neighborhoods.
Helping the pro-growth candidates raise money is The Coalition, a candidate committee aligned with several political advocacy nonprofits, including Bedrooms Are for People.
Candidates seeking what they describe as more "sensible" growth in Boulder without disrupting established neighborhoods include Steve Rosenblum, a financial manager; Tara Winer, a business owner; Mark Wallach, a council member and retired real estate developer; and Michael Christy, a lawyer.
Helping these candidates raise money is Forward Boulder, a new candidate committee co-founded by Greg Ekrem, a manager at a consulting firm. Endorsing the candidates are Safer Boulder, a nonprofit pushing city officials to increase enforcement of the city’s camping ban, and PLAN Boulder County, a slow-growth political nonprofit spearheading Question 302.
Illustrating the sometimes murky dividing line between slates, Wallach voted in support of the CU South agreement despite his endorsement from PLAN, which is fighting it. Two candidates for city council — David Takahashi, a retired software engineer, and Jacques Decalo, a sales specialist for Tesla — are running campaigns independent of the two slates.
Most donations came from people — rather than businesses — and were less than $100, mostly due to the city’s campaign finance rules. Donation limits are looser for ballot measures.
The top donor for the Bedrooms campaign was Jan McRoberts, of Reno, Nevada, who donated $5,192. John Goldsmith, an investor and director of a financial services company, was the top donor to oppose the measure, contributing $4,000.
People gave less money to Question 302. Top supporters of the measure include PLAN, which donated $1,000, and people associated with the nonprofit. Among the top donors to oppose it was Leslie Durgin, former mayor of Boulder and vice chair on the Board of Trustees for Frasier Meadows Retirement Community, which was flooded in 2013. Durgin donated $1,000.
Campaign contributions this year are significantly less than in previous years. Millions of dollars poured into the 2013 fight over creating a city-owned electric utility and the 2016 battle over a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.
But the election has been contentious nonetheless, particularly the race for Boulder City Council.
Rosenblum, a candidate, filed a civil complaint against community organizers for allegedly coordinating a "smear campaign" to "defame him for their collective political gain.” In a recent court filing, organizers argued the lawsuit was intended to intimidate them from exercising their First Amendment rights. Organizers associated with The Coalition later filed a campaign finance complaint alleging Rosenblum didn’t report expenses associated with the lawsuit as a campaign expenditure, among other allegations.
Separately, opponents of Question 302 filed a complaint alleging campaigners supporting the measure violated Boulder's elections code by not disclosing top donors on advertisements.