• Original Reporting
  • 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.
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.

Colorado political donors are making their preferences clear before Super Tuesday, and they’re putting their money on Bernie Sanders.

The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate raised more than $2.7 million from Colorado donors from February 2019 through the end of January, based on an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs OpenSecrets. That includes small-donor donations via the conduit ActBlue, a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates where contributions don’t have to be itemized by a campaign until they reach $200.

“This has long been a pretty good state for him,” said Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, where he leads the Center on American Politics. “He did really well here in 2016, he’s always had a really strong base here.”

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren comes in a distant second with nearly $1.6 million from Colorado donors, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at $1.4 million, and former Vice President Joe Biden at $1.1 million.

Donor interest in Sanders reflects recent polls showing him in the lead in Colorado’s presidential primary, which will be held on Tuesday, followed by Warren and Buttigieg.

It also reflects Sanders’ loyal fan base in Colorado, which never really diminished after he beat Hillary Clinton in Colorado’s caucuses in 2016 but was not the Democratic presidential nominee. This time around, Sanders, the frontrunner in the primary nationally, raised $121 million from individual donors across the country through January, by far the most in the Democratic field. 

MORE: How Bernie Sanders became the favorite in Colorado: A loyal fan base that kept the fire alive after 2016

“Nationally, he’s been a really good fundraiser,” Masket said. “He’s always been able to tap into this particular network of donors who are not really that well identified with the Democratic Party, but are very enthusiastic for him. They’re turning out from here like everywhere else.”

Coloradans donated nearly $1.8 million to President Donald Trump from 2017 through January, though many small-dollar donations are not included in that total. That’s because WinRed, the GOP conduit aimed at small donors, raises money for candidates and for joint fundraising committees, making it virtually impossible to discern how much goes to candidates.

Candidates in the Democratic presidential primary — more than 20 at one point — spent $1.2 billion through January, making it the most expensive ever. Billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer account for more than half of that sum. Bloomberg is not accepting contributions, and Steyer ranks the lowest among the preference of Colorado donors, having gathered about  $65,000.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raised nearly $1.8 million from Coloradans before he left the race in August. He is now running for U.S. Senate. 

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet raised nearly $1.6 million from his constituents before dropping out of the contest after the New Hampshire primary.

MORE: How 5 Coloradans, undecided on the Democratic presidential primary, are weighing their candidate options

Sanders is the Colorado county-level donor favorite, too

OpenSecrets also did a by-county analysis of Colorado donors to the seven remaining Democratic candidates from the start of their campaigns through the end of January.

Sanders leads in virtually every Colorado county, large and small. For instance, more than $651,000 of his cash from the state came from more than 8,000 Denver donors. 

MORE: Bernie Sanders boasts big lead in Colorado presidential primary as rivals struggle, new poll shows

But he also received $3,500 from 62 donors in Clear Creek County, which has a population of fewer than 10,000 people. In Montrose County on the Western Slope, 79 donors kicked in nearly $5,300 for Sanders. And in La Plata County in southwest Colorado, where Durango is the county seat, he received nearly $33,000 from 539 donors.

Use the map below to search how much each candidate received, on average, from each of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Denver County is a cash cow for presidential candidates, providing nearly $2.2 million to people still running, including Trump, from roughly 23,000 individual donors. Boulder County accounts for another $1.4 million from 15,000 donors. 

Arapahoe County donors gave the most to Trump’s reelection campaign, with residents chipping in $213,000. The president’s other top donor counties in Colorado are Denver at $202,000; Jefferson at $190,000; and Douglas at $161,000. 

Biden and Klobuchar more popular with big-dollar donors

When it comes to average donations, however, Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar top the list in Colorado at $131 and $119 per donor, respectively. Sanders raised $75 from his average donor, with Warren raising $72.

Buttigieg hosted a fundraiser in Denver to kick off the New Year with tickets priced as high as $1,500. Around the same time, his campaign took in big contributions from employees at Lockheed Martin, Kaiser Permanente and the Rocky Mountain Institute. Biden held a fundraiser in Denver this month, but hasn’t made any public appearances in Colorado.

Sanders and Warren are rejecting big-dollar fundraisers to attract grassroots support. They’re the only 2020 Democrats to get more than half of their money from coveted small donors, who give $200 or less. Biden and Klobuchar perform the worst in the field among these bite-sized donors.

“Sanders has long been proud of doing well among small donors,” Masket said. “Small donors also tend to be more ideological. They tend to get involved for particular candidates or causes, and they tend to be more far left or far right than bigger donors.”

This story was reported and written in partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that analyzes federal campaign data. Karl Evers-Hillstrom is the money-in-politics reporter for the organization. Researcher Alex Baumgart, a University of Colorado Boulder graduate, contributed to this report.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette