The biggest political donors

Herald investigation reveals Southwest Colorado’s top 15

CLIFF VANCURA/Durango Herald Enlarge photo

CLIFF VANCURA/Durango Herald

According to records amassed by the Federal Election Commission, some people in Southwest Colorado – a politically fraught part of the American universe – give more than others.

The Durango Herald has analyzed more than 17,000 individual donations from 2005 to the present and found the 15 biggest political donors, in aggregate dollars given, within the region.

What do these people, who presumably are committed to improving the country, think of the current state of American politics? Why do they give?

In many cases, we don’t know.

If political donations are a constitutionally affirmed aspect of free speech, many of Southwest Colorado’s big donors, when contacted by The Herald, declined to elaborate on their donations, particularly the Democratic-leaning donors. Only one of the six Democrats contacted for this story agreed to talk on the record, while four of nine Republicans spoke to the Herald.

A donor-by-donor look at the top 15, and their thoughts on politics:

1. The most generous donors were Robert and Margaret Gaddis of Mancos, who between them have given almost $70,000 to Republican causes and candidates since 2005, including John McCain’s and Mitt Romney’s presidential bids.

Interviewed by phone, Robert Gaddis, a retired rancher and former chairman and vice chairman of the Republican Party of Montezuma County, said their giving was motivated partially by their close friendship with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. “We like his conservative style, Ronald Reagan ideas. We think he is an honest, moral, good Christian man, as they used to say.”

Gaddis said he approves of Tipton’s stance on the government shutdown. “I’d like to see the government shutdown go on for about six months. Then we might learn a little bit about what we can do without – that is, if they let the veterans go in to the World War II memorials,” he said.

2. Durango’s Donald Novak, a founding director of The Exetor Group, a leadership consultancy group based in Durango, has given nearly $65,000 to Democratic candidates and causes in the last five years, including thousands to both of Barack Obama’s campaigns and $500 to Hillary Clinton’s primary bid in 2008. Contacted by phone, Novak declined to comment for this story, saying he was “not interested.”

3. Bayfield’s Susan and Robert Dulin have given $55,000 to GOP candidates and causes since 2005, including Romney’s presidential campaigns and the Minutemen PAC. When sought at his address, Robert Dulin said since his wife’s death late last year, he has stopped giving. He declined to talk on the record to the Herald.

4. Nicole and Spencer Smith of Dolores have given $45,700 to mostly Republican candidates such as Romney, Tipton and McCain, and occasionally to Democrats such as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Contacted by phone, Spencer Smith, CEO of the Smith Group, said he and his wife gave on “both sides of the aisle” because they targeted politicians who they think “will be beneficial to the nation as a whole.” Nicole Spencer is listed as an owner of Big O Tires Inc.

5. Bayfield’s D.E. “Dorothy” McGill has given $42,372.50 to Democratic candidates and causes since 2005. McGill is a prolific donor, often giving in small increments of $20 or $15 to groups such as Emily’s List and Friends of Barbara Boxer. Contacted by email, McGill declined an interview request, saying she values her privacy.

6. Joyce Humiston of Mancos has given $29,000 to both Republicans and Democrats, including a $1,000 check to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2010, $2,000 to (Ken) Salazar for Senate in 2007, and several $5,000 checks to the American Health Care Association Political Action Committee. Humiston, president of C&G Management, an elder care provider, did not respond to messages left at her place of work, Inns of the Southwest.

According to the Inns of the Southwest website, in 2005, Humiston was appointed by U.S. Rep. John Salazar as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging, a 10-year appointment. She gave $1,000 to John Salazar between 2006 and 2008.

7. Carol Fisher of Pagosa Springs has given $29,000 to Republican causes. Contacted by phone, she said she’d been politically active since “50 years ago in Louisiana, for the Draft Goldwater for President campaign in 1964.” She said she gives candidates money because “I’m conservative, and I want conservative politics, economics and responsible government.”

As for the shutdown, Fisher blamed Democrats and supports Tipton, though she worried U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had “gone a little too far.”

8. Durango’s Chris Isensee, a retired lawyer based in Durango, has given Democrats nearly $26,000. Calls to Isensee went unanswered.

9. Thomas Shipps, an attorney in Durango, has given nearly $25,000 to Democratic causes and candidates since 2005, including Sen. Mark Udall’s and Sen. Ken Salazar’s campaigns. Contacted at his law firm, Shipps said he gives money because “I am an active citizen, and I’ve been a lifelong Democrat.”

Except for several donations to Obama’s campaigns for the presidency in 2008 and 2012, Shipps mostly has focused his giving on Colorado Democrats. He said he hopes his giving has affected the world “in a positive way.”

“I mean, I hope the money is well spent on behalf of the candidate, and in the case of President Obama, I hope the little amount of money I gave to the Obama campaign helped defeat that monstrous campaign of Karl Rove’s. In my small way, maybe I contributed.”

Shipps said candidates in Colorado frequently solicit donations, which he frequently is forced to turn down. “I am not fabulously wealthy,” he said, laughing.

10. Lois and Richard Carpenter, retirees who live in Bayfield, have given the Democrats more than $24,000. They did not return a message left on their home phone.

11. Durango’s Constance and William Webbe, retirees, have given more than $23,000 to Republican candidates and causes since 2005, including $1,000 to Friends of Herman Cain, $1,000 to Rick Santorum for President and thousands to Tipton. They did not respond to messages requesting comment left on their home phone.

12. Durango’s Ruth Ann West, a self-employed investor and volunteer, has given $22,550 to Democratic candidates and causes. Contacted by phone, she said, “I really don’t want to be involved in this story.”

13. Mancos’ Lt. Col. J. Richard Loucks, retired president of C&G Healthcare Management, has given $22,870 to Republican candidates and conservative causes, including gifts to the National Rifle Association and Arizonan Jon Kyl for U.S. Senate. He did not respond to a message requesting comment left on his home phone, and a subsequent phone call was disconnected.

14. Dolores’ Rita, Monica and Terry Gorsuch have given more than $21,000 to Tipton. Contacted by phone, Rita Gorsuch said she is Tipton’s aunt and Terry, a contractor for Triad Western, is Tipton’s cousin. She said Tipton has “aspired to be in politics most of his life, so we’ve supported him – we’re family backers. I probably shouldn’t say anything else,” she said, adding, “I hope he wins re-election if he chooses to run again.”

15. Durango’s Sandra and Don Mapel have given more than $21,000 to Tipton and the American Beverage Association PAC. Don Mapel is president of Durango Coca-Cola, and Sandra Mapel is a homemaker. Sandra Mapel said she was not pleased with the shutdown or the state of the country.

“I don’t speak for my husband – I only speak for myself. I think Congress should take no pay until they come to a solution. I’m not just speaking as a Republican,” she said.

“It’s totally dysfunctional. When I heard that 4,000 Department of Education people wouldn’t be getting their salary, I was like, ‘Why are there 4,000 people in the Department of Education?’ But at this point, I am not for either party.

“I ask them to take me off the list. I am not contributing until they do their job.”

cmcallister@durangoherald.com

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