The 2014 midterm election is on track to be the most expensive in the nation’s history.
With its bitterly contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, Colorado has been a focus of huge sums of money. Much of it came from mega-corporations and multimillionaires and billionaires from outside the state.
But the money flowed both ways. There are many Coloradans who use their financial power to influence politics nationally and in other states.
Rocky Mountain PBS I-News, teaming with the Investigative News Network, has identified Colorado’s 10 most politically active contributors. The analysis reviewed federal and state contribution disclosures obtained from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.
This data does not include the total amounts for spending in 2014, as donations are still being reported. It doesn’t reflect contributions to any of the political non-profits, which do not have to disclose donors.
It does reveal the contributions from individuals given directly to candidates or political parties.
Colorado’s top 10 political power players have contributed about $6.5 million since 2011 to state and national elections.
The Top Ten
Number 1: Pat Stryker, $1,327,400
Occupation: Founder of Bohemian Companies and the Bohemian Foundation, an arts and culture organization focusing on public health and environmental issues. Stryker’s wealth comes from the Stryker Corp., a medical device company founded by her grandfather, Homer Stryker.
Residence: Fort Collins, Colo.
2014 contributions: Stryker’s largest campaign contribution this year, $10,000, was to the Democratic Party of Colorado. She also donated the maximum legal amount, $2,600, to the reelection campaigns of U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter, and Diana DeGette.
Overall contributions: Pat Stryker has been particularly active in Colorado’s elections and politics. Each year since 2011, she has maxed out her contributions to the Democratic Party of Colorado, and consistently donates directly to Democratic candidates running in both state and federal elections. Her largest single contribution since 2011 was her million dollar donation to “Colorado Commits to Kids,” a 2013 issue committee that aimed to increase revenue for public schools in the state. The ballot measure was unsuccessful.
Did you know: Stryker is more generous toward Colorado politics than any other Power Player this cycle. She has given the maximum contribution of $400 to 48 candidates running for the Colorado General Assembly – contributing in total $20,000 to statewide elections. She is not only the largest contributor from Colorado, but she keeps the majority of her donations focused on Colorado’s issues as well, according to the data.
Number 2: Tim Gill, $1,138,376
Occupation: Tim Gill founder of Quark Inc., a software development company, in 1981.
Residence: Denver, Colo.
2014 contributions: This year, Gill is “Ready for Hillary.” The campaign committee, “Ready for Hillary,” operates on behalf of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, though she has not yet announced whether she will run for president in 2016. Still, the $25,000 donation was Gill’s largest this year.
Overall contributions: Since 2011, Tim Gill has actively supported both Democrats and Republicans, though he supports the Democratic Party more frequently. He is active not only in the politics of Colorado, but also in states including Minnesota, Georgia and New York, often when these states are considering policy changes that would impact the LGBTQ community.
Did you know: Gill is considered among the most influential “gay donors” in the United States. Gill and his husband, Scott Miller, contribute to both Democrat and Republican campaigns in an effort to build bipartisan alliances. The Gill Foundation has contributed nearly $250 million to LGBT nonprofit organizations nationwide since 1994.
Number 3: Tatnall Hillman, $639,057
Occupation: Retired. Hillman is the son of John Hartwell Hillman Jr., who made his billions from coal, steel and gas.
Residence: Aspen, Colo.
2014 contributions: Hillman is a conservative donor. This year, his largest donation of $40,000 went to the Club for Growth Action committee, a national organization that benefits Republicans. His contributions frequently support out-of-state Republican candidates, including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. In fact, the majority of Hillman’s contributions in 2014 went to candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in other states. He donated $2,600, the maximum contribution an individual may give to a candidate, to 20 candidates nationwide. He contributed $2,600 each to U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner’s U.S. Senate candidacy and Scott Tipton’s reelection bid to the U.S. House.
Overall contributions: Hillman has consistently contributed to conservative candidates and political action committees nationally.
Did you know: Tatnall Hillman has kept his life private over the years, despite his many campaign contributions. When I-News requested a comment for this story, Hillman replied, “My best comment is no comment.”
Number 4: Joe Ricketts, $618,500
Occupation: Former CEO and Chairman of TD Ameritrade, an online investment firm headquartered in Omaha, Neb.
Residence: Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Joe Ricketts does not currently live in Colorado. However, his personal holdings company, Hugo Enterprises, is headquartered in Denver. He listed this address when reporting more than $600,000 of donations in 2011 and 2012, launching him to a top spot among Colorado’s Power Players.
2014 contributions: No contributions made from Colorado this year.
Overall contributions: In 2011 and 2012, none of the $600,000 in donations he listed as originating in Colorado went to a Colorado candidate. He donated $2,500 each to five of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, including Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and another $2,500 to Gary Johnson, a Libertarian presidential hopeful and former governor of New Mexico.
Did you know: Joe Ricketts is listed as one of the Forbes Top 400 richest people in the United States. He is a conservative donor and founder of conservative “Ending Spending Super PAC,” though one of his daughters, Laura Ricketts, is a Democrat and operates her own liberal-leaning super PAC. Together, the family owns the Chicago Cubs.
Number 5: Larry Mizel, $613,800
Occupation: Chairman and CEO of M.D.C. Holdings, Inc., a homebuilding and financial services business.
Residence: Denver, Colo.
2014 contributions: This year, Mizel donated $100,000 to a Super PAC focused on the reelection of GOP U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He also contributed $1,000 directly to Sen. Graham. His next largest contributions included two donations of $32,400 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee.
Overall contributions: Since 2011, Mizel has been particularly active in high-profile Republican campaigns, supporting such candidates as Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Did you know: Businessweek estimates that Mizel’s total compensation from M.D.C. Holdings, Inc. in 2013 topped $12 million.
Number 6: Ben Walton, $500,000
Occupation: Philanthropist and Board member of the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic organization of the founders of Wal-Mart.
Residence: Denver, Colo.
2014 contributions: None.
Overall contributions: Walton was one of the top donors to Colorado Commits to Kids with a $500,000 donation. The group organized in favor of Amendment 66, a measure which would have changed the state’s tax structure to fund K-12 education.
Did you know: Walton is the only donor in the top ten list with a single large donation.
Number 7: Gregory B. Maffei, $482,899
Occupation: President and CEO of Liberty Media Corporation, which owns the Atlanta Braves and holds stakes in major media companies, such as SiriusXM and Barnes & Noble.
Residence: Englewood, Colo.
2014 contributions: This year he spent $148,999, with donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Republican candidates for senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John McCain, Arizona, and Mike Rounds, South Dakota. The largest donation was $100,000 to conservative Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, based in Alexandria, Va.
Overall contributions: Maffei has largely donated to Republican candidates and causes, spending $482,899 since 2011. In past campaigns, he has backed national Republican leaders and their PACs, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In 2012 he contributed to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, with $2,500 to the candidate directly and $150,000 to the pro-Romney PACs Restore our Future and American Crossroads.
Did you know: In 2011 Maffei donated $1,100 to Gov. John Hickenlooper, but has not donated to the governor since.
Number 8: Merle Chambers, $430,260
Occupation: Former oil and gas executive turned philanthropist. Founder of the Chambers Family Fund, which focuses on women and family issues.
Residence: Denver, Colo.
2014 contributions: This year Chambers has contributed $5,650. For the second year in a row she has maxed out her contribution limit of $2,600 on Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign. Chambers has also backed Joseph Neguse for Colorado secretary of state.
Overall contributions: Chambers has largely contributed to Democratic causes and candidates. Last year she contributed $25,000 to a gun control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and in 2012 she sent $200,000 to liberal super PAC Fair Share Action. Last year Chambers also maxed out her contribution to Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Romanoff by spending $2,600 on his campaign.
Did you know: Many of Chambers’ contributions focus on Democratic female leadership across the United States, including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Number 9: John C. Malone, $415,000
Occupation: Chairman of Liberty Media Corporation, Chairman and CEO of Steele Street Bank & Trust.
Residence: Elizabeth, Colo.
2014 contributions: This year Malone contributed $25,200 so far, with $5,200 going to Sen. John McCain , $10,000 to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and $10,000 to the Republican Party of Maine.
Overall contributions: Republicans, including Boehner and Romney, have benefited the most from Malone’s contributions. In Colorado elections, last year Malone backed Senate candidate Cory Gardner with $5,000, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman with $5,200 to and candidate for attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, with $1,100.
Did you know: A large chunk of Malone’s contributions have gone to Maine. Last year he contributed $5,200 to Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins. In 2012 he donated $90,000 to the Republican Party of Maine and $100,000 to Maine Freedom PAC.
Number 10: David Merage, $404,087
Occupation: Co-founder of Chef America and founder of investment management company, Consolidated Investment Group.
Residence: Englewood, Colo.
2014 contributions: Merage has contributed $39,125 so far this year, including funds to both Republicans and Democrats, with $12,825 to the Democratic Party of Colorado and $15,000 to the Republican National Committee. He has given $2,600 to South Carolina’s Graham, and $2,500 to Democratic Senators Mark Warner of Virginia Michael Bennet of Colorado.
Overall contributions: Last year Merage donated $257,042 to pro-Amendment 66 group, Colorado Commits to Kids. He backed Mike Coffman three years in a row; the most recent contribution was $1,100 this year. He has also backed Colorado Senator Mark Udall two years in a row with the most recent contribution of $2,400 last year. In the 2012 presidential campaigns, he donated $2,500 to Barack Obama and $5,000 to Mitt Romney.
Did you know: Chef America, the frozen food company Merage co-founded, is the progenitor of Hot Pockets.
Comment: “I am deeply committed to the area of early childhood education as this is the foundation to a successful life. This commitment is the driving force behind my political contributions. I believe that public-private partnerships are the key to providing all children with access to high quality care, and as a result, I take a bipartisan approach to engaging with elected officials on both sides of the aisle to ignite dialogue and discussion that will ultimately result in action for the future generation.”
The data in this story was compiled by the Investigative News Network from Followthemoney.org, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics and OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics. The project is partnership with other newsrooms and includes the top donors from 12 states.