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The Best Politicians Money Can Buy 

Special-interest PACs dominate local campaign contributions

If you believe that campaign contributions influence the actions of the elected officials who accept them, don't expect many of El Paso County's lawmakers to push for new laws this year that could hurt the interests of the real-estate industry.

Or the construction business, for that matter, or insurers, health-care providers, pharmaceutical corporations, the financial-services industry, telecommunications firms, brewers and liquor distillers, Big Tobacco, or energy companies.

According to campaign-finance data from the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, those industries and a few others this year bankrolled the campaigns of 11 of the 12 lawmakers from El Paso County, who will take their seats next Wednesday, Jan. 8, at the state Capitol for the 2003 legislative session.

The delegation's lone Democrat, Michael Merrifield, got his money mainly from individual donations, the local and state Democratic Party and labor unions.

As for the rest, most of the groups that wrote fat checks to GOP delegates have active agendas during the upcoming session.

Insurance companies, for one, have a lot at stake. With auto-insurance premiums rising in Colorado, many legislators want to eliminate the state's no-fault auto insurance law, which requires everyone to have personal injury protection, a move insurance companies are backing. Along with health-care providers, the insurers also have a major interest in what lawmakers decide to do about skyrocketing costs for medical care and insurance.

Meanwhile, builders and developers will continue to fight against growth restrictions, and energy companies will push for increased oil and gas exploration.

However, the clout of such interest groups could diminish after the upcoming session, as the result of a constitutional amendment that was passed overwhelmingly by voters on Nov. 5.

Amendment 27 is designed to severely limit the extent to which candidates can rely on large campaign contributions from special interests, and to force candidates to raise more small contributions from individual constituents.

That means most of El Paso County's delegates will have to make adjustments.

"They're going to have to change their behavior if they want to be successful in the political arena," said Pete Maysmith, director of Colorado Common Cause, which backed the new law. "Amendment 27 is going to put a premium on raising money from a broad base of citizens, not a narrow base of corporations, rich individuals and PACs [political action committees]."

The following is an overview of who provided the biggest contributions to each of the 10 El Paso County legislators who were elected or re-elected in November. Sens. Andy McElhany and Ron May were not up for re-election and raised only small amounts of money.

ED JONES

Senate District 11

Total raised: $363,707

According to Ed Jones' old pal, Leonard Carlo, Jones used to hang out at Carlo's bar almost every day when he was an El Paso County commissioner. This year, the liquor industry thanked Jones for his patronage by contributing at least $3,800 to his bid for state Senate. Coors, Anheuser-Busch and a group called the Distilled Spirits Council were among the donors.

Liquor-industry groups oppose laws restricting smoking in bars and restaurants, which they claim will hurt their business. They also want to keep down taxes on booze.

Meanwhile, insurers filled Jones' campaign coffers with more than $3,000 -- even though Jones himself refused to give them any money in the late 1980s, when he pleaded guilty to driving without auto insurance.

Notably absent from the list of donors is State Farm, which in 1991 had to sue Jones to recover $111,000 that the company paid out to one of its customers, who was injured when Jones struck him while driving without insurance.

But Jones didn't amass the largest amount of cash in the history of Colorado legislative contests by relying solely on liquor and insurance money. By far his largest contributor was the Republican Party, which injected upward of $255,000 into his campaign.

Jones' campaign was largely orchestrated by wealthy Colorado Springs developer Steve Schuck, who has been trying for years to introduce school vouchers to Colorado. Schuck and other prominent voucher proponents from throughout the nation pumped at least $15,950 into Jones' campaign.

Jones also received at least $16,950 from the construction and real-estate lobbies; $4,100 from the health-care industry; $1,000 from the Colorado Employee Rights Campaign, which is pushing for a "right to work" law that would make it harder for workers to organize; and $1,500 from the Philip Morris tobacco company.

Among Jones' individual donors were Congressman Joel Hefley; Senate Majority Leader-Elect Mark Hillman; Sen. Andy McElhany; Reps. Keith King and Bill Sinclair; state Transportation Director Tom Norton; fellow County Commissioners Tom Huffman, Jeri Howells and Chuck Brown; El Paso County Commissioner-Elect Jim Bensberg; County Administrator Terry Harris; Assistant County Administrator Dennis Cripps; District Attorney Jeanne Smith; Assistant District Attorney Dan May; and Colorado Springs Councilman and mayoral candidate Jim Null.

MICHAEL MERRIFIELD

House District 18

Total raised: $83,717

In a grass-roots effort that could become a model for fund-raising in the wake of campaign finance reforming Amendment 27, Merrifield collected hundreds of donations from individuals, many as small as $10 or $25 -- making such contributions his largest single source of money.

He went on to become the first Democratic legislator elected from El Paso County in a decade, despite being overwhelmingly outspent by his Republican opponent, Dan Stuart, who raised more than $140,000.

Still, Merrifield also received at least $31,000 from the local and state Democratic Party, which recognized early the chance to seize the redrawn House District 18. And, he received at least $6,900 from labor unions, who will be fighting against proposed "right-to-work" laws during the upcoming session and are also likely to push for more affordable health insurance for workers.

Merrifield also received contributions from Colorado Conservation Voters and from Colorado Ceasefire, a gun-control group. Individual donors included Reps. Dan Grossman and Jennifer Veiga; former Rep. Daphne Greenwood; state Board of Education member Jared Polis; entrepreneur and gay-rights backer Tim Gill; and Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Judith Noyes.

MARK CLOER

House District 17

Total raised: $49,715

Seen as potentially vulnerable in his race against Democratic challenger P.M. Wynn, Cloer reached out to the grass-roots in his campaign, raising more small, individual donations than any other Republican House candidate in the county's delegation.

However, Cloer also accepted at least $6,500 from insurers. Last year, he voted against requiring health-insurance policies to cover hearing aids for children.

Health-care providers, meanwhile, gave Cloer at least $4,000. Cloer in 2001 helped defeat a "Patient's Bill of Rights" law that would have allowed patients to sue HMOs for negligence.

Cloer also netted at least $3,000 from real-estate and construction interests. In 2001, he and every other House Republican from El Paso County voted for a growth-control bill dubbed the "Developers' Bill of Rights," which critics said would actually promote sprawl.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies gave Cloer $1,300. Last year, he helped kill a proposal aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs for consumers.

Republican Party organizations contributed another $6,350 to Cloer's campaign. Other noteworthy benefactors included auto dealerships, trial lawyers, Qwest, the Colorado State Shooting Association, the financial-services industry, Congressman Joel Hefley, Lieutenant Governor-Elect Jane Norton, Sens. Doug Lamborn and Andy McElhany, Rep. Bill Sinclair, Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Sallie Clark, anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce, and developer/school-voucher advocate Steve Schuck.

BILL SINCLAIR

House District 16

Total raised: $37,605

Though Rep. Bill Sinclair faced little opposition in the general election, he had to fight off a Republican primary challenge from Bill Jambura, forcing him to engage in some grass-roots fund-raising. Still, his campaign was heavily bankrolled by special interests, including the real-estate and construction industry, which forked over at least $5,550.

Another $2,250 came from the liquor industry; last year, Sinclair introduced and passed a bill streamlining the application process for liquor licenses.

Sinclair also got at least $2,500 from the financial-services industry, $2,400 from the insurance lobby, $2,000 from telecommunications companies, $1,400 from health-care providers, $1,100 from energy companies and a $1,000 gift from Philip Morris.

Individual donors included El Paso County Commissioner-Elect Wayne Williams, City Councilman and mayoral candidate Jim Null, and Steve Schuck.

KEITH KING

House District 21

Total raised: $34,800

New House Majority Leader Keith King collected at least $4,700 from the real-estate and construction lobby, and the telecommunications companies provided another $3,750, including a $1,000 gift from Qwest.

The insurance industry donated at least $3,100. King not only voted against requiring coverage for children's hearing aids, he also campaigned last fall on a promise to further reduce existing health-insurance mandates.

King also collected at least $2,250 from health-care providers, $1,650 from oil, gas and coal interests, and other significant donations from the financial-services, liquor, tobacco and gambling lobbies.

DAVID SCHULTHEIS

House District 22

Total raised: $33,632

Insurers wrote at least $4,500 worth of checks to Dave Schultheis' campaign, and the real-estate and construction lobby gave him at least $4,150. Both interest groups backed his failed proposal last year to limit the amount of damages consumers can win when suing construction companies, and the insurers were also pleased when Schultheis voted against coverage for hearing aids for children.

Schultheis also got at least $3,300 from telecom and dot.com companies and $2,200 from health-care and pharmaceutical interests, in addition to donations from liquor and tobacco companies.

Individual donors included anti- abortion activist Connie Pratt and gay-rights foe Will Perkins.

DOUG LAMBORN

Senate District 9

Total raised: $33,454

In 2001, Doug Lamborn voted against Senate Bill 148, a growth-control bill opposed by real-estate and construction interests, which turned around and contributed at least $4,200 to his re-election effort last fall.

Lamborn also accepted at least $2,250 from the financial-services sector, including $500 from mortgage-lending company Household International. Household has been the target of a nationwide campaign to stop so-called "predatory lending" -- the practice of charging unusually high interest rates and fees on loans marketed primarily to low-income and minority borrowers. Last year, Lamborn voted against a bill designed to curb predatory lending.

Having proposed a bill in 2000 to eliminate sales taxes on telephone service, Lamborn also received $1,000 from the telecom industry.

The health-care and pharmaceutical companies provided at least another $2,400, and insurers gave him at least $2,300.

Other notable donors included energy, tobacco and liquor companies, Rep. Richard Decker, County Commissioner-Elect Wayne Williams, and Steve Schuck.

RICHARD DECKER

House District 19

Total raised: $29,367

Decker, who cast a key committee vote to kill Senate Bill 148 in 2001 and voted for the "Developers' Bill of Rights," collected at least $4,000 in campaign contributions from the real-estate and construction lobbies.

Having introduced and passed into law a bill in 1999 that protects domestic tobacco companies by banning certain imported tobacco products, Decker also accepted a $1,000 check from Philip Morris.

He collected at least another $2,600 from the liquor industry, $2,375 from insurers, $2,000 from energy companies and $1,850 from health-care providers.

Other notable donors include Sen. Doug Lamborn; Rep. Mark Cloer; and El Paso County Commissioners Tom Huffman and Jeri Howells.

BILL CADMAN

House District 15

Total raised: $19,235

Facing only token opposition in his bid for re-election, Cadman didn't bother to raise much money, and almost all of it came from corporations and PACs.

He got at least $3,250 from insurers. Last year, he introduced an industry-backed bill to change auto-insurance requirements. He also voted against requiring insurance coverage for children's hearing aids.

Cadman collected at least $1,000 from the financial-services industry, including $500 from Household International. He cast a crucial committee vote killing last year's proposed law to curb predatory-lending practices.

Cadman got another $3,500 from telecommunications companies, including a $1,000 check from Qwest, and he received at least $1,400 from liquor interests.

LYNN HEFLEY

House District 20

Total raised: $16,896

Like Cadman, Rep. Lynn Hefley didn't waste much time soliciting individual donations -- she simply kicked back and watched the special-interest money roll in.

She collected at least $2,950 from real-estate and construction interests, $1,750 from health-care providers, $1,750 from the telecommunications industry, and other sizable donations from insurance, energy, liquor and tobacco interests.

-- tlangeland@csindy.com

  • Special-interest PACs dominate local campaign contributions

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