Political parties go from Aspen events to taking their fundraising shows online
It wasn’t long ago that eastbound Highway 82 into Aspen could be choked up with gridlock not because of commuter traffic but political convoys.
In this presidential election year of 2020, however, no such thing is happening in Pitkin County. The county’s public health orders currently restrict crowd gatherings to 10 people because of the global health crisis, a major deterrent for the likes of Vice President Mike Pence or incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner to raise funds at an Aspen home, private club or hotel.
“We can get on a private conference call with (Gardner), which we do, and raise $2,800 a person,” Bob Jenkins, vice chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, said last week. “That’s much easier than having him see 10 people.”
Politicians have routinely made fundraising stops in Aspen and Pitkin County — often at private events — because it’s where the money is. Aspen’s 81611 ZIP Code, for instance, has accounted for $3.7 million in federal campaign contributions for the 2019-20 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The average haul among ZIP codes is $120,868.
The top recipient in Pitkin County is the LCV Victory Fund, which has campaigned against President Donald Trump. The super PAC has collected $751,000 from 81611 during the 2019-20 cycle, which started Jan. 1, 2019, according to CRP.
Hickenlooper — who campaigned in Aspen last year first as a presidential candidates and then a senatorial one —is next at $245,300.
The conservative committee Rural Arizona PAC was third with $235,000.
Biden’s presidential campaign had made $113,509 in Pitkin County, while Trump’s did not make the top 10 recipients.
Local party officials said the art of fundraising has shifted from their large scale events — such as the Democrats’ annual dinner at T Lazy 7, which has featured speeches from the party’s incumbents and challengers on the campaign trail, or the Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner at the Hotel Jerome, which has brought in such GOP notables as Karl Rove and Paul Ryan — to the virtual world.
The Pitkin County Democratic Party will hold its 10th annual gathering for the first time online at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15. Among the virtual speakers are two seeking federal office seats — Diane Mitsch Bush, who is running for Congress against Rifle Republican Lauren Boebert, who knocked out incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the June primary; and John Hickenlooper, the former Colorado governor who is taking on incumbent Gardner.
First-term Gov. Jared Polis, who is not up for re-election, also is scheduled to speak, in addition to other candidates and local politicians.
Political parties in past summers also have used booths at the summertime Aspen Saturday Market — where Gardner, Hickenlooper and others have been known to drop by. Because of COVID-19, this year’s market is open exclusively to agricultural and fresh baked good vendors.
“The challenge of fundraising is especially true this year,” said Betty Wallach, who was a Biden delegate during last week’s Democratic National Convention.
Candidates also will have their own fundraising links during the event, said Howie Wallach, chair of the Pitkin County Democratic Party.
Wallach, who is Betty’s husband, said the Zoom platform, which is what the Democrats will use for their September event, poses challenges.
“People are Zoomed out,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to sign on to see a virtual event. There’s a limit to how much people will see.”
September’s event for the Pitkin County Democrats commands more pedestrian fees, which start at $25 to gain entrance into the Zoom event. Those funds go to the county party.
Biden attended a private fundraiser in Aspen in August 2019 with his wife, Jill. Both Joe and Jill spoke at the event, where people paid from $1,000 to $2,800 to attend the fundraiser.
The previous July, Pence came Aspen for a private fundraiser at the Caribou Club.
Neither the county’s Democrat or Republican parties werer involved with the private fundraising stops. Pence’s visit — a $35,000-per-couple VIP reception with the VP — raised money for the Republican National Committee and the re-election of Trump.
“We’re definitely struggling to have the big-dollar events here this year,” Jenkins said.
The big donors continue to step up, he said, as do the ones who pitch in smaller amounts ranging from $10 to $100. But it’s the mid-tier contributors — those who might impulsively donate $500 to a campaign after mingling in-person with a candidate — who are lacking, he said.
“It’s the personal touch we are missing,” he said of the lack of in-person fundraisers.
The Federal Election Commission’s limit for contributions is $2,800 per individual per federal election in 2019-20. The FEC, which oversees campaign finance law in national elections, also requires individual donors, either themselves or through their political party, to report the contributions.
Editor’s note: This story was changed to reflect the correct position Bob Jenkins currently holds with the Pitkin County Republicans, which is vice chair. Tom Baker currently is chairman of the Pitkin County Republicans.
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