BIDLACK: Is local money greener?

Author: Hal Bidlack - January 23, 2018 - Updated: January 23, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Both major parties have what might be called an embarrassment of riches when it comes to candidates running to replace John Hickenlooper as Colorado’s next governor. Some are rich, some are embarrassments (your own partisanship can decide which is which), but there appear to be quality candidates on both sides.

Colorado Politics recently ran a story about former state Sen. Mike Johnston’s significant success in fundraising through the end of 2017.  Two other Democratic candidates, Jared Polis and Cary Kennedy, also appear to be doing well in fundraising. Congressman Polis, of course, has an advantage in being independently wealthy (something that I would think would appeal to Republican voters, given his success in the private sector. But for some reason, I have my doubts…).  On the GOP side, Walker Stapleton has done very well, as well, in fundraising, which is impressive, given that he decided he must also work an outside job, as he judges his state salary of $68,500 is not enough. Quality time management.

Full Disclosure: I know both Mr. Polis and Ms. Kennedy a bit, and I am tremendously impressed with both. I only know Mr. Johnston from sitting next to him at a political dinner last year, but he was also quite impressive. As a Democrat, I’m delighted by the quality of the candidates being fielded.

But that does, of course, lead back to an issue I raised (note that clever turn of phrase) in a column here some months ago, about the horror that is raising money for a campaign. Those running for our state’s highest office can only accept a max of $575 in the primary and another $575 in the general election.  While $575 is a chunk of change, when you consider the costs of running for statewide office in 2018, those donation limits don’t buy too much. It’s good to be rich, of course, and be able to self-finance, though Mr. Polis has donated far less to himself ($630,000) than has GOP candidate Victor Mitchell, who the same CP story reports opened his campaign bank account with a personal donation of $3 million, as a starter.

Money in politics is very troubling, most folks agree, and that includes the candidates. I assure you that there are many, many things more fun than spending hours each day on the phone begging for the money needed to get your message out. Things that are more fun include: dinner with friends, shoveling snow, and root canals. And so I thought it was interesting that the story on Mr. Johnston highlighted the fact that nearly 60 percent of his donors were from Colorado. There seems to be a norm in politics that local money is somehow “greener” and better than money from non-local sources. But I would like to offer a couple of thoughts as to why that may not be the case, as least part of the time.

First off, with a donation limit of $1,150 for both the primary and the general elections, no candidate is going to be “bought” by any such donation.

And, by the way, candidates are not “bought off” with donations, at any level, with very few exceptions, but that thought must await a future column. I’m a tease.

Anyway, if you are running for governor, you are going to get lots and lots of donations in the $25-$50 range, and some at the max limit. You are going to be fundraising all the time, which to some degree undercuts the reason for such limits in the first place, but again, future column!

Secondly, do you truly, really care where that $575 came from? Is it better from Steamboat than from Seattle? Here’s the ugly truth — the first people you call for donations are your friends, family, college alums, etc., from around the U.S. And there are people who donate out of state because they think it can make a difference elsewhere that it can’t at home (see Democratic donors in El Paso County). I myself got nice donations from the Denver/Boulder area, where there are more Dems than where I live.

So, ultimately, if you believe that money buys candidates, in $575 chunks, you might care where the money comes from. But if you are more realistic, I posit that the real problem is the larger role of money in campaigns, and not the locality of the donor. And that, most definitely, is an important discussion for our state and our nation.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

One comment

  • Mark W.

    January 26, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Partisan article about partisan election funding fails to mention the greatest independent Constitutional hero so far in the race, no surprise there. Neither dems nor GOP have any support for anything other than another partisan-controlled puppet in Colorado’s Statehouse. As usual, both parties of oligarchs will back their chosen puppet-cutouts, and it will leave Constitutional-minded Coloradans once again in the independent lurch seeking some honest local Constitutional leadership. GLIMMER OF HOPE on the Orange-tinged horizon: if Trump upset GOP’s nat’l applecart – maybe Tancredo can do the same here!!

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