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Group tied to Kent Thiry drops $1.1 million into Colorado legislative primaries in final days before election

The money from Let Colorado Vote Action targets 13 races and supports more moderate Democratic and Republican candidates in their races against their more liberal or conservative opponents
Voters cast their ballots at Augustana Lutheran Church on Nov. 8, 2023, in Denver. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

A group tied to Kent Thiry, the wealthy former CEO of the Denver-based dialysis giant DaVita, is spending nearly $1.1 million on TV and digital ads in 13 state legislative races in the days leading up to Colorado’s primaries on Tuesday.

The money supports more moderate Democratic and Republican candidates in their races against their more liberal or conservative opponents.

Let Colorado Vote Action, a state-level super PAC, was created Monday and spent the money Wednesday on ads that were to begin Thursday. The committee reported the spending Friday night, meeting a 48-hour campaign finance disclosure deadline in the lead-up to the primary.

The spending comes as most voters have yet to cast their ballots in Tuesday’s primaries. Through midnight Thursday, only about 534,000 of the state’s 3.9 million eligible voters had cast their ballots.

The source of the super PAC’s cash won’t be reported until July 1, nearly a week after the primary, when state campaign finance reports are next due. But Thiry confirmed his connection to the group in a statement Saturday morning to The Colorado Sun.

“It’s time for many of us to stand up for the majority in the middle,” he said. “We are supporting responsible candidates in each party who believe in civil and bipartisan behavior and who believe they represent all the voters in their districts. We are proud to tell their stories.”

Jason Bertolacci, Thiry’s chief of staff, is the registered agent for Let Colorado Vote Action. He didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Saturday morning.

The super PAC shares almost the exact same name as a nonprofit – Let Colorado Vote – that has been operating for roughly a decade. The group’s 2023 tax filing shows its board members include Thiry and Bertolacci.

Thiry has donated to a few state-level super PACs this election cycle, including $60,000 to Ready Colorado Action and $35,000 to Weld Strong, which both support more moderate Republican legislative candidates. In the past, Thiry has spent millions supporting Colorado candidates and ballot measures aimed at changing the state’s tax system, redistricting process and elections system.

Thiry, who is registered as an unaffiliated voter, is pursuing a ballot measure in November that would change the state’s election system further. Most of his political efforts have been aimed at moderating politics.

The money spent by Let Colorado Vote Action boosts the total state-level super PAC spending in Colorado’s legislative primaries so far this year to nearly $5.4 million, and it makes Let Colorado Vote Action the top super PAC spender.

The vast majority of the super PAC spending – 81% – has been spent on Democratic contests as Democrats are expected in the election this year to maintain their vise grip on the state House and Senate.

The Let Colorado Vote Action ads being run for Democratic candidates say they will “work to make housing and health care more affordable, to support teachers and students and to fight for democracy.” The group’s ads supporting Republican candidates say they will “fight higher taxes and fees and protect the citizen’s initiative process.”

Here are the Democratic candidates supported by Let Colorado Vote Action and how much money the group has spent on TV and digital ads to help them win:

  • $150,000 supporting former federal immigration judge Cecelia Espenoza in her House District 4 primary challenge of state Rep. Tim Hernández. The district is based in north Denver.
  • $150,000 supporting Aurora Public Schools Board Member Michael Carter in House District 36 primary race against Bryan Lindstrom an APS teacher and union activist.
  • $150,000 supporting state Rep. Lindsey Daugherty in her Senate District 19 primary with Westminster City Councilman Obi Ezeadi. The district is based in Denver’s northwest suburbs.
  • $100,000 supporting Denver attorney Sean Camacho in his House District 6 primary challenge of Rep. Elisabeth Epps. The district is in central Denver.
  • $100,000 supporting Lakewood City Councilwoman Rebekah Stewart in her House District 30 primary against Kyra deGruy Kennedy, a political consultant who used to work in health care. deGruy Kennedy’s husband, Chris, currently represents the district at the Capitol.
  • $50,000 supporting Ethnie Trieck, a former lobbyist for Xcel Energy, in her House District 52 primary against Yara Zokaie, a tax attorney. The district is centered on Fort Collins.
  • $50,000 supporting state Rep. Judy Amabile in her Senate District 18 primary against Jovita Schiffer, an education consultant. The district is based in Boulder.
  • $30,000 supporting Aurora attorney Idris Keith in his Senate District 28 primary race with state Rep. Mike Weissman. The district is based in Aurora.

“This isn’t about moderates vs. progressives,” said Kyra deGruy Kennedy. “It’s about the way unlimited campaign spending corrupts democracy. A system that allows multimillionaires, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies to flood our elections in an attempt to buy candidates that will be friendlier to their bottom line is not democracy.”

Here are the Republican candidates supported by Let Colorado Vote Action and how much money the group has spent on TV and digital ads to help them win:

  • $125,000 supporting state Rep. Lisa Frizell in her Senate District 2 primary in Douglas County, where she is running against Tim Arvidson, who works in the technology industry.
  • $75,000 supporting state Sen. Larry Liston in his Senate District 10 primary against two other Republicans – David Stiver and Rex Tonkins. The district is based in Colorado Springs.
  • $50,000 supporting Max Brooks in his House District 45 primary against youth minister Bill Jack. The district is in Douglas County.
  • $30,000 supporting state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer in her Senate District 23 primary with Natalie Abshier, who ran unsuccessfully in 2021 for the St. Vrain Valley School Board. The district is in Weld County.
  • $20,000 supporting rancher J. Mark Roeber in House District 58 in southwestern Colorado, where he is running in the primary against Larry Suckla, a retired firefighter.

Let Colorado Vote Action says its purpose is to support candidates “working to protect democracy in Colorado and who believe elections belong to voters, not political parties.”

Thiry is backing a ballot measure being pursued for the November election that would ask voters to change Colorado’s state and federal elections to make it so candidates of all parties run against each other in the primaries, with the top four vote-getters advancing to a ranked choice general election. The changes, which are similar to the system that’s now used in Alaska, would take effect in 2026.

But lawmakers, in the final days of the 2024 legislative session, passed a little-noticed amendment to an election bill that would delay – potentially indefinitely – the changes if they were approved by voters. The amendment would require that a dozen municipalities in counties with certain demographics use ranked choice voting in their elections before it could be used statewide and the new primary system would go into effect.

Thiry and other supporters of the ballot measure were unaware of the amendment until contacted by The Sun, after which they launched a campaign to persuade Gov. Jared Polis to veto the measure.

Polis expressed frustration with the clause – added at the behest of county clerks and progressive groups – and said it may violate the state constitution. But he signed the measure anyway earlier this month, with a vow to repeal the provision and find a way to implement ranked choice voting in Colorado by 2028.

Supporters of the initiative have until Aug. 5 to collect about 125,000 vote signatures to place their measure on the November ballot.

Editor’s note: The Thiry O’Leary Foundation, which is run by Kent Thiry and his wife, Denise O’Leary, has been a financial supporter of The Colorado Sun. Donors have no influence over editorial decisions.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.