Deadline today for campaign donors to seek Ritter refunds
Coloradans who donated to Gov. Bill Ritter’s now-defunct re-election campaign have until today to request a refund.
Those who don’t will see their money go to other causes, which may or may not have anything to do with political campaigns.
When Ritter changed his mind in January about seeking another four years in office, the one-term governor’s re-election campaign had nearly $1 million in its coffers.
Since then, he has returned $210,772.
On his website, http://www.ritterforgovernor.com, Ritter said he will honor refund requests, but only until today. After that, he and Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien will decide what worthy causes will get the rest.
As of Tuesday, the last time candidates were required to file campaign finance reports with the Secretary of State’s Office, Ritter’s campaign still had less than $464,000 in his campaign account after making those refunds and paying other bills.
“We’ll know by the end of June how much is left, and then he’ll make decisions,” said Jim Carpenter, Ritter’s chief of staff. “That will probably happen by the end of the summer, so then we’ll make distributions.”
Initially, the governor offered refunds to donors who gave money during the last year before Ritter ended his re-election bid.
Because the campaign received fewer refund requests than expected, it offered pro-rated refunds to donors who had given several years ago, but only 40 percent of whatever they gave, Carpenter said.
“When we got fewer requests for refunds than we thought, the governor wanted to go back and offer earlier donors the chance to do this,” he said. “We’ll see where we end up after all of those are issued. What remains will be donated to a group or a number of nonprofit organizations.”
But what those would be is up in the air, including how much, if any, will end up in the hands of other political campaigns.
Ritter’s campaign finance records show he already refunded $40,000 to the Colorado Democrat Party, which doesn’t include the $5,000 he donated to the party in March. He gave back money to a handful of other political candidates who had donated to his re-election campaign, such as Grand Junction Democrat Claudette Konola, who’s running against Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, for Senate District 7.
Beyond that, he has not donated to other candidates running in this fall’s elections. By law, he’s restricted to the same campaign contribution caps that all other donors must follow, so he can’t just give all the money to any one person running for state office.
Of the 868 people who have asked for a refund so far, 124 have given that money and a bit more to his replacement in the race: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
A computer database created by the Daily Sentinel comparing Ritter’s refunds with Hickenlooper’s contributions revealed that those 124 got $66,859 back from the governor, but gave $84,205 to the mayor.
Hickenlooper spokesman George Merritt expressed surprise at that increase, but added the campaign intends to ask the remaining 744 to follow suit.
“We’re asking the same people for donations,” he said. “But anyway you slice it, we’ve been very pleased with the support we’ve received both in (campaign) energy and in fundraising, and the numbers bear that out.”
State Sen. Josh Penry went through some of the same issues earlier this year when he ended his bid for governor last fall.
The Grand Junction Republican, who now is working as campaign manager in Jane Norton’s bid for U.S. Senate, said it was a bit of a headache, but he felt it was morally necessary to return as much money to donors as he could.
“The reason we kept the campaign open for a couple of months (after dropping out) was the logistical processing of the refunds, and just managing that,” Penry said. “Shutting down a gubernatorial campaign requires just about as many meetings as starting one, especially in our case, because we gave the money back, a logistical nightmare.”
But unlike the Ritter refunds, only a small fraction of the $59,331 Penry gave back found its way into the coffers of his former opponents in the GOP primary, according to a similar computer database created by the Sentinel.
Of the 234 people Penry refunded, seven contributed to Scott McInnis and none to Dan Maes, the two leading candidates in the race. In most cases, those seven gave less to McInnis than they received in refunds, though one gave a bit more. As a result, McInnis earned a net increase of $358 from those Penry supporters.
What money remained after Penry made the refunds went to expenses incurred by the short-lived campaign, which collected about $500,000 when it was operating.