For voters who want to know where campaign donations are coming from for the two leading candidates for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, good luck.
That’s because the bulk of the money collected so far this year by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican, and state Sen. Kerry Donovan, the leading Democrat in the race hoping to challenge her next year, falls under federal campaign finance laws that allows individual donors to remain secret.
A perfect storm has created that issue: The growing use of social media in soliciting contributions, the advent of online funding platforms operated by the two main political parties, and campaign finance laws that don’t require donations of $200 or less to be itemized.
As a result, the source of more than half of the contributions that Boebert has taken in so far this year are unknown, while about three-fourths of donations to Donovan also are hidden, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by the two.
Compare that to the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation, and the range is as low as 1.5% for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, and as high as 29% for U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, while the four Democrats who represent the state — U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse, Ed Perlmutter and Jason Crow — are all around 10%.
For U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who is running for re-election next year, the source of $849,521 of the nearly $4.5 million, or 19%, of the donations he’s gathered were not disclosed.
Floyd Ciruli, a University of Denver public opinion and foreign policy professor who is director of DU’s Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, said that’s because many congressional races have attracted national attention, which is polarizing people to donate to candidates who aren’t going to be their representatives in Congress.
While Donovan isn’t widely known on a national level, because Boebert is, Donovan likely is seeing a lot more financial support nationally than she might otherwise, Ciruli said.
“I would assume that the vast majority of that money is outside (of the state) because these are nationalized races,” he said.
“Ms. Boebert has a reputation as a strong Trump person, a gun rights person, and as just a person who can irritate liberals, and that attracts a massive national audience,” Ciruli added. “I can’t imagine that kind of money coming from Colorado. Boebert is a No. 1 target along with (U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor) Greene and a handful of others. Liberal interest groups and wealthy individuals around this country are dedicated to removing her.”
Like Boebert, who has pulled in about $1.8 million in donations this year, the source of more than $929,000 of which is hidden, about three-fourths of the contributions that such high-profile members of Congress as Greene and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have accepted are not itemized in their campaign finance reports.
Greene, a Georgia Republican, has raised more than $4.8 million, the source of about $3.5 million of which is unknown, while Gaetz has pulled in about $3.3 million, only about $1 million of which is identified, according to their latest FEC filings.
By comparison, the 2020 presidential race between now President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump saw less than one-third coming from undisclosed sources.
While the Boebert campaign did not respond to requests about this issue, Donovan would only say that all that uncategorized money — $886,768 out of nearly $1.2 million — is coming in the form of small donations from real voters, regardless of whether those donors are from within the expansive 3rd Congressional District or elsewhere in the state.
“I’m excited that our grassroots campaign has an average contribution of just $28, has earned support from folks in all 29 counties across the congressional district and is refusing all corporate PAC money,” Donovan said. “People across the district, state and entire country are fed up with Lauren Boebert’s selfish, headline-hunting agenda, and are energized to support a candidate who has a proven track record of delivering results for her constituents.”
In a paper published in Election Law Journal last year, California Institute of Technology political science professors R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Katz, along with now American University assistant professor Seo-young Silvia Kim, wrote that an increasing number of political candidates are turning to what they call “hidden donors” and third-party online platforms, such as ActBlue and WinRed, in their fundraising efforts.
The danger, they write, is that the electorate has no idea who’s pulling those candidates’ strings, or how it’s influencing their political stances.
“Hidden donors are an important force that politicians must cater to when deciding ideological positions and campaign strategies,” they write. “If hidden donors are providing significant financial support to a campaign, it is likely that they have a more important influence on campaign platforms than previously acknowledged.”