California Billionaire Tom Steyer Targets State Races In Colorado In 2018
California billionaire and prominent Democratic donor Tom Steyer has made an early entrance into Colorado’s 2018 election battleground, a Western Wire review of Colorado’s campaign finance reports reveals.
Contribution reports from the 4th quarter of 2017 show Steyer jumping into five Colorado House and Senate races in competitive Colorado districts much earlier than in 2016. Democrats hold the state House, while Republicans retain a narrow majority in the state Senate.
Steyer gave $400, the state maximum per individual, on December 20, 2017 to each of five Colorado candidates, all Democrats. In the state House, Steyer backed Rep. Tony Exum (HD-17), who holds a competitive seat in El Paso County. He also donated to Rep. Barbara McLachlan (HD-59) in Southwest Colorado, and Rep. Jeff Bridges (HD-3) in Denver’s southern suburbs. Steyer’s wife, Kathryn, also gave a matching $400 donation to Exum.
The description of McLachlan’s donation includes “Democracy Engine – Give Green.” While none of the remaining candidates include that description, all five are listed on the “Give Green In the States” campaign website. Colorado’s candidates are listed alongside state candidates from Nevada, as well as Gov. Kate Brown (D) of Oregon and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) of New York.
On the Senate side, Steyer targeted two highly competitive districts in Denver’s northeast suburbs and west and nearby foothills. Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik eked out a narrow victory in Senate District 24 in 2014, capturing the seat by fewer than one thousand votes in a Republican pick-up that cycle. Faith Winter, a Democratic representative in HD-35, is challenging Humenik.
Senate District 16, held by Republican Sen. Tim Neville, is a top-tier target given the district’s voter makeup and Neville’s profile. Neville’s 2014 race was hotly contested and the GOP legislator ran unsuccessfully in 2016 for the party nomination to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Steyer’s preferred candidate, Tammy Story, has the endorsement of U.S. Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Polis is running for the Democratic nomination for Colorado governor.
“Our focus has always been on equal opportunity for all Coloradans, and that doesn’t fit with what Tom Steyer wants to do,” Neville told Western Wire. “He’s very concerned about making sure government picks and chooses winners and losers and makes decisions for Coloradans.”
“Heaven forbid they are allowed to make their own decisions,” Neville quipped.
Neville said he was not surprised Steyer backed his opponent, nor the other candidates in Colorado he supports. Sending these small early donations, limited only by the state’s campaign finance laws, Neville believed the prolific Democratic donor was “messaging” or signaling other donors in Colorado and across the country to buy-in on competitive state House and Senate districts in order to flip seats in 2018.
“Definitely all targeted races,” Neville said. He pointed to the seat-by-seat similarities between Steyer’s donations and races profiled by Colorado Resistance, which the group has prioritized for a “balance of power” in the state that would mean Democrats holding the House and taking back the Senate.
Neville said the return on investment for local races was likely much higher than big ad buys or a diffused effort to get out the vote.
A Western Wire analysis of Steyer expenditures in the state of Nevada in the 2016 cycle showed that targeting 5 key races allowed Democrats to take control of the State Senate and State Assembly.
Steyer spent $70,000 on those races, Western Wire uncovered. Steyer, along with his wife, also gave $65,000 to candidates in New Mexico the same year. Between 2014 and 2016, Steyer spent $163 million on federal races supporting Democrats.
Colorado Resistance is a state-level outgrowth of the national Indivisible Movement, a Tea Party-inspired progressive movement of former D.C. Democratic and progressive staffers stung by the election of Donald Trump in 2016. There are many local Colorado affiliates, and the group has posted its own “Colorado Resistance Manual: An Indivisible Guide for Colorado, by Coloradans” that offers tactics to win at the state and local level.
“This document is based on a simple premise: one of the most effective ways to resist Donald Trump’s agenda is by channeling this moment of unprecedented energy into electing as many progressives as possible to state & local office,” the manual declares.
That means targeting competitive races like Neville’s Senate District 16.
“In 2018, 20 target races [emphasis in original] will decide the balance of power in Colorado. We’ve created detailed profiles of each race that will be continuously updated through election day. We’ve also set up “district funds” to create pots of money, raised in advance, for the eventual Democratic nominee in each target district,” Colorado Resistance writes.
Neville said the group makes no bones about its intentions, spelling out clearly why they are focused on state politics.
Top of mind for Colorado Resistance? Redistricting.
“In 2010, a Republican sweep of state legislature races allowed the GOP to gerrymander congressional districts nationwide, unfairly rigging elections in favor of Republican candidates. We cannot let this happen again,” the group writes. Getting Democrats elected in 2018 will give them a head start on reclaiming that process.
“Many of the state legislators who will control the crucial redistricting process will be elected in 2018. Winning majorities in the legislature in 2018 is the first step towards protecting Colorado from Republican gerrymandering,” they continued.
Redistricting isn’t the only R-word the group emphasized. The other is in their name—“Resistance”—to the Trump administration, especially on energy issues.
“Trump’s destructive policies may originate in Washington, but they’ll be implemented in our communities by state and local officials. The more power local Democrats have, the more power the Resistance has to fight back,” Colorado Resistance writes. “With a fully blue state government, Colorado could step up as a national leader in the Resistance. For example, winning the Attorney General’s office would allow us to join states like Hawaii and Washington in challenging the Trump administration’s unconstitutional actions in court.”
“The fact that East coast and West coast billionaires are playing in Colorado and trying to dictate the lives through their proxies shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Neville said.
“These are the battles we have to fight,” Neville concluded.
Jon Caldara, President of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank based in Denver, told Western Wire that Steyer was “signaling” his friends and fellow donors.
“One—I wish I was Tom Steyer. Two—this is an example of how Colorado is becoming East California,” Caldara said. “Now Californians are directly buying legislative seats.”
Caldara joked that renaming the state “East California” would be more honest about where donors like Steyer would like to see the state going.
“It’s obviously a signal. Anyone who likes California-style politics will pour money into these seats,” Caldara said.
And while the contributions seem low, Caldara noted, the money going to other in-state independent expenditures is likely much higher.
“If Steyer is maxing out in these races, one can only imagine what he is giving to independent expenditures” behind the scenes, Caldara predicted.
Colorado has no limit for individuals on independent expenditure committee donations.
Steyer has remained engaged at the national level, launching an effort to impeach Trump and announcing a $30 million campaign to increase the youth vote to flip the U.S. House to Democratic control.
“The Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington D.C. need to step up and do what they were elected to do—protect and serve the people they represent,” Need to Impeach Founder Tom Steyer said in a statement. “Donald Trump has already passed the threshold for impeachment. You know it, we know it, and so do members of Congress. Up to this point, Congress members have offered countless excuses for not backing impeachment.”
While Steyer’s impeachment push has drawn mixed reviews from Democrats—former Obama adviser David Axelrod and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) aren’t fans—flipping the U.S. House would deliver similar results.
Taking on state-level political races, as Steyer has done in Nevada in 2016 and Colorado so far this cycle, fits the NextGen Climate rebranding to “NextGen America” the billionaire launched last year.
NextGen America says it wants “to promote American values and stand up to Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s assault on our way of life.”