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Truth Test: Mike Johnston gets boost from Michael Bloomberg funded PAC

Our verdict? The political ad in favor of Mike Johnston needs more context on a few of the claims.
Mike Johnston Next file photo

One of the Democratic candidates for Governor is getting a big push from a political action committee that recently received a one-million-dollar contribution from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A political ad in favor of Mike Johnston, paid for by Frontier Fairness PAC, is airing on 9NEWS.

Besides that million-dollar contribution, the PAC also received a $250,000 contribution from Reid Hoffman, one of the co-founders of LinkedIn.

Frontier Fairness PAC does not have to report it's 2018 contributions and expenditures until May 7, but at the end of 2017, and prior to the Bloomberg contribution, it had $257,100.68 cash on hand.

CLAIM: "He taught in one of the poorest schools in Mississippi; moved home to Colorado to become a principal, turning around an at-risk school, helping every senior get accepted to college."


In 2005, Johnston was the director -- principal -- of Skyview Expeditionary Learning through the Arts Small High School in Thornton. In 2006, the school's name was changed to Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. He remained director of the school through 2009.

There is no fine print on the ad when this claim is made. We requested additional supporting information from Frontier Fairness PAC, and they directed us to a Westword article from 2008. It recaps a visit by then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was quoted as saying, "Just three years ago, only half of the high-school seniors who walked the halls of this building were accepted to college, but today, thanks to the hard work of caring parents, innovative educators and some very committed students, all 44 seniors of this year's graduating class have been accepted to more than seventy colleges and universities across the country."

9NEWS reached out to the school district. According to the Mapleton School District spokeswoman, the district doesn't have hard data from 10 years ago, "but can say that the counselor who helped those students get into college can confirm that all of them were accepted to university or college."

CLAIM: "In the State Senate, he passed the DREAM Act to protect immigrant kids."


College acceptance rates are not tracked by the state. However, starting in 2009, the state started tracking how many graduates each school produced and how many went to college.

The DREAM Act is a federal issue in Congress in Washington, D.C. that has never passed. It would give citizenship to those brought to the U.S. when they were kids.

In 2013, as a state Senator, Johnston was one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 33. It was known as Colorado ASSET -- not the DREAM Act. ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow) essentially provides in-state tuition for the same group of kids, as well as anyone who attends a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduating.

Under ASSET, if a student lacks legal documentation, they have to sign an affidavit saying they have applied for lawful residency or will do so once they're eligible.

CLAIM: "Passed a bill to prevent racial discrimination in the justice system."


In 2015, Johnston was the Senate sponsor of the CLEAR Act. CLEAR stands for Community Law Enforcement Action Reporting.

This legislation requires the state to put together an annual report on who's been arrested, how their court case turns out and what sentence they may have received - and that data is broken down by race/ethnicity and gender.

Here is the most recent 2016 CLEAR report, which was published in October 2017.

When the first report came out in 2015, it found a higher number of African-Americans arrested and more likely to be sentenced to prison than other races. Based on the 2015 data, African-Americans represented 4.2 percent of the state's adult population but accounted for 12.4 percent of arrests and 20.9 percent of cases sentenced.

In the 2016 report, African-Americans represented four percent of the state's adult population but accounted for 11 percent of court filings and 10 percent of cases sentenced.

The bill itself doesn't prevent racial discrimination, but it does give law enforcement and the courts data to understand what's happening based on specific metrics.

CLAIM: "Took on the NRA twice, and won."


Johnston supported two bills that tightened Colorado's gun laws, which the NRA opposed. However, any of the lawmakers who voted "yes" could be said to have "took on the NRA" and any other group that opposed the legislation.

Johnston was one of 16 Democratic Senators whose name was on House Bill 1229, which made background checks required for all gun sales, including if you selling to your best friend or to a stranger on Craigslist.

When this claim is made in the ad, it shows Johnston at the microphone in the well of the Senate Chambers. The bill being debated at that time was House Bill 1224, which limited gun magazines to fewer than 15 bullets. The bill passed the Senate 18-17, and Johnston was one of the 18 yes votes, but he didn't sponsor the bill.

These gun bills eventually led voters to recall then-Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo.


We can only base college acceptance data on the confirmation of employees at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. While we would like other hard data to cite, we trust the research provided to us by the school.

The reference to the DREAM Act is most misleading because the DREAM Act is about citizenship at the federal level, and his bill was about in-state tuition for many students, including those seeking citizenship.

His history at the state legislature is accurate, though as so often happens, needs added context to get the full picture.

Marshall Zelinger is an investigative reporter for Next with Kyle Clark. He'll be putting political ads to the Truth Test throughout the political season. If you have an ad you'd like him to review or you have another story idea, contact Marshall at marshall@9news.com.

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