The race for Colorado House District 59 may be the bitterest, hardest-fought in Colorado, as Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan tries to defend his seat against J. Paul Brown, the Republican he defeated two years ago by the closest margin in the state.
By Oct. 22, with two weeks to go before Election Day, a tight cluster of established political interests already had spent nearly $1,180,000 trying to buy an advantage in the contest.
Whereas Republican groups lavished huge sums on the 59th in early October, the most recent filings with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office show that in the election’s final fortnight, Democratic groups – including 527s, political action committees and super PACS – look determined to outbid their GOP counterparts.
In all, Republicans have spent about $570,000. Though Brown’s treasure chest has swelled to nearly $110,000 in the final days of the campaign, it looks like a piggy bank compared to GOP groups’ $460,000 largesse.
Yet Democrats have spent more than $600,000, with McLachlan’s $157,000 kitty also paling in comparison to the $456,000 fortune various Democratic groups have spent on his behalf.
There’s nothing to indicate the deluge of money flooding into the district will relent before Election Day on Tuesday. Though in early October, Republican-leaning groups threatened to leave their Democratic rivals in the dust, Democrats have since strong-armed their way to regaining the financial upper hand.
Democratic-leaning groups spent $156,000 on McLachlan’s behalf in the two weeks between Oct. 9 and Oct. 22.
In that time, only the National Rifle Association’s formidable political arm – the NRA Political Victory Fund – cut checks on Brown’s behalf.
In 2013, the NRA targeted four Democrats who’d voted for gun-control legislation in the wake of deadly shootings at a Connecticut school and a Colorado movie theater – including a bill that capped magazines – for recall. Of the four, McLachlan alone escaped the recall attempt unscathed. But in a clear sign McLachlan is by no means a forgotten nemesis, on Oct. 17, the NRA’s super PAC shelled out $32,000 on a mailer for Brown and other candidates who oppose gun control.
The public won’t know how much Republicans and Democrats are ready to squander on District 59 until after Election Day; even then, campaign finance is murky, and much of the money that changes hands in the pursuit of politics is nearly impossible to track.
But filings with the Secretary of State’s office shed some light on who has been doing most of the spending.
On the Republican side, the financial landscape is dominated by a single group, Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government. A 527, CCAG has spent more than $320,000 on Brown’s behalf.
Honorable mention must go to Freedom Team, a super PAC that lavished $68,000 on ads attacking McLachlan. It’s notable that Freedom Team – a super PAC that rose up from the ashes of the failed 2013 attempt to recall McLachlan – has outspent much more established conservative groups, including the perennial GOP heavyweight, Colorado Leadership Fund LLC, which has spent only about $22,000 on the race. Though Freedom Team is a relative newcomer, directed by its registered agent Laura Carno, it’s also been responsible for some of the most high profile attack ads on McLachlan, including one that aired on ESPN during Monday Night Football and CNN for weeks.
On the liberal side, two groups have bankrolled the Democratic Party’s intense efforts to protect McLachlan and retain the 59th House seat. McLachlan’s most generous benefactor is a super PAC called Priorities for Colorado IE Committee. So far, it has spent more than $270,000 on McLachlan’s behalf.
The other liberal group also is a super PAC: the Conservation Colorado Independent Expenditure Committee has dropped $150,000 on the race.
Like Freedom Team, Conservation Colorado is proving its media-savvy.
On Oct. 20, it cut Facebook a check for $2,000.
Whoever wins the 59th, it’s certain that Mark Zuckerberg, several TV stations, a bevy of political consultants and the U.S. Postal Service will have emerged from election season victorious.