10/18/2002

 

Party donations rolling in

 

Contributions  to legislative races hit record levels

 

 

By Sandra Fish

Camera Staff Writer

 

   The Democratic and Republican parties are pouring money into state legislative races in unprecedented amounts, with Democrats outspending the GOP thus far $865,123 to $481,053.

   The two parties are on track to triple the $593,918 they spent on legislative races in 2000, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics in Montana. The 2000 spending, which includes county party contributions and contributions from other candidates, totaled $251,630 for Democrats and $342,288 for the GOP.

   A Daily Camera analysis of Secretary of State's records examined only state party committee contributions to candidates.

   Spending is sure to heat up with a little more than two weeks to go before the Nov. 5 election. Two Democratic party funds created specifically for legislative candidates and several subsidiary funds had balances of more than $746,000 on Oct. 11. The Colorado Republican Committee had $163,104 in the bank on Oct. 9, according to Secretary of State filings.

   Republicans vow they won't be outspent.

   "We intend to match them dollar for dollar here at the end," said GOP Executive Director Alan Philp.

   Said Democratic spokesman Cody Wertz: "It comes down to the state Senate. They didn't think we could do it two years ago. Now they're scared. ... We're going to do what it takes to be competitive and win."

   The spending is part of each party's attempt to gain control of the House and Senate. Democrats took over the Senate by a one-vote margin in 2000, the first time in 40 years the GOP became the minority there. They're also hopeful of making gains in the House, where Republicans hold a seven-vote advantage.

   "It's a huge amount of spending," said University of Denver political science professor Dan Smith. "It's a great indicator of what's at stake over who's going to control the state Senate."

   Two of the close races the parties are focusing on involve Boulder County. Senate District 16 is one of five races that each party has poured $50,000 or more into.

   Democrat party committees have donated $105,922 to Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald's campaign to retain her Senate seat. She's returned $50,000 to pay for mailings done by the party. Republicans have kicked in $71,375 to Gilpin County Commissioner Web Sill's campaign. Those amounts don't include fliers mailed out by "education groups" attacking Fitz-Gerald's voting record. Such groups don't have to disclose how much they spend or who their financial backers are.

   Including the party money, Fitz-Gerald has raised more than $233,987 for her campaign to Sill's $120,778. Those amounts are far above the average $42,654 spent on Colorado state Senate campaigns in 2000 according to the Institute on Money in State Politics.

   In House District 11, Democrats have donated almost $30,000 to Boulder businessman Jack Pommer -- most of it this week -- while the GOP gave $1,469 to Leona Stoecker. Pommer raised $46,668 through Oct. 9, compared with Stoecker's $51,000-plus. Again, those amounts exceed the 2000 average for House races in Colorado of $16,446.

   Those races aren't the most costly, however. In Senate District 6 near Durango, Democratic Sen. Jim Isgar has tallied $378,506, according to records filed with the Secretary of State. Of that, almost $275,000 came from two Democratic Party committees. His challenger, Rep. Kay Alexander has raised $133,706, with $50,814 from the state GOP. The state GOP gave another $15,000 to Alexander's campaign Thursday.

   In Senate District 11 in Colorado Springs, Democrat Tony Marino has raised $331,215, with $239,556 coming from a state party committee. Republican Ed Jones has banked $179,817, with $120,460 from the state GOP.

   "For anyone to even consider that we don't need to be reforming the system ... $400,000 for a Senate race? That's just insanity," said Pete Maysmith of Colorado Common Cause.

   That watchdog group and the League of Women Voters are promoting Amendment 27, which would severely limit the amount of money political parties could raise and contribute to candidates. It also would limit the size of contributions to state candidates.

   The Republican Party is depending on a wide range of wealthy individuals and businesses to contribute to pay for the legislative races. GOP candidates in several Senate races also are being supported by two non-profit "education" groups that aren't required to reveal their expenditures or contributions. In Senate District 16, for instance, seven mailings slamming Fitz-Gerald, estimated to cost more than $100,000, have been sent to voters.

   "It's a good money year for them and they're going to do everything they can to win that Senate back," said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.

   To counter the GOP, Democrats are funneling money through 14 different committees. That allows individual donors and unions to give the $25,000 maximum political party contribution to more than one committee. The money is then sent to one of the three primary committees that give money to candidates.

   For instance, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America Political Action Committee donated $100,000 to four different Democratic committees Oct. 4. Other large donors include Boulder's Jared Polis, Thomas Barron and John Powers.

   The Democratic National Committee kicked in $66,668 to the state party on Tuesday, while five unions each donated $25,000 to the State Democratic Senate Campaign Fund in the last week.

   DU's Smith called the committees "clearly just conduits -- everything's perfectly legal. It's obviously stretching the law to fit their needs, to raise some cash to compete."

   Contact Sandra Fish at (303) 473-1356 or fishs@dailycamera.com.