Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/election/article/0,1299,DRMN_36_1519175,00.html

Big names, big cash

Rich, influential contributors boost political war chests

By Michele Ames, Rocky Mountain News, November 2, 2002

Big donors made big deposits in Colorado political war chests this year.

Of the roughly $36 million expected to be spent this election season, about 20 percent will come from the bank accounts of a dozen or so wealthy families and individuals.

There's no way to tell exactly how much money rich donors contributed because loopholes in reporting laws allow many to give without listing their names.

However, of the money reported this season, more than $7.8 million has come from such well-known Colorado surnames as Gill and Coors.

The big spenders aren't limited to either political party and, in many cases, cross party lines to give to favored candidates.

Millionaire businessman Rutt Bridges, a registered Democrat, gave money to a number of Republican candidates. Stalwart Republicans Ralph and Trish Nagel, who own a chain of nursing homes, gave money to some Democrats.

The money is flowing to both state and federal races around the state.

About $5.7 million has been spent by three millionaires on four ballot initiatives.

"This is evidence that an incredibly narrow segment of society has an enormously disproportionate amount of power and influence in our politics," said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. "Our politics should be broad-based, and massive contributions from a handful of people is anything but broad-based."

The wealthiest are giving checks ranging from $200 for a state House candidate, to $25,000 to a state political party, to $3 million to oppose a ballot initiative.

The donors are retirees, brewers, nursing home operators and dot-com millionaires.

The most curious thing to some political watchers is that so much money has been donated by people with no obvious personal gains to make.

"In looking at the people that are on this list on both sides of the aisle, these are not the sort of people that go to the legislature asking for anything," said Katy Atkinson, head of Atkinson and Associates, a political consulting firm.

"Most of these people don't seem to have a personal stake or business stake in politics," she said. "Most of them are just
passionate about causes."

Tim Gill endowed the Gill Foundation with the fortune he earned in computer software. While the foundation gives money to numerous community organizations, its primary focus is on gay and lesbian issues. His giving leans heavily toward Democrats and has placed about $285,000 into state and federal coffers.

Alex Cranberg, who owns Aspect Energy, an oil and gas company, is a longtime advocate of school vouchers. His giving leans toward Republican candidates, but he also gives to Democrats who support his education position. He's handed out about $84,050 in reported contributions this election.

Three of this year's biggest donors have directed their money at ballot initiatives aimed at doing everything from moving Colorado toward mail balloting to defeating a proposal to limit bilingual education.

Bridges, who founded the Bighorn Center think tank with proceeds from the sale of a seismic exploration software
company, has put $1.54 million in two ballot initiatives. Amendment 28 would move Colorado toward mail balloting.
Amendment 29 would require candidates to petition their way onto ballots.

Internet mogul Jared Polis got his money from selling his mother's greeting card business, which he made a going concern on the Internet. Now he has put about $1.1 million into a ballot initiative. Amendment 30 would allow individuals to register and vote on Election Day.

Relative political newcomer Pat Stryker, a wealthy heiress from Fort Collins, gave more than $3 million to defeat an initiative aimed at limiting bilingual education.

Rocky Mountain News staff writer Burt Hubbard contributed to this report. amesm@RockyMountainNews.com or (303) 892-2327.


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