My pal Mark Matthews of the Denver Post broke the story this week that non-gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton has a big non-campaign fundraiser on Aug. 21 at a rich executive’s house in Cherry Hills Village.
Mark got his hands on an invitation that is officially a fundraiser for the Republican-back Better Colorado Now independent expenditure committee, which put Stapleton’s name on the invitation in big cursive letters as a “special guest.”
How special? Very special. Stapleton hasn’t even officially announced he’s running.
Look, folks, let’s talk like political adults. Focusing on money in politics is like marveling at the existence of pirates while they’re coming ashore. That ship has sailed. Thinking there’s anything odd about a super PAC is akin to thinking bake sales and little old ladies writing $5 checks get politics done.
In 2014, days before the election, incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had raised about $5.4 million to Republican Bob Beauprez’s $1.7 million. Beauprez loaned his campaign $844,000 and still couldn’t get to half the Democratic war chest. The governor held on by 3 points on Election Day.
But neither of those totals include the help of independent expenditure committees, those supporters who can give more as a group but don’t theoretically (or legally) work with the campaigns.
“This host committee represents job creators from all parts of Colorado’s economy, big businesses to small, oil and gas to technology,” political strategist Andy George, the director of Better Colorado Now, told Colorado Politics. “These leaders are coming together because they understand the importance of 2018 and are committed to beating Jared Polis and his mountains of cash.”
The real story is how major a player Stapleton appears to be based on the turnout of supporters to his non-campaign.
There’s been some question about where the Republican money is sitting. Democratic gubernatorial fund-raising promises to be robust with Jared Polis in the race. The tech millionaire from Boulder is the second-richest member of Congress, and he has rich liberal friends who helped turn red-state Colorado purple a decade and a half ago. That’s a Democratic money bomb waiting to drop.
In the most recent fundraising quarter, the top three Democrats raised close to $1 million combined, and Polis accounted for a misleadingly modest $274,000. The top three Republicans barely cracked $400,000.
Stapleton’s Aug. 21 party represents a big pile of money from conservative Colorado supporters who have it, as well as wield influence beyond their own checkbooks in the donor class.
Better Colorado Now has retained Jeff Roe and his firm Axiom Strategies, campaign manager for Ted Cruz’s presidential run last year. Cruz was the last man standing to Trump, and received all of Colorado’s delegates to the Republican National Convention last year — where the delegation walked out on Trump.
Matthews reported that Better Colorado Now had collected about $123,000 as of June 30, with $25,000 from August Busch III, former CEO of the Anheuser-Busch.
The Post also noted the support of Lanny Martin, who raised money for Cynthia Coffman when she ran for attorney general in 2014. Coffman is said to be considering the governor’s race, as well, so Martin in Stapleton’s camp could throw doubts or hurdles in Coffman’s path.
Maffei and Mizel were co-chairs for Mitt Romney’s presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. A third co-chair was Doug Robinson, Romney’s nephew who is an announced candidate for governor.
If this is Stapleton’s pack, he has some big dogs with bite.
The list of hosts and co-hosts represents the largest, single collection of money and power we’ve seen behind any (non-)candidate this early in a primary in some time, including the current governor.
Stapleton’s financial debutante ball is at the home of Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei in Cherry Hills Village.
The Denver Post reported last year Maffei earned $29.3 million, but a far tumble from the $124.2 million he made in 2014. Still, one doubts the Stapleton fundraiser will serve cocktail sausages and hand out red cups for a keg.
But if Maffei goes in that direction, Marilyn and Pete Coors can bring the suds, but don’t put them too close to John Elway’s backyard cornhole game.
The named attendees include Denver real estate emperor and philanthropist Larry Mizel, as well as Tracksuit Wedding singer Libby Anschutz and her husband, Comcast executive Jeff Allen.
Another big, bold-faced host is Jim Nicholson, now a senior counsel in Washington, D.C., for Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck, but a major player in national Republican politics. He is the former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs knighted in 2003 for his work on human rights by Pope John Paul II.
Stapleton, after all, is a cousin to the presidential Bush family.
Other hosts are Mark Falcone; Ann and Tad Herz; Margie and Dave Hunter; Teresa and Michael Leede; Gretchen and Kent McAlister; Shelly and Rick Sapkin; Jenna and Joe Slavik; Greg Stevinson; Alicia and John Tlapek; Betsy and Terry Considine; Ann and Joe Ellis; Molly and Gregg Engles; Lolly and David Garcia; Sarah and Chris Hunt; Holly and Jeremy Kinney; Sharon and Lanny Martin; David McReynolds; Anne and Mathew Osborn; Brooke and Luke Simpson; George Solich; Patty and Mike Starzer; and Roxanne and Fred Vierra.
The other co-hosts are Caryn and Brian Deevy; Amy and Scott Fisher; Maureen and John Kechriotis; Dave Keyte; Christine and Andrew Light; Eileen and Tate McCoy; Shereen and Michael Pollak; Dean Dowson; Christine and Andy Fedorowicz; Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld; Walt Kellogg
Alysa and Ron Levine; Tanya and Scott Maierhofer; Randi and Barclay Miller; and Joe Smith.