Polis’ money tops the nation | VailDaily.com

Polis’ money tops the nation

Harriet Hamilton
Summit County correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” With a second quarter personal contribution of more than $3 million to his own campaign, Democratic congressional hopeful Jared Polis is now the top self-funded candidate in the nation.

The Boulder entrepreneur’s campaign-to-date total of nearly $3.7 million in self-funding edged out Chicago-area dairy magnate Jim Oberweis to lead the list of personally financed campaigns among both House and Senate candidates, said Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack.

But unlike Illinois Republican Oberweis ” who is running against a similarly well-heeled Democratic incumbent in the general election ” Polis has funded his campaign to a level far outstripping his two Democratic primary rivals.

Former state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and conservationist Will Shafroth both reported substantially higher amounts of individual contributions than Polis for the second quarter, but Polis’ deep pockets dwarfed their combined fundraising.

With a poorly-funded Republican candidate, experts project the race to represent Colorado’s 2nd District ” which includes Summit, Eagle, Grand, and Clear Creek counties, along with most of the city of Boulder and parts of several other Front Range counties ” will be decided in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary.

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The personal financial commitment by Polis to the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Mark Udall as Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District representative has raised eyebrows nationwide.

“For a job that pays about $160,000 a year, it’s remarkable that someone would be willing to spend almost $4 million of his own money to get it,” said Massie Ritsch, spokesman for the non-partisan, Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics.

The return on this type of investment doesn’t have a very good track record, Ritsch added. Highly self-financed candidates almost always lose because they’re usually running against incumbents and often don’t have enough broad-based support.

“As the song goes: ‘Money can’t buy you love,'” he observed.

Polis, a former State Board of Education chairman, may be an exception to the losing trend of quixotic millionaire candidates, however, because of his ability to collect respectable amounts from individuals.

“He has managed to raise money from other people,” Ritsch said, pointing out that Polis’ overall totals from individuals are comparable to those of his opponents.

The Fitz-Gerald camp continues to make Polis’ self-financing ability a campaign issue.

“I think what it shows is that Joan is the candidate that’s in touch with the middle class and understands the issues that people face at their kitchen tables,” Fitz-Gerald spokesman Matt Moseley said. “Voters are not responding to attempts to buy the election.”

Shafroth, who trailed the field in second quarter contributions, avoided any direct criticism of Polis, but rather emphasized the composition of his own campaign finances.

“Ninety-eight percent of my contributions have come from individuals other than me,” he said. “How I’m running my campaign and the kind of contributions I’m receiving is a statement about the kind of member of Congress I’ll be. It’s much more grassroots ” and that’s very different from the other candidates.”

The Polis campaign responded forcefully to accusations of unfairness.

“Buying the election is a ludicrous charge,” Polis campaign manager Robert Becker said. “Maybe in Joan Fitz-Gerald’s world, people can be bought, but Jared has been going door-to-door.”

Polis’ willingness to spend his own money is actually an asset, Becker explained.

“He’s decided that when he goes to Washington, he’s not going to be beholden to any special-interest PACs,” he said, referring to Fitz-Gerald’s $258,000 worth of contributions from political-action committees.

Ritsch agrees that millionaire office-seekers who finance their own campaigns have a tendency to generate controversy.

“People view self-financed candidates differently,” he said. “Some people think it’s a positive thing, because they don’t have to rely on outside interests. Other people see it as buying an office and distorting democracy.”

Polis’ level of personal contribution has not only topped the national list, but it’s also unprecedented in Colorado politics. Multi-millionaire Pete Coors donated a mere $1.2 million to his 2004 U.S. Senate bid. In fact, the closest amount to Polis’ $4.8 million overall contributions in past House contests was the $3.4 million raised by 4th District Republican Marilyn Musgrave in 2004.

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