Colorado US senator setting record fundraising pace |

Colorado US senator setting record fundraising pace

Burt Hubbard
The Denver Post
Denver, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado “-Michael Bennet’s record U.S. Senate fundraising pace is built on out-of-state donations, Colorado donors concentrated in Denver, and well-heeled associates from his past endeavors in politics and business.

It’s a tried-and-true formula for neophyte politicians, especially those in swing states defending Senate seats where the price of victory may be more than $10 million.

“You essentially start with your Rolodex, otherwise known as your family or other people that can’t say no to you,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report.

A Denver Post analysis of the $1.4 million the Democrat raised in the first three months of 2009 showed:

– Less than half of the $1.1 million he raised from individual contributors came from Colorado. He received more than $100,000 from donors in New York, Washington, D.C., and California each.

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– His Colorado donor base was heavily Denver-oriented. More than 60 percent came from the state’s capital. He got no contributions from Pueblo, Greeley or Grand Junction and only one from Fort Collins.

– About a third of his donors gave the maximum $2,400 for the primary or $4,800 for the entire election. Combined they accounted for almost 60 percent of the money he raised from individuals.

– He tapped into networks he built while working for businessman Philip Anschutz and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and as superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

The $1.4 million in donations, includes contributions from political action committees. That was the fifth-highest amount collected among all U.S. senators during the quarter, surpassing veteran senators such as Arizona’s John McCain and Connecticut’s Chris Dodd, according to the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics. Both are powerful incumbents seeking re-election in 2010.

“I think the impressive thing from Bennet’s standpoint is the overall sum he raised,” said political consultant and analyst Eric Sondermann.

Trying to defend his Senate seat

Bennet will try to defend the seat he was appointed to earlier this year after incumbent Democrat Ken Salazar was named secretary of the Interior. So far, Bennet has two Republican challengers ” Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck.

Mark Udall raised more than $11 million in his winning race in 2008. Winning Colorado’s other Senate seat in 2010 is likely to require at least as much.

More than half of Bennet’s donations from individuals, about $600,000, came from outside Colorado, the analysis showed.

John Straayer, political science professor at Colorado State University, said that is not unusual in Senate races, especially in smaller states where donations from special-interest groups can have a greater impact.

“A state with half a million people like Wyoming has about as much clout as a state like California (in the Senate),” Straayer said. “There is an incentive to put money in Senate seats because you get a hell of a bang for your buck.”

In addition, Bennet’s race is drawing national attention as Democrats seek to get a supermajority of 60 seats in 2010, Straayer said.

Bennet took in $186,500 from New York and $136,958 from Washington, D.C.

Craig Hughes, Bennet’s campaign manager, said many of his out-of-state donations are a result of his connections from his work in both the private and public sector.

“He has such a broad background. It’s a unique mix of public/private,” Hughes said.

The contributors included many educational-reform advocates. For example, New Yorker Jaime Aquino, who served as Bennet’s chief academic officer at DPS, gave the maximum $4,800, and the director of Democrats for Education Reform gave him $1,000. That group is hosting a $1,000-a-seat fundraiser for Bennet in New York on June 8.

Within Colorado, Denver donors dominated, accounting for $317,150 .

The donations tend to reflect Bennet’s name recognition in Colorado, said Ken Bickers, chair of the political science department at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“My guess if you could overlay name recognition (over donations), it would map pretty closely,” Bickers said.

Hughes said the campaign concentrated on Denver during the first quarter and is now branching out.

“The beginning of the fundraising started in Denver and now we’re working our way out,” he said.

Friends and associates pitched in

Bennet’s vast circle of friends and associates also helped raise money, Hughes said.

Seven current and former DPS officials donated $10,100, four Anschutz executives donated $15,400, and five current and former members of Hickenlooper’s staff accounted for $7,300.

The first person to contribute to his campaign was Kristin Waters, who Bennet selected as principal of Bruce Randolph School.

Bennet’s own family contributed $24,000.

“He’s grabbed the low-hanging fruit,” Sondermann said.

Republican challengers Buck and Frazier vowed to run grassroots, statewide fundraising campaigns. Both don’t have to report contributions until this summer because they announced their campaigns after the first-quarter filing deadline.

“We’re going to have more donors from more places, but you are going to see smaller amounts,” Buck said.

Frazier said he probably needs to raise up to $10 million for the race.

“For me, our approach is going to be homegrown Colorado,” he said.

Hughes said the Bennet campaign expects to need between $10 million and $12 million altogether.

That means the pace won’t slow in the coming months, Duffy said.

“While $1.4 million is a fabulous number, he’s got to better that almost every single quarter,” she said.

Burt Hubbard: 303-954-5107 or


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