• Original Reporting
  • On the Ground
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
On the Ground Indicates that a Newsmaker/Newsmakers was/were physically present to report the article from some/all of the location(s) it concerns.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks during a rally held to help kick off his presidential run at the Greek Amphitheater in Denver's Civic Center Park on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

There’s at least one category where John Hickenlooper leads the vast Democratic field of presidential contenders.

That’s in campaign cash from Coloradans.

The former Colorado governor raised $1.5 million from fellow Centennial State residents, topping even President Donald Trump, who raised $1.1 million in the state between January 2017 and June 30.

In all, about 7,000 Coloradans have contributed $4.2 million to presidential campaigns thus far, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of Federal Election Commission data. And some Democratic donors are giving to more than one candidate, hedging their bets in a sprawling primary.

Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet places third among donors with nearly $427,000.

The favorite Democratic candidate for Colorado donors who doesn’t live in the state is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised about $193,000 so far. He is followed by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is the only candidate to date to hold a public rally in Colorado.

At the moment, Colorado is mostly an ATM state, one valued for its money, as candidates focus on Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states. Vice President Mike Pence visited Colorado on Monday for multiple fundraisers to benefit Republican candidates.

Only five Democratic presidential candidates — not counting Hickenlooper and Bennet — have visited Colorado for announced events, most of them fundraisers. The state’s Democratic primary is scheduled for March 3. That’s Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will cast ballots. So far most of the party’s candidates are not organizing support in Colorado.

One factor driving early donations is the Democratic debates. The party is requiring candidates to meet polling or donor thresholds to participate.

Jeff Resnick is among those who gave to two candidates — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Bennet — for a total of $6,600 in donations. He said he wants to hear both voices in the debates, but he remains uncommitted to a favorite. 

“I think it’s really early days right now, so it’s hard to really want to dive in at this early stage, because there are so many candidates,” said Resnick, a board member with the Trust for Public Land. 

In supporting Inslee, Resnick said he “wanted the climate debate front and center” and it’s the main focus for the governor. Resnick said he backed Bennet because his moderate approach is what he thinks is best for the party. “I don’t think (Bennet) has the persona-style to get elected but I would love to see him as president of this country.”

A breakdown of campaign donations from Colorado

The idea that Hickenlooper and Bennet lead the Democratic pack in Colorado isn’t unexpected. An OpenSecrets analysis determined that many Democratic presidential candidates raised the most money from their home states during the second quarter that ended June 30.

However, Trump still leads by a large margin when it comes to the number of donations from Colorado with more than 16,500 individual donations. Trump is raising money mostly from small donors in the state, while Hickenlooper and some other Democrats are getting larger donations from a smaller number of contributors.

Sanders tops Hickenlooper when it comes to the number of contributions from the state with more than 3,300. Hickenlooper has nearly 1,800. (The Sun’s analysis includes many donations of under $200, but it may not include all small donors for every candidate. Candidates must report donations only when an individual gives $200 or more in a single instance or in the course of the campaign.)

In terms of average donation size, Sanders and Trump received the smallest amounts compared  to candidates with more than 50 Colorado contributions, at $58 and $67, respectively. Warren, who is not holding fundraisers but hosted an April rally in Aurora, received an average donation of $82. The ability to attract small donors is considered key to financial sustainability over time.

Hickenlooper took in the largest average donations, in part because he’s given his campaign $32,800. Bennet is second on the list.

More than 200 Coloradans gave to more than one Democratic candidate, many of them to both Hickenlooper and Bennet. Among them: 

  • Former Gov. Roy Romer gave $1,000 to Hickenlooper and $500 to Bennet.
  • Former Interior Secretary and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar gave $3,500 to Hickenlooper, $1,500 to former Vice President Joe Biden, and $500 each to Bennet, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Texan Julian Castro. 
  • Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb gave $750 to Bennet, $500 to Hickenlooper and $250 to Biden. 
  • Philanthropist Pat Stryker gave $5,600 to Hickenlooper and $2,800 to Bennet.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spoke at an April campaign rally in Aurora. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Debate performance is key to candidate donations 

Instead of candidate visits, Heather Lurie, a consultant and director of Electing Women PAC in Colorado, said the debates are driving early donations.

Her political action committee is coordinating fundraising events in Denver to give supporters the opportunity to contribute directly to women candidates. In February, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand attended a small-dollar donor event and a fundraising dinner that helped give her the highest average donation for a non-Colorado candidate. Gillibrand received an average of $710 from her 52 Colorado donors.

Other fundraisers in Colorado for Harris and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are expected soon, Lurie said. 

“People do have their favorites, for sure, so you will see it in the numbers, I have no doubt,” Lurie said of fundraising totals for the women candidates.

On the Republican side, at least three Coloradans have donated to Trump’s primary opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. 

Patricia Mautner, an unaffiliated voter who lives in Littleton, contributed $600 to Weld’s campaign, largely as a sign of her frustration with the quality of candidates.

“He is an extremely bright, very well balanced and ethical candidate,” Mautner said of Weld.  “And I think there’s a dearth of them out there. Actually, if our ex-governor (Hickenlooper) could get some traction, I would consider him as a candidate. But there’s nobody out there I would vote for today.”

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette