Jared Polis, the Democratic candidate for governor in Colorado, gave another $1.6 million to his own campaign in July, increasing his campaign haul so far to a total of $13.1 million—98 percent of which has come from Polis’s pockets.
Polis’s Republican opponent, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, has raised just $2.38 million thus far. At the end of July, Polis had $1.6 million cash on hand, four times as much as Stapleton’s $301,811.
For Polis, one of the ten-richest members of Congress, this sort of self-financing is nothing new: When faced with competitive races, he has used his fortune to massively outspend his competitors.
Polis ran for a statewide at-large seat in 2000 for the Colorado Board of Education, at the age of 26. He outspent his competitor $1.2 million to $10,000, yet squeaked by with a margin of only 90 votes.
“Generally speaking, no one really elects Jared Polis,” longtime Colorado political analyst Floyd Ciruli told the Washington Free Beacon in June. “He really has to overwhelm the competition with money. And he’s certainly willing to try it.”
Before the primary vote, fellow gubernatorial candidate and former state senator Mike Johnston (D.,) tried to press the issue during a televised debate when one of the moderators asked Polis if someone had to be wealthy in order to have a chance at being governor.
“I sure hope not, you know, most of the people up here are probably millionaires,” Polis said, while adding later he had supported “comprehensive campaign finance reform nationally to help get money out of politics.”
“Candidates shouldn’t be forced to either be wealthy or spend time with ten millionaires at a Denver steakhouse every night trying to raise the funds they need to compete,” Polis said just a few moments later.
“The challenge is, if you’re going to advocate for campaign finance without yourself stopping funding your own campaign, that just means that you can buy in while no one else can raise any money,” Johnston replied.
Like President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race, Polis has argued that the self-financing would allow him to enter into office without feeling as though campaign donations created future obligations on how he would govern.
Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Colorado think tank the Independence Institute, where this correspondent once worked, broke the numbers down further, almost borrowing from the situation Polis himself conjured up when saying a candidate shouldn’t have to spend every night fundraising in a steakhouse.
“A candidate for governor in Colorado can only ask supporters for about $1,100,” Caldara wrote in a recent Denver Post editorial. “So, for every million-dollar check Polis writes himself, Stapleton has to beg over 900 supporters for a maximum contribution.”
“Polis gets to spend all his time campaigning, while Stapleton spends all his time fundraising.”
A request for comment from the Polis campaign was not returned.
Self-funded campaigns are far from a guarantee of success, and some argue they are beneficial.
“Because money does’t buy votes, personal wealth is not a ticket to political success,” analyst Joe Albanese wrote for the Institute for Free Speech earlier this year. “In fact, self-funders have had a hard time winning elections because, by skipping those important fundraising steps, they have fewer opportunities to identify their base and create a relationship with those they intend to represent. Fundraising hones the skills that make candidates effective on the campaign path. Self-funders miss those lessons, and it routinely costs them on Election Day.”
Caldara hit parallel themes in his Post editorial.
“But money doesn’t always win elections,” he wrote. “Stapleton can win, but it requires not only Stapleton himself to do everything perfectly, it requires his friends running 527’s, PAC’s, and Independent Expenditure Committees (IEC’s) to be intensely disciplined.”