To understand the national importance of the 6th Congressional District matchup between incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic challenger Andrew Romanoff, look no further than the money.
The Colorado race is ranked fifth in the nation in terms of money raised — $6.8 million through June 30 — by the candidates among the 435 U.S. House seats up for election Nov. 4.
And it’s one of only eight races in the nation where a challenger from the opposite party has raised more money than the incumbent.
“To the extent it does matter, the challenger spending makes a difference,” said University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket. “The challengers, that’s the place where extra spending can actually make a difference.”
But by October, it may be the outside money paying for TV attack ads that’s most visible in the campaign.
The big picture
Former state House Speaker Romanoff raised $3.45 million to Coffman’s $3.35 million based on reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission on July 15 for the period through June 30.
Their combined total is surpassed in only four other races:
• House Speaker John Boehner’s Ohio seat, where he raised $15.2 million to overcome a primary challenger.
• The open seat of Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman in California’s House District 33, where 11 candidates have raised nearly $9 million.
• Rep. Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin race where the House Budget Committee chairman has raised $7.2 million.
• Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor raised almost $6.2 million before spectacularly losing his primary, and thus his seat, in June.
Coffman spent just more than $1 million and had about $2.3 million in the bank as of June 30, while Romanoff spent $775,000 and had almost $2.7 million in the bank. Since the end of June, Romanoff has spent almost $1.2 million on advertising time at traditional Colorado TV stations, while Coffman has yet to reserve ad time.
“I think money is critical for candidates, particularly when you’re talking about the federal level,” said Mario Nicolais, a Colorado elections lawyer and former candidate in a GOP primary for a Jefferson County legislative seat.
“Money that candidates get and they raise themselves can be used in the way the candidate sees most fit, really promoting that candidate. That’s fairly critical.”
In his fourth congressional election bid, Coffman is on pace to out-raise any of his previous campaign efforts. He raised $3.4 million in 2012, only $904,000 in 2010 when the 6th CD was a safe GOP seat, and $1.5 million in 2008 when he won a four-way Republican primary for an open seat.
“We see incumbents spending the most money when they’re in the most trouble,” Masket said.
The PAC debate
Campaign contributions are a major difference between the two candidates, as Romanoff pointed out in recent debates.
Romanoff rejects money from political action committees, as does 2nd CD Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. But Coffman accepts the PAC cash, like most other Colorado congressional candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Yet Coffman’s proportion of PAC contributions is considerably less than that of Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette in CD 1 and Ed Perlmutter in CD 7, or Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn in CD 5 and Scott Tipton in CD 3, according to the FEC.
Coffman has received more than $934,000 from political action committees, including $10,000 each from 26 such groups. Almost 300 PACs have given to Coffman.
Among those top giving PACS:
• KochPAC, the committee affiliated with Koch Industries, which is run by Charles and David Koch. The brothers are known for their political activism promoting free markets and less government regulation, and spend millions more on organizing and TV ads through a web of nonprofits.
• Eleven congressional leadership PACs gave the maximum, including those operated by former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Rep. Paul Ryan. Almost 29 percent of Coffman’s PAC cash comes from more than 80 leadership PACs.
• Government contractors including Lockheed Martin, Honeywell International, Northrup Grumman and Ball Corp.
• The Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based trade association representing independent oil and gas trade companies.
Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg accused Romanoff of hypocrisy because he ran his own leadership PAC as state House speaker.
And, Sandberg said, “He’s taking lobbyist money. He’s calling corporate executives every single day.”
Countered Romanoff spokeswoman Denise Baron: “Our campaign is powered by people, not by special-interest groups. The incumbent has taken over $800,000 in PAC money, but more than 11,000 Coloradans have enabled us to out-raise him.”
Masket said Romanoff’s no-PAC stand may mean most to activists.
“I can’t imagine it matters to a whole lot of voters,” he said. “But Romanoff has a long history of being aligned with good government groups. A lot of those people are very politically active and they will help him out.”
A little help from their friends
Romanoff isn’t taking PAC money, but he is taking donations from other congressional committees to the tune of $48,067.
His congressional donors include Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, DeGette, Polis and Perlmutter, among others.
Coffman’s colleagues have kicked in $78,733, with committees representing Boehner, U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Cory Gardner, Lamborn, and Tipton donating.
The two are also making use of joint fundraisers and conduits to fill their coffers.
Almost $207,000 of Romanoff’s individual donations came through the conduit ActBlue, which is, in fact, a PAC. It collects earmarked online donations and funnels them to specific candidates. Another $15,000 in individual donations came through the Colorado 6th Victory Fund, a joint fundraiser.
Coffman has raised about $74,000 in a series of joint fundraisers with several groups.
Colorado vs. elsewhere
The majority of donations to both candidates are from Colorado. Romanoff bests Coffman here, with 86 percent of his total coming from Colorado compared with 62 percent of Coffman’s total.
About 9 percent of Coffman’s money came from Washington, D.C., and 8 percent from Virginia.
Of Coffman’s Colorado donations, 27 percent come from Denver, 16 percent from Englewood, 9 percent from Greenwood Village and 6 percent from Centennial. He’s received donations from 96 Colorado cities.
For Romanoff, 4 percent came from California and 2 percent from Washington, D.C.
Of Romanoff’s Colorado donations, 50 percent came from Denver, 8 percent from Boulder and 5 percent from Englewood. He’s received donations from 143 Colorado cities.
The district encompasses much of the southern part of the Denver-Aurora metro area, including the suburbs of Littleton, Centennial and portions of Aurora. Redistricting in 2012 added some suburbs to the north of Denver including Brighton and Henderson.
The big names
There are plenty of big names on each candidate’s donor list.
Romanoff has received the maximum $5,200 donation from 97 donors, while Coffman has received the maximum from 124.
Among those giving the maximum to Romanoff are Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Fort Collins philanthropist and Democratic megadonor Pat Stryker, billionaire businessman George Soros, Rep. Jared Polis’ parents Susan Polis Schutz and Stephen Schutz, former state Sen. Chris Romer, Kitchen restaurant owner Kimbal Musk, Denver philanthropists Noel and Tom Congdon, and Aspen writer Bruce Berger.
Among those giving the maximum to Coffman are businessman Ralph Nagel and wife Trish, Liberty Media President and CEO Gregory Maffei and his wife Sharon, Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and his wife Leslie, Denver businessman Philip Anschutz and his wife Nancy and son Christian, Starz founder John Sie and wife Anna, philanthropist Helen Krieble, Mitt Romney adviser Rich Beeson, John and Pete Coors, Aspect Energy founder Alex Cranberg, David Koch, JD Edwards co-founder Edward McVaney and his wife Carole, and MDC Holdings Chairman and CEO Larry Mizel.
Then there are the small donations, those under $200 that don’t have to be itemized. Romanoff has raised $833,527 in such individual contributions compared with $393,261 for Coffman, according to FEC reports.
Where the money goes
The two campaigns differ on how they’re spending the money they’ve raised.
Romanoff spent almost $127,000 paying staffers and almost $62,000 on fees to ActBlue (about 30 percent of what that group raised for him). RWT Production of Springfield, Va., received almost $52,000 for direct mail services.
Coffman spent more than $210,000 on fundraising consulting and $196,000 on direct mail, with $93,250 going to staffer salaries.
Coffman’s top consulting firms are Mammoth Marketing of Austin, Tex., which received $275,500 mostly for direct mail and related expenses and the Starboard Group of Greenwood Village, which received almost $210,000 for fundraising consulting.
The outside game
One of the advantages of candidate cash is that it allows the candidate to control the messages that money pays for.
But candidate cash isn’t the only piece in the CD 6 puzzle. There’s plenty of outside money pouring into this race as well.
“This race, the candidates themselves will be completely outspent by outside money,” Nicolais said. “In reality, there’s somewhere between 20 and 60 competitive seats, and all those seats become very expensive. It won’t only be the candidates raising money but the outside money will flow in heavily from both sides.”
Already, the National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved at least $2.8 million in Colorado political TV ads. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has $1.2 million in buys, while the House Majority PAC has almost $1 million reserved. Most of those ads will air in October.
Other outside groups are weighing in, too. The Service Employees Union International has run Spanish-language ads criticizing both Coffman and Gardner. Americans for Prosperity has run ads commending Coffman in the past.
Still, the outside spending in the 6th CD pales in comparison to the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Gardner, which is considered a tossup.
The focus on the Senate means the outside spending has the potential to dry up in the 6th CD down the road, Nicolais said.
“I don’t think Democrats on a national level think they’re going to win back the House, so a lot more money will be spent in the U.S. Senate races,” he said. “If they have to choose between money being spent to help Andrew Romanoff win or help Mark Udall win, Andrew Romanoff is going to come up on the short end of the stick.”
But Masket noted that some outside spenders may team up to promote both Udall and Romanoff.
“One thing with outside money, they can be active in multiple races at the same time.”