Eagle County: Polis winning Congressional cash contest | VailDaily.com

Eagle County: Polis winning Congressional cash contest

Harriet Hamilton
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Democratic Congressional candidate Jared Polis’ latest contribution of more than $450,000 to his own campaign boosted his self-financing over the $1 million mark last week, consolidating the district’s contest as one of the most expensive in the nation.

The race to represent Colorado’s 2nd District ” which includes Eagle, Summit Grand, and Clear Creek counties, along with most of the city of Boulder and parts of several other Front Range counties ” is now ranked sixth nationwide among House of Representatives elections in total campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.

With last week’s reported contribution ” not included in his first quarter campaign disclosure ” Polis vaulted into fifth place nationally in amount of self-financing among House candidates.

The deep pockets of the 32-year-old Boulder Internet entrepreneur and former Colorado Board of Education Chairman have intensified fundraising in the race to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Udall, who is running for U.S. Senate.

According to last week’s official filings with the Federal Election Commission, former Colorado State Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, 59, and Boulder conservationist Will Shafroth, 50, both raised significantly more cash from individual donors during the first quarter of 2008 than Polis, but still trail in overall fundraising by margins of more than $500,000.

Recent income and tax statements by the three candidates ” all considered liberal Democrats ” reflect a substantial disparity. Fitz-Gerald’s reported gross family income during the six-year period of 2002 through 2007 totaled around $530,000, which works out to an annual income of about $88,000.

With a total gross family income of $905,420 from 2002 through 2006 ” the period reported by his campaign, the Shafroths averaged a little more than $180,000 per year.

In stark contrast, Polis reported a total gross income of more than $115 million for the years 2000 through 2006 ” a yearly average of around $16 million, almost 90 times greater than that of Shafroth.

Last month, Polis’ contributions to his own campaign triggered the “Millionaires’ Amendment” ” a feature of 2002’s McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill designed to level the playing field among congressional office-seekers.

The rule allowed his less wealthy opponents to raise the dollar limit on individual contributions.

But neither Fitz-Gerald nor Shafroth have received any major donations.

“It didn’t get triggered until March, so it really wasn’t reflected in our first quarter figures,” Shafroth spokesperson Lynea Hansen said.

Any future impact of the amendment may soon be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has debated the constitutionality of the law. Jack Davis, a twice-defeated House candidate from upstate New York, challenged the amendment, asserting that it infringes on his 1st Amendment right of free speech, and favors incumbents who are more able to raise money from special interest groups.

The Court’s final decision on the case is expected by June.

“Election reformers are concerned that wealth is becoming a prerequisite for office,” said attorney Tara Malloy, associate counsel of the Washington-based non-partisan Campaign Legal Center.

According to Malloy, the rising cost of campaigns has spiraled upward in the last few years ” far outstripping inflation.

“I think the money game is getting more and more important,” she said.

Nearly four months before the Aug. 12 primary, Polis has already exceeded the 2006 House candidate average of $1.3 million in fundraising.

Despite the increasing public impression that the wealthiest candidates have an advantage, Malloy emphasized its limitations.

“Money alone is often not successful,” she said.

And historical data from the Center for Responsive Politics support her assertion: of the 15 House candidates who gave their own campaigns more than $1 million in 2006, only two were elected, with seven defeated in primaries.

Among the millionaire candidates of the last three elections, Polis, who has also raised substantial funds from individuals, ranks somewhere in the middle of total percentage of campaign self-financing. In addition to his personal contribution, his most recent quarterly filings reported 474 individual donations, averaging $339.

The goal of campaign finance reform ” including the Millionaires’ Amendment ” is to encourage candidates to solicit support from a variety of sources, and therefore be responsive to the public, rather than just special interests or their own private agenda, Malloy said.

“Ideally, you have a candidate with broad-based support along the socio-economic spectrum,” she added.

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