This fall's race for Colorado Senate District 8 is like no other in the history of Northwest Colorado. Never has so much money been poured into a race for a legislative seat representing this part of the state.
Democrat Jay Fetcher of Clark has pulled in more than $63,000 in "hard dollars" from individual campaign donors, more than doubling the $28,810 taken in by incumbent state Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs. But that's just a fraction of the total campaign dollars being attracted to the race, which is among a half-dozen with the potential to shift party balance in the Colorado Senate.
Significantly, the two candidates have nothing to do with the many thousands of dollars being spent to influence their race by voter education groups, or "527s," as they commonly are called.
One of the 527s, Forward Colorado, has spent more than $300,000 this fall on TV and radio ads and direct-mail campaigns that support the campaigns of a half-dozen Democratic candidates for the state Senate, Fetcher among them. And that won't be the last of it.
Despite the amount of money being put into the race by 527s, the candidates involved have little or no contact with the groups extolling their virtues or flaws. Campaign law restricts the candidates from making direct contact with the 527s.
"We don't have anything to do with them," Fetcher said in an earlier interview with Steamboat Pilot & Today. "It's definitely an interesting election cycle in that regard."
Documents on file with the secretary of state as of last week reflect that 527s oriented to Republican candidates have not collected or spent similar amounts of money on information campaigns. However, one Republican-oriented 527, the Senate Majority Fund, has yet to make filings for August and September. The fund had taken in $40,605 as of early July. The Senate Majority Fund has begun this week placing radio spots boosting Taylor's campaign.
The half-dozen Senate races are getting so much attention because the Republican majority in the state Senate is just 18 to 17. The Republican majority in the Colorado General Assembly is much greater and generally deemed untouchable.
However, some wealthy Coloradans are making significant contributions to 527s in an effort to reclaim the Senate for the Democrats. A spokesman for Forward Colorado said last week that residents of the six-county Senate District 8 can expect to see more spending in the form of advertising and direct-mail campaigns in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election.
District 8 includes Routt County and neighboring Moffat County, but the majority of its voters are concentrated along the I-70 corridor in Garfield and Eagle counties. Fetcher and Taylor are waging conventional campaigns, appearing in front of endless noon service club luncheons and evening candidates' forums.
Both candidates have attempted to lay claim to being pro-primary and -secondary education, pro-agriculture and champions of protecting Western Slope water. Taylor has cited a long list of bills he has carried in his 12-year career in the House and Senate. Fetcher has countered that his experience in local government on the Steamboat Springs School Board and his firsthand experience with irrigation water as a cattle rancher make him better suited to serve Senate District 8.
The part that isn't traditional is the five-figure media campaigns.
Brandon Hall, director of Forward Colorado, said Friday that spending on Democratic candidacies will pick up again in the last three weeks of the campaign.
"It will peak very shortly and stay there through the end of the race," Hall said.
Documents on file with the Colorado Secretary of State's office sometimes commingle the dollars being spent by Forward Colorado to influence the public in favor of the campaigns of Fetcher and other Democratic Senate candidates.
The other Democratic candidates include retired teacher Bob Bacon, who is running against Fort Collins mayor and retired police sergeant Ray Martinez for an open seat in Senate District 14; attorney Brandon Shaffer, who is running against longtime Boulder County political figure Sandy Hume in Senate District 17; and State Rep. Suzanne Williams, who is challenging Republican incumbent Bruce Cairns in Aurora's Senate District 28. There are similar races in Lakewood and north Denver.
One report at the Secretary of State's office specifically mentions expenditures on ads referring to Fetcher. On Sept. 1, Forward Colorado spent $8,306 for radio spots and $15,179 for cable TV ads.
On Sept. 16, the same company was paid $96,000 for radio and cable ads referring to six Democratic candidates including Fetcher. In late September, expenditures by Forward Colorado included $75,000 to the U.S. Postmaster on behalf of the six candidates and $106,928 for a mail campaign.
Contributors to Forward Colorado include Colorado software developer Tim Gill, who gave $100,000, and Fort Collins philanthropist Pat Stryker, who has supplied the fund with more than $116,900.
TV commercials underwritten by Forward Colorado in September depicted Fetcher walking through a sunlit meadow, greeting supporters. During a September interview, Fetcher said he was not aware of the commercials.
Forward Colorado's Hall explained how the video footage came about. The group sent crews with high-quality digital video cameras to public campaign gatherings hosted by the Fetcher campaign.
"All of the footage I have of Jay was obtained at a public event he had," Hall said. "I can identify to him who I am, and I can ask, 'Would you mind if we taped you doing that?' but I can't coordinate (the activities), and I can't tell him what the tape is for. Jay Fetcher would never see (any of the results of the taping) before it went out."
Fetcher has opened some campaign appearances by vowing not to accept any direct campaign contributions from political action groups and lobbyists.
"I won't accept any special interest money at all," Fetcher said. He added he has turned down four-figure contribution offers from labor unions and an organization working for the interests of public schools.
Taylor has said his acceptance of political action committee contributions is inconsequential.
"My vote is not for sale," he said at a campaign event.
A review of campaign contribution records reflects the two candidates' positions.
Fetcher's campaign has received 525 direct contributions, the majority of them ranging from $50 to $200. Virtually all of them are from individuals, with the exception of some county political party committees. The Fetcher campaign received $400 from an organization called Colorado Leadership 2000.
Taylor's campaign has received 156 direct contributions, with at least 20 coming from PACs or lobbyists. The majority of those are for small amounts -- $75 to $200. The largest, $2,000, came from a committee of the Denver chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties. The NAIO is a national trade organization whose members include developers, owners and investors in office and commercial buildings.
One of Taylor's individual supporters is Charles Monfort, a member of the Colorado Rockies' ownership group. He has donated $400 to the Taylor campaign in two installments.
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