Out-of-State Money Pouring Into Colorado Senate Race

Out-of-State Money Pouring Into Colorado Senate Race
Gage Skidmore at Flickr
Who will represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate when the 117th Congress convenes in 2021? The people of California, New York and northern Virginia are hard at work figuring that out.

Nearly two-thirds of the campaign cash raked in by incumbent Senator Cory Gardner and his 2020 Democratic challengers so far this year has come from donors outside of Colorado, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, April 15.

With control of the upper chamber of Congress potentially hanging in the balance in next year's election, every  Senate contest in the country could have national implications — and as Gardner, a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, faces a tough re-election fight in a state that Trump lost by five points in 2016, Colorado's race will be among the most closely watched in the country. Still, the candidates' out-of-state fundraising totals, nearly two years before a single ballot will be cast, are eye-popping — none more so than Gardner's.

Colorado's junior senator led the pack with more than $2 million raised during the first three months of 2019, and nearly eight out of every ten dollars he raised came from out-of-state donors. Gardner, who spent the 2018 election cycle courting donors as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, reported raising more money from donors in Washington, D.C., and Virginia alone ($513,341) than from Colorado ($445,250).

Gardner's highest-profile challenger so far is former state senator and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston, who raised a robust $1.8 million during the first quarter of the year and boasted of receiving contributions from all 64 of Colorado's counties. But Johnston, who touted his fundraising prowess when he launched his campaign in January, has also been boosted by plenty of out-of-state cash; less than half of his fundraising total, about $830,000, came from Colorado donors.

It's not the first time Johnston has relied heavily on out-of-state support. His 2018 campaign for governor and the super PAC that supported it received major contributions from national donors like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. Many of the same big-money donors who supported Johnston's gubernatorial bid, including venture capitalist Reid Hoffman and hedge-funder John Arnold, have also contributed to his Senate campaign, according to FEC reports.

Johnston has pledged not to take any donations from political action committees, and he didn't report any PAC contributions in his first-quarter filing. By contrast, nearly 40 percent of Gardner’s haul — or more than $750,000 — came from corporate PACs and other committees.

Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of Colorado's House of Representatives and another of Gardner's Democratic challengers, received $500,965 in contributions during the first quarter, his filing showed. In contrast to Gardner and Johnston, more than three-quarters of that total came from donors in Colorado.

Two other Democratic Senate candidates also filed FEC reports on Monday. Trish Zornio, a biomedical researcher from Superior, reported $59,048 in contributions, while community activist Lorena Garcia has raised a total of $14,026 since launching her campaign last November.

Update, April 17: Romanoff's fundraising total has been corrected.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff