Dark money has a way of creeping into political races of late in Colorado, especially shortly before ballots are sent out to voters. This year, the dark money is being funneled into the intra-party June 25, 2024 primary races, not just in the November general election. In addition to the routine campaign contributions, which are quite large by comparison to past primaries, wealthy outside sources are using dark money to target primary Democratic candidates against each other.

Dark money refers to “political contributions received from donors whose identities are not disclosed. Dark money can have a significant influence on elections, particularly when used by ‘independent expenditure’ groups … that are legally permitted to receive and spend an unlimited amount of contributions.”  Independent expenditures (IEs) are often hard to identify on public financial records as their titles are often misleading and do not reference the candidates they are supporting. The individual donors or groups connected to the dark money usually have allegiances to a core set of issues, values and/or beliefs. 

A notable election contest with dark money involves Colorado’s District 2 State Board of Education race between Democrats Kathy Gebhardt and Marisol Rodriguez. Rodriguez entered the race in late April, five months after Gebhardt. As of June 5, 2024, the “hard” money from contributions listed on Tracer indicate that Gebhardt had raised almost twice the amount of money as Rodriguez from individuals and several teachers’ organizations, as Gebhardt has the endorsement of CEA, the state teachers’ organization. 

However, between May 24 and through June 5, 2024, Rodriguez received over $560,000 from Progressives Supporting Teachers and Students, an independent expenditure which according to Tracer is funded in part by the Colorado League of Charter Schools political action group (CLCS action). While all the sources for this newfound dark money are unknown, the Tracer website provides ten separate documents to show that the money from groups like CLCS Action is used to support Rodriguez and to oppose Gebhardt.


The dark money is used in an extensive marketing campaign including TV and newspaper ads, digital ads, mailers, and phone calling. The digital ads state “Gov. Polis endorsed her for the state board and Colorado teachers support Marisol Rodriguez” and mailers state that Rodriguez “will stand up to MAGA Republicans.”

What is the reason for this historic influx of money for a single candidate in a state board of education primary race? While there are three other elections for state board members this November, the District 2 race seems to be pivotal in ensuring that a majority of state board members support charter school priorities.

Gov. Jared Polis is highlighted on Rodriguez’ website and on her mailers as being solidly behind her candidacy.  Polis has been vocal about his strong support for charter schools, and he was instrumental in helping to ensure the defeat of a recent effort to enact charter school accountability legislation. The Colorado League of Charter Schools’ fiscal support for Rodriguez’ candidacy is indicative of their goals to have a favorable voice on the state board if issues arise regarding charter school approval or authorization. 

Since 1998, the Colorado League of Charter Schools received over $12 million from the Walton Family Foundation. The Walton Family foundation has supported charter school expansion for decades, providing over $400 million for charter schools. Marisol Rodriguez worked for the Walton Family Foundation and the National Alliance of Charter Schools before starting her own company, Insignia Partners, which provides consulting services to several charter school organizations. The Walton Family Foundation also gave over $15 million to the National Alliance for Charter Schools.

While neither candidate mentions charter schools on their website, Rodriguez’ website states she “believes there is no one-size-fits-all approach to education and that students and families should be able to attend public schools that best meet their needs.” This belief aligns with the recommendations of Governor Polis urging parents to use the choice system to attend schools outside their neighborhood, such as a charter school.

The designated filing and registered agents for the Progressives Supporting Teachers and Students IE are Kyle DeBeer and Noah Stout, and they use 40 North Advocacy and the Tyson organization to produce the ads for the Rodriguez campaign. Kyle DeBeer works for the Colorado League of Charter schools as the Vice President of civic affairs.  “He also serves as the executive director of CLCS Action, the League’s partner 501(c)(4) organization.”

In 2023, DeBeer wrote that “CLCS Action is engaging directly with voters in a number of school districts around the state to support school board candidates who value public charter schools and ensuring access to high-quality public school options.” 40 North Advocacy is a public relations firm that has worked with CLCS Action in the past to promote various candidates. The Tyson organization produces strategic voter contact solutions and Polis was one their clients when he was in Congress.

Noah Stout is a member of the Montbello Organizing Committee, a group that receives money through various foundations that support charter schools, including the Gates Foundation and RootEd, which operates with over $40 million from City Fund, a billionaire-funded organization dedicated to the expansion of charter schools nationwide.  Stout was the attorney for the DSST charter network of schools in Denver. In 2022, he alerted voters that “the Colorado State Board has the power to overturn individual district decisions on charter schools, including when they overturned the DPS decision to deny the opening of DSST: Noel High School.”

Will this late in the campaign influx of half a million dollars in ads with Governor Polis impact the voting results on June 25? District 2 voters will need to decipher the messaging for a candidate who is so heavily funded with outside dark money. They will want to consider the experiences and backgrounds of both candidates, examine the issues, review the candidate’s endorsements, and then decide who they believe will best represent their local values about public education on the Colorado State Board.