Big money spent on Colorado legislative races
December 11, 2010
DENVER – Republican and Democratic candidates spent $2.9 million this year on the top 15 races for Colorado’s Legislature – and outside groups spent up to 10 times that amount under new campaign finance laws, candidates estimate.
According to final campaign finance reports due Dec. 2, Democrats spent $900,000 and Republicans spent $610,000 in the 10 most competitive House races. Republicans won seven of those races to help take back control of the House.
In the top five Senate races, Democrats spent $770,000 to $630,000 for Republicans, according to reports filed with the secretary of state. Democrats retained their Senate majority.
The spending figures don’t include the 58 other campaigns for state House and Senate seats.
Why so much money for state legislative races? A big factor is next year’s congressional redistricting and the political control it offers for the next decade.
It paid off for Republicans, whose control of the House provides leverage to force a compromise on any redistricting plan.
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“Redistricting was important and the Republicans were hell-bent to capture one of the houses of the legislature so they could slow down the train for redistricting, and they did,” said Senate Majority Leader John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, whose re-election campaign spent $164,000.
Morse said he believes outsiders spent another $1 million on his behalf, with most of it from issue groups that did not have to identify how much they were spending or its origin.
Morse added he believes backers of his opponent, Republican Owen Hill, spent more than $1 million to unseat him, in addition to the $117,000 Hill’s campaign reported spending.
The U.S. Supreme Court this year allowed corporations – and by extension unions, interest groups and individuals – to spend unlimited amounts of money saying pretty much anything they want about politicians at any time.
“You can’t find out who gave that money. The candidates themselves may not know,” said Bob Loevy, a political scientist at Colorado College.
Former GOP state Rep. Rob Witwer of Genesee, who co-authored a book on a lack of transparency in Colorado campaigns in 2008, said no one knows how much was spent back then and even less is known this year.
Democratic Party chairwoman Pat Waak said the official campaign reports filed with the state allow candidates to brag about support – but achieve little else. Her GOP counterpart, Dick Wadhams, said he doesn’t expect change.
“We need to repeal every campaign law at the state and federal level and allow all contributions with immediate and full disclosure,” Wadhams said.
Colorado’s Legislature draws the boundaries for congressional districts every 10 years, using census data to make sure districts have equal populations. A Denver District Court judge drew the current maps after lawmakers failed to do so.
The process worked no better for redrawing state legislative districts. An 11-member commission appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and legislative leaders drew those boundaries. In 2002, the state Supreme Court rejected them and ordered the maps redrawn, ruling the commission failed to comply with a state law that says cities and counties cannot be split among districts.