Raising money an "unholy" quest in Colorado Senate races
The Denver Post
Colorado’s next U.S. senator is a job requiring an application fee estimated at up to $15 million. With an eight-figure tab just to get serious consideration for the opening, candidates spend much of each day holed up hustling for money.
An underdog like Democrat Andrew Romanoff might spend six hours a day on the phone seeking donations.
“It’s pretty unholy, this system we’ve created,” said Romanoff, who is campaigning without taking money from political action committees or special interests. That self-imposed restriction makes his phone appeals to individuals even more important, and time-consuming.
One fundraising consultant said that before they join a campaign, the candidates must answer a key question: How comfortable are they hounding people for donations?
“I stress they can never do enough call time. Dialing for money is going to be 80 percent of their role as a candidate,” said the consultant, who asked not to be named because of ongoing work in the state.
The price of Senate campaigns in Colorado and nationally is soaring.
Then-Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and challenger Tom Strickland combined to spend just over $10 million in 2002. Winner Mark Udall and Republican opponent Bob Schaffer spent more than $19 million in 2008, while this year’s race could push past $25 million.
Colorado’s ongoing purple-state status makes the Senate race expensive, but it is far from the costliest. The top five candidates for Arlen Specter’s Pennsylvania Senate seat raised nearly $23 million by the end of 2009, and millions more since.
No one rule change or partisan battle sent the numbers into the stratosphere, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. Expensive high-profile races like Hillary Rodham Clinton’s in New York or the current Florida Republican battle inflate the numbers every two years, but the trend is relentlessly upward.
“There have been jumps, but it’s been pretty steady,” said Krumholz, who watched the average Senate candidate move from $3.8 million in spending in 1990 to $7.8 million in 2004.
If the Colorado Senate race ends up costing the primary nominees $12 million to $15 million through November, Romanoff, who raised about $630,000 through December, might have to raise $70,000 a day to stay competitive with the Republican opposition.
Appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet already has raised millions and will benefit more from PAC and party support. Bennet receives money in $5,000 and $10,000 increments, for example, from trade group PACs and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Those large leaps have boosted his campaign chest to $6.2 million after just 15 months in office.
Yet sitting senators get little relief from the relentless dialing.
Constant fundraising pressure was one of the complaints that drove Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., from office in 1992. Election law requires congressional members to leave their offices and use a nonfederal site to raise money while in Washington, D.C., and incumbents constantly make the transition walk to a waiting telephone.
“Members have a whole list of names in their pockets at all times, and they just keep dialing,” said current CIA Director and former powerful California Democratic Rep. Leon Panetta, who also grew weary of the money game. Panetta bared his troubled fundraising soul to Washington Post editor Robert Kaiser in the book “So Damn Much Money” last year.
The first group that every candidate turns to, said Bennet campaign manager Craig Hughes, is the friends-family-colleagues network from personal and business life.
“If you can’t shake down your own friends without compunction, how are you going to shake down anybody else?” said Republican financial consultant Richard Frias. “You get that seed money from friends and relatives and neighbors.”
Bennet has been part of high-profile celebrity fundraisers for Democrats in Chicago and elsewhere, but friends also are sponsoring events in cities such as Tulsa, Okla., Hughes said. At each event, willing supporters are in turn asked to host smaller events at their homes to raise thousands more. (Individuals are limited to spending $4,800 for each Senate candidate – $2,400 for a primary and $2,400 for the general election.)
If a supporter commits to contacting friends and raising $10,000 to $15,000 for a Senate campaign, “that’s a lot of money,” Hughes said.
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