Eight weeks ago, the race for the 59th District seat in the Colorado House of Representatives – one of the most competitive in the state – was financially neck and neck, with a difference of less than $160.
But according to their Wednesday filings, when it comes to fundraising, Democratic challenger Mike McLachlan has been trouncing incumbent Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, for the last two months.
Since announcing his campaign in February, McLachlan, a Durango-based lawyer, has raised $65,790 in 445 individual donations – $42,578 of it since June 4 – and spent $16,435. He has $50,355 cash on hand.
By comparison, since June 4, Brown has raised $16,365 in 255 individual donations, leaving him with $39,731 cash on hand.
“It’s hard to ask people for money, just because I’m so conservative. But I know it has to be done, so we’re working on it,” Brown said.
In a news release, McLachlan said, “We have been able to raise this amount of money because the people of the 59th district want someone who will concentrate on fixing the economy. Not someone who is a voice in the legislature for special interests.”
Local Republicans said the McLachlan campaign’s lucre by no means augured victory, citing 2010, when Brown defeated Democrat Brian O’Donnell, who spent $120,607 to Brown’s $56,560.
But according to filings with the Colorado secretary of state, it appears that in 2010, three groups spent an additional $56,572.49 on that election, meaning Brown’s victory likely cost closer to $115,000.
Rich Coolidge, spokesman for Colorado’s secretary of state, warned that “it’s difficult to say where the money is coming from.” He pointed to documents that show that Our Colorado Values, a mysterious, now-defunct, Washington, D.C.-based independent expenditure committee – i.e. “superPAC” – spent almost $11,000 on the 2010 race.
It’s not clear which candidate the money went to support.
The Colorado Leadership Fund LLC – a multimillion dollar Republican 527 based in Virginia – spent $37,866 on Brown’s behalf. Its listed agent, Timothy Gilmore, did not respond to requests for comment.
Care Membership Organization LLC, a Denver-based 527 that promotes the interests of the Cooperative Electric Association, spent $7,798 on ads for Brown. Its treasurer, Kent Singer, also executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, said the 527 planned to finance ads on Brown’s behalf again in 2012, though “when and how much are decisions we’ll make closer to the election.”
In a phone interview, Brown said he’d been wholly unaware of third parties’ previous expenditures on his behalf, and sounded flabbergasted that it seems to have surpassed $50,000.
In Colorado, third parties’ independent expenditures are difficult to track but are an area the GOP has claimed a decisive local edge. In 2010, the only independent expenditure made on O’Donnell’s behalf was a “miscellaneous” payment of $7,210 to Overnight Prints by Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, a California-based super PAC. So far, no independent political entities have spent money on McLachlan’s behalf. The Doctors Company Colorado PAC has spent $200 on Brown’s.
In terms of direct donations, the Aug. 1 filings show that Brown also beats McLachlan with mining and energy interests, which gave Brown $1,300 (bringing the total to $7,750 since 2010) in six individual donations since June, and with ranchers, who gave $2,196 in 18 individual donations ($17,000 since 2010).
McLachlan’s most benevolent patrons continue to be lawyers ($4,300 in 30 individual donations this quarter) and retirees ($7,945, in 95 individual donations).
Local bigwigs are picking sides. This quarter, Chris Isensee – who has lavished at least $13,000 on Democrats since 2005 – gave McLachlan $400, the maximum contribution. And McLachlan got $250 from Don Mapel, the local Coca-Cola magnate who has given more than $11,000 to political causes since 2005. The chief beneficiary of Mapel’s political largesse has so far been GOP congressman Scott Tipton.
When it comes to Brown, a self-styled “pro-business” candidate, the blue-chip GOP donors have not yet materialized. This includes Bayfield’s Susan and Robert Dulin, who between them have given more than $44,000 to conservative candidates and causes since 2005.
One exception is Al Harper, owner of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, who has spent more than $8,000 on political causes since 2005.
In July, he gave Brown $400.
“But I almost gave the same amount of money to Mike McLachlan,” he said.