Mark Udall, Schaffer's Democratic opponent, would surprise nobody by accepting cash from the conservation-minded Sierra Club's political committee. But the Boulder County congressman, known for his environmentalism, also has raked in money from committees backing the influential sugar industry, blamed by environmentalists for degradation of Florida's Everglades.
The contributions, which each campaign defends, comprise mere snapshots of the more than $4 million already pumped into next year's battle to replace retiring Republican Wayne Allard.
Interests such as oil, telecommunications, labor, military contracting, banking, homebuilding and special interests from guns to medical marijuana figure prominently in the candidates' early Federal Election Commission filings. They're joined by hundreds of well-known individual givers, from former Gov. Bill Owens to gay-rights crusader and software mogul Tim Gill, in a race that both campaign managers agree could hit $24 million to $30 million, smashing state records to become one of the top 10 money races in the nation.
Tangling over taxes
A given donor might contribute for one of many reasons, says Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group that tracks money in politics and its effect on elections and policy.
Although the FEC eventually posts Senate data online, anyone who wants to see the full picture must dig through, in the case of Schaffer and Udall, hundreds of pages of paper filings. (Third-quarter reports alone are 333 pages for Schaffer's campaign and 420 pages for Udall's.)
Ritsch's organization, which maintains election data at opensecrets.org, can't provide Senate expenditures because the Senate is the only body that isn't required to file electronic reports. The FEC picks up the slack, slowly and piecemeal.
The cash raised so far in Colorado's U.S. Senate battle has largely paid for employees and offices, marketing and research, and Web sites. Some money went to out-of-state trips, car rentals and swanky meals activities often meant to raise more money.
Udall, who in 2005 announced his intent to run for Senate, showed the benefits of the long haul with $3.13 million on hand at the end of the third quarter. Schaffer, who announced his campaign about six months ago and has been christened the GOP's "de facto" nominee, has raised about $1.5 million.
More than $130,000 of Schaffer's cash has come from 18 Republican politicians and/or their committees, including $10,000 from Allard's Changing Tide Committee and another $4,000 from Allard himself, $10,000 from Nevada Sen. John Ensign's Battle Born committee and $5,000 from Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott's New Republican Majority Fund.
Paul M. Rady, CEO and chairman of Denver-based Antero Resources, an oil and gas company with drilling operations on the Western Slope, has been the chief patron for the Schaffer Majority Committee. Within days of its creation in September, the committee reaped more than $30,000.
Also boosting Schaffer's numbers are GOP fundraising arms, led by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has given $27,500. The NRSC is using Web videos and releases to attack "Boulder liberal" Udall.
"Having Mark Udall in Congress is taxing," a video states, claiming Udall supported measures that cost "each Colorado taxpayer" more than $3,000 a suggestion that Udall campaign manager Mike Melanson sees as "baseless."
Udall did not vote for increased taxes, Melanson says, but against President Bush's "tax cuts for the wealthy." Melanson adds that Udall, at the time, supported a tax decrease for the middle class.
Schaffer's coffers were infused with cash from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund. Mailings were paid for by the low-tax, limited-government Club for Growth political committee.
Schaffer campaign manager Walt Klein dismisses the idea there's any quid pro quo for Schaffer's contributions.
"There is no direct correlation to policy," he claims.
But ProgressNowAction, a liberal group, has alleged the contributions Schaffer's campaign has received from David Brennan, who leads Ohio's White Hat Management charter-school company, were traded for a beneficial vote from Schaffer in his role as a member of the state board of education.
Klein points to a Rocky Mountain News editorial that says the allegation "looks like nothing more than a partisan attack that lacks substance." The editorial notes the money donated in the 2008 election cycle came after Schaffer's vote, rather than prior, and that the school board did not have a decisive say about the issue in question.
Melanson says there's no reason why the Udall campaign should exclude contributions from sugar-industry interests, such as the American Sugar Cane League of the USA Inc. political-action committee.
"Mark's got a record of protecting the environment," he argues.
This story first appeared in the Rocky Mountain Chronicle.