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Who do developers want to be Denver’s next mayor? Here’s what public data shows (Local Tips & Reviews)

Denverite readers have regularly been asking: Do developers and the real estate industry have a preferred candidate in the mayor’s race?

We looked at the city’s publicly available data that shows direct contributions made by individuals or entities to candidates and Independent Expenditure Committees (IECs) — groups separate from official campaigns that advocate for or against candidates.

If financial contributions mean support, the answer to “Who are developers backing?” is pretty clear: Kelly Brough, the former head of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

While the real estate industry has peppered campaigns with contributions, the IEC that is backing Brough has been flooded with hundreds of thousands in development and real-estate donations — strongly suggesting that she’s the industry pick.

The committee raising money to promote Brough is called A Better Denver — not to be confused with the IEC supporting Chris Hansen, A Better Denver!, which is less funded and has an exclamation mark in its name.

Kelly Brough speaks during a mayoral debate at Regis University. Feb. 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Brough’s supporters have donated more than $934,000 to the committee, most of which has come from developers and the real estate industry. The IEC supporting Brough, though, is in second place to the one backing former state Senator Mike Johnston, which has received more than $1.7 million, mostly from out-of-state backers.

The IEC backing state rep. Leslie Herod trails the one supporting Brough by more than $766,000.

Johnston has lagged in developer and real estate support, but Advancing Denver, the IEC supporting him, did get $779,803.98 from California tech mogul and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.

Plus, that IEC has been raising mightily from investors, hedge-fund managers and other out-of-state tech-industry leaders, along with DaVita’s former CEO Kent Thiry.

Candidate committees are legally prohibited from having ties to IECs. Brough said she could not say whether the committee is making promises to developers for political favor in exchange for contributions.

“The Independent Expenditure Committee operates separately from my campaign,” Brough noted in a statement. “We don’t have any control or over what the IE does or doesn’t do or what contributions they take or don’t take.”

The head of the IEC, Lynea Hansen (no relation to candidate Chris Hansen), told Denverite no promises have been made.

Lynea Hansen spent 2003 to 2009 working for the Kenney Group, the lobbying firm run by Brough’s longtime partner David Kenney — a political heavyweight. Denverite has previously reported about Kenney’s influence in the city and how he would need to step back from business with the city if Brough is elected mayor.

Kenney’s company has worked on behalf of multiple developers — including Llyod “Cal” Fulenwider, one of the Brough IEC’s largest donors. But Lynea Hansen’s own firm has also worked with Fulenwider to throw the company’s 50th-anniversary party, so she has her own relationship with him.

“I started my own firm after I left [Kenney’s firm], and honestly, I haven’t even talked to David in like 10 years,” Lynea Hansen said. “So no. No tie. No nothing. He’s not helping the IE. One, I don’t know if that’d be illegal, but it certainly wouldn’t be very, like, within the spirit of the law.”

Does Kenney influence who gives to the IE? Denverite asked.

“I gotta be honest, I don’t even know who David has as clients anymore,” Lynea Hansen said.

When she tried to look it up, she found the company’s website was down for maintenance.

She also said she has not spoken with Brough during the campaign, and Brough said the same.

These are the industry groups giving to the IEC backing Brough and to other candidates in the race, including City Council.

A Better Denver’s three top donations listed in public records come from the National Association of REALTORS Fund out of Chicago, totaling $450,000. The local chapter, the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, has endorsed Brough for mayor and has asked for those donations to be made, said Lynea Hansen. The national group declined to comment on the contributions.

Real estate developer Fulenwider — of the Fulenwider real-estate dynasty — gave $50,000 to the Brough committee, and L.C. Fulenwider Inc. gave $20,000 to it. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Associated General Contractors of Colorado Building Chapter — the state’s trade group for commercial builders — has given $37,500 to the IEC backing Brough. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.

Denver railroad and real estate tycoon Patrick Broe has given $25,000 to the IEC backing Brough. Broe did not respond to requests for comment.

Construction company Adolfson & Peterson’s employees have given 13 donations of $500 to her campaign. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

The group has also received thousands from Zocalo Construction, Shames Makovsky Realty and City Street Investors — none of whom responded to requests for comment.

The landlord trade organization the Apartment Association of Metro Denver contributed $25,000 to the IEC backing Brough, along with donations to her campaign.

But the group’s Small Donor Committee also spread its political contributions throughout the field and has not committed itself to one specific candidate yet.

Had the association had unlimited resources, it would have spread IE funding more evenly, said Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Drew Hamrick. Giving so much to Brough was largely a matter of timing and limited resources, Hamrick added.

The association wrote two $5,000 checks to campaigns, one to Brough and another to Chris Hansen, and another $3,000 check to at-large City Council candidate Tim Hoffman.

The landlord group gave $2,000 contributions to mayoral candidates Debbie Ortega, Andy Rougeot and Johnston, along with District 10 candidate Chris Hinds, District 4 candidate Diana Romero Campbell, District 9 candidate Darrell Watson, District 7 candidate Flor Alvidrez, District 8 candidate Brad Revere and District 2 incumbent Kevin Flynn.

And the association gave $1,000 contributions to Amanda Sawyer and auditor candidate Erik Clarke.

So what do Brough supporters say it means that their candidate receives serious developer, landlord and real-estate industry support?

Hamrick says that donations from the Apartment Association suggest that supported candidates have messages aligned with the group’s values: They oppose rent control, they support capitalist, free market solutions, they want Denver to unwind the Expanding Housing Affordability rules that he says deter new developments, and these candidates are definitely not socialists.

As for Apartment Association-backed candidates, “Their talking points are winning more housing units, and we need policies to break the backlog in the permitting area to do that,” Hamrick said.

The pitch A Better Denver and Lynea Hansen have been making is that Brough is the candidate who can get things done in the city, whether it comes to public safety or ensuring Community Planning and Developing functions. As former Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, Brough has deep experience keeping the city going, Lynea Hansen said, and she’s earned trust for that.

“I think you’re seeing donors support us who need things to work inside of the city, whether it’s those who are concerned about safety — who want to make sure that our cops are on the streets, whether you’re seeing those who want to make sure that Community Planning and Development continues to function,” she said.

But not everybody sees so much developer support as a good thing — or particularly relevant.

For YIMBY Denver, a policy group that pushes for the creation of new housing and that has endorsed Johnston, the organization doesn’t pay much attention one way or the other to those donations.

“Developers know the housing market as much as anyone else,” said Chris Miller of YIMBY Denver. “Some of them really do want to see more housing built in a way that is good for neighborhoods. And they see the value of more and better neighborhoods for everyone.”

Terese Howard, a longtime Denver homelessness advocate with Housekeys Action Network Denver, said developer contributions are a red flag.

“It means that the candidates are going to listen to the interest of developers when they make policy decisions about what happens to city properties or other properties,” she said.

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