Did money move Summit County elections?
Ryan Summerlin November 25, 2012
In an election year marked by unprecedented spending, results indicate funding may have been a critical factor in local races as much as in the presidential runoff.
A review of public campaign finance reports shows the candidates who splurged on their campaigns won the day on Nov. 6 in three of four local races.
Returning County Commissioner candidate Karn Stiegelmeier, District Attorney-to-be Bruce Brown and state Rep. Millie Hamner are all Democrats, all won their respective races and all outspent their opponents by a margin of approximately three to one.
“I have raised a lot of money,” Hamner said prior to Election Day. “It’s been overwhelming how many individuals and groups of people have contributed to my campaign. … I have four opponents and it’s important to me to be able to have the resources I need to get my name out there and spread my messages.”
Hamner spent more than $70,000 and raised more than $110,000 in her campaign against four challengers for the state House District 61 seat, according to the most recent finance reports from the Colorado Secretary of State. Special interest groups spent money backing Hamner’s campaign as well. She won with 47 percent of the vote.
Her closest competitor, Republican Debra Irvine – who secured support from 34 percent of voters – spent only $20,333. Independent Kathleen Curry came in third with 13 percent of the vote after spending more than $26,000 on the campaign trail.
Breckenridge’s Democrat Emily Tracy’s showdown with Republican Randy Baumgardner for state Senate District 8 was the only local race that bucked the spending trend.
A well-known two-term state representative in the same region, Baumgardner won the Republican-dominated district despite spending $13,000 less than Tracy on his campaign, according to the most recent finance reports.
“It is not always money that wins the race,” Baumgardner said. “I’d served for four years and people knew my name. … Spending a lot of time out in the district certainly seemed to help.”
Though she ultimately raised more money than her opponent, Tracy said she fell short of the state party’s fundraising expectations for the race. The $66,385 she spent during the campaign didn’t get her to a win.
“It really wasn’t enough, I don’t think, to have much of an impact,” said Tracy, who, like many voters, expressed frustration with the current campaign finance system. “We’re not necessarily electing the best candidates with the method that we have, but that’s the reality of where we are right now.”
She said spending support from outside interest groups may have helped Baumgardner with the win.
Stiegelmeier, the incumbent for the Summit Board of County Commissioners, spent more than $10,000 beating challenger Kevin Mastin, who doled out only $3,200 on the campaign trail.
Brown won the office of the 5th Judicial District Attorney over Republican and current assistant DA Scott Turner after spending $32,193, compared to Turner’s $9,913.
Together, candidates bidding for seats representing Summit County spent close to $300,000 this election cycle even as voters locally and statewide overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment urging Colorado lawmakers to push legislation limiting campaign spending.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney saturated Colorado with political advertising and campaign efforts this year, as both dumped millions here to win a key battleground state.