top of page

UPDATE 4: How Dark Money Influences Loveland Elections

Writing and design by Jessica Schneider, Editor

Research by Doug Luithly, Contributor

The Loveland Voice

October 24, 2023 (updated October 25, November 4, and November 10, 2023)


NOTE: This update includes a new spreadsheet with information that was not publicly released until 3:42 p.m. on Election Day, November 7th.


When Doug Luithly was a candidate for City Council in 2021, he was too busy fundraising and knocking on every door in his Ward in the months leading up to election day to dig into campaign financing. He was trying to meet every resident he hoped to represent.


“I walked three hours a day from June until election day in November,” said Luithly.

Despite the longtime Loveland resident’s rigor, he ultimately lost the race to his opponent.


After the election, Luithly began to research local election financing in Loveland. That’s when he discovered that more than $113,000.00 dollars of “dark money” was poured into the election, although he didn’t benefit from it.


“You know the anger emoji, right? That’s how I felt,” said Luithly. “It just blew me away. There was no way a normal candidate without that financial advantage could compete.”


“These contributions tend to pop up in the final 30 days of the election cycle,” Luithly added. Voting day in Loveland is just 14 days away, so it is a good time to examine dark money as it begins to pour into some candidates' coffers.


I reached out to Luithly for help researching current candidate fundraising and donations as we approach the Nov. 7th election deadline. He created this spreadsheet (updated November 8th) from his research into the current Loveland Coordinated Election. It listed all of the candidates, what funding they have received, and from where. (This analysis is current as of November 8th, and will be updated with final reports, so please bookmark this page and return for updates in the coming weeks).


What is “Dark Money”?

Dark money is funding that comes from individuals or corporations to political action committees that are not required to disclose their donors. Those committees then use the money to support candidates whose cooperation, and votes, they will need to achieve their goals. 


The money can come from anywhere, even outside of the United States. The ability to do this is a result of the 2010 Supreme Court decision commonly referred to as, “Citizens United,” which decided that, under the Constitution, corporations have a right to free speech, and dark money is, apparently, free speech. ( I highly recommend watching the documentary “Dark Money,” for a compelling investigative dive to see how dark money influence has played out in Montana, and how residents fought back).


Also, while most candidates are aware of who is giving them this extreme financial advantage, they don’t necessarily have to approve or accept the support. Our research into dark money contributions from Advancing Northern Colorado (ANC)  in 2021 and 2023, thus far, appear to support a “slate” of candidates, all of whom are likely Republicans at the time that they ran.


This year*, there were two new independent expenditure committees, “Building Loveland Together,” (BLT), and Brighter Colorado Futures (BCF). These are also dark money conduits, but unlike ANC, BLT and BCF supported a single candidate, Don Overcash and Andrea Samson, respectively.




Campaign Rules for Candidates Are Different

In Loveland, the maximum donation you can make to a candidate committee, or a committee for an individual candidate, is $19.99 without your name being publicly listed. The maximum amount you can donate to any one candidate is $130.


There are ways around this, of course. One of the most striking examples I have found is this list 16 $130 donations to Don Overcash’s mayoral run in 2021…. All are from different LLCs with addresses located at 2725 Rocky Mountain Ave, Suite 200, which is also the address of McWhinney: Real Estate Investment and Development. This email exchange between Overcash and Troy McWhinney, Chief Investment Officer & Co-Founder, appears to connect these multiple donations to his campaign.


Above: The Dark Money “scorecard,” updated November 10th, 2023. Only one dark money recipient was elected to City Council.

Loveland’s Charter 

While Dark Money support for candidates has grown tremendously in elections through the United States since the Citizens United decision, local communities can make some rules that limit their impact. Loveland’s charter is vague around who or what can support a candidate’s committee, but Fort Collins, our neighbor to the north, has taken steps to limit how candidates can receive funding.


Campaign rules in Fort Collins, for instance, prohibit political parties from supporting candidates. Loveland’s charter does not prohibit such activities. According to several sources, it was an “unwritten rule” that neither the Democratic or Republican parties in Larimer County would support candidates. That is, until 2021, when the LCRP paid for ads supporting Republican candidates in the The Loveland Reporter-Herald. Fort Collins also caps contributions to individual candidate committees at $100. (Note that our City Council is, according to our charter, a nonpartisan body).


*Follow along as reporting forms are updated for each candidate during 2023 election, here. (For reporting from “Advancing Northern Colorado,” and “Building Loveland Together,”and “Brighter Colorado Futures” (the committees pouring huge amounts of dark money into some candidate campaigns) you will need to scroll all the way to the bottom.  


I reached out to all current members of Loveland City Council for comment on whether or not they accept dark money contributions, and how they make those decisions. As of this publication we have not received comment. 


I also reached out to City Clerk DeLynn Coldiron to ask why contributions to candidates from dark money PACs, such as ANC and BLT, aren’t grouped with contributions to individual candidates, and if the City could organize this information to allow the public to more easily understand how much money each candidate is receiving in total. Coldiron responded that there are no regulations that require candidates to report contributions from ANC or BLT, and that because ANC supports more than one candidate, it would be difficult to organize that information.


Coldiron responded to my question about why BLT, which solely supports Overcash’s campaign for Mayor, as opposed to an issue or slate of candidates, isn’t considered a candidate committee.


“A Political Committee comes together for the purpose of making contributions to candidate committees, issue committees or other political committees for the purpose of making independent expenditures.  Independent expenditures are for the purpose of advocating the election, defeat or recall of a candidate.”


We’ve compiled a list of questions that residents can ask the candidates campaigning to represent you. We welcome you to use them, and share them, with attribution.


Question guide for residents who want to learn more about how a candidate is funded:
  • How much funding have you raised during your campaign?

  • How much was raised from individual contributions?

  • Are you receiving any campaign funding or support from issue-based expenditure committees, or political action committees?

  • What issues do those committees support?

  • Do you know where their money is coming from? Is that important to you?

  • Did you accept that support, or was it provided without your knowledge?

  • Where can I find your financial reports for this campaign? When will they be updated?

  • Do you have any personal thoughts about the influence of dark money in our elections? Do you think they are good for the community?

Comments


bottom of page