Money wins: the death of the grassroots and caucuses

Author: Gordon Klingenschmitt - July 11, 2018 - Updated: July 11, 2018

Gordon Klingenschmitt

It’s rare when the far left Bernie Sanders followers and the far right friends of Gordon Klingenschmitt share a common political cause, but the recent Colorado Republican and Democrat state-wide party primary votes are sadly cause for such new agreement. Grassroots activists are now terribly outspent by the establishment middle, worsened now that unaffiliateds voted in our primaries.

As I predicted when the Denver Metro Chamber funded Proposition 108, big money interests changed the law to allow non-Republicans to vote in Republican primaries, and non-Democrats in Democrat primaries. They intentionally watered down both parties, moving them to the center by defeating true conservatives or true liberals. That means liberal Republicans will win future June primaries, and RINOs will chip away at your gun rights, TABOR, life, religious freedom, and raise your taxes. I wrote these exact predictions a year ago, and now they’ve come true.

Democrats agree with me. Mike Littwin the far left blogger for the Colorado Independent writes: “I get the feeling sometimes that I’m the only one upset that Jared Polis could spend more than $11 million of his own money to win the Democratic primary. Isn’t there a fairness factor here?” Polis bought the unaffiliated voters, not by working door-to-door with the army of volunteers Cary Kennedy had, but with what some say were dishonest advertising dollars portraying the openly gay Polis as a pro-family candidate. No wonder Kennedy refused to appear at their “unity rally” with Polis after the election.

In the state treasurer’s race, the Republican Brian Watson entered the race as a self-financed outsider, but in five busy years I’ve never met him. Neither has any voter that I talked to before the primary. “I voted for that man I saw on TV, who said he would not take a salary if elected,” one senior citizen told me, “But I’ve never met him.” Meanwhile the caucus-assembly grassroots winner Justin Everett barely lost to Watson’s money, but captured the hearts of nearly every conservative activist who knocks doors and volunteers. Everybody’s met Everett, because he personally visited nearly all 64 counties. It wasn’t enough.

The same happened in the Democrat race for attorney general, where the Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidate Joe Salazar had far more volunteers working the ground game door-to-door, but the money candidate Phil Weiser bought clever TV commercials and won without meeting nearly as many voters in person.

This pattern was repeated in smaller local races too. Cami Bremer funded and dropped perhaps a dozen postcards, some negative, into thousands of voters’ mailboxes, while grassroots caucus-assembly winner Vickie Tonkins and her team of volunteers knocked on more doors than imaginable, but afforded only 2 postcards and lost the money race. Same with grassroots Ray Garcia who could not raise money against establishment Lois Landgraf, and Mike Angley who had more law experience but didn’t raise enough to beat establishment Sheriff Bill Elder. One exception was Walker Stapleton, who first attempted to petition but later got help from Tom Tancredo at assembly to make the ballot. Stapleton earned enough combined grassroots and monetary support to overtake the self-financed Victor Mitchell, who fewer had met in person.

Money has always helped win elections, but since the passage of Proposition 108, I estimate the establishment money candidates now have an extra 20% juice, resulting in an easier 60-40% bias. The tables are tilted. I estimate most grassroots caucus-assembly winners face a new 20% uphill disadvantage. Unaffiliated voters are smart people, but by nature they don’t attend Republican or Democrat rallies, nor meet those party’s candidates in person before voting. Their information intake is generally limited to what advertising appears before their eyes, so the money candidate win their votes. (Never vote for a candidate you haven’t seen in person.) In past primaries, poor candidates like me could win a fair fight by recruiting enough believers, but now we can’t meet enough unaffiliateds to overcome waves of ads.

This marks a sea-change in Colorado politics, and ultimately may signal the death of the grassroots conservative or liberal movements. Unless Prop 108 is reversed by legislature or ballot, the corporate big-money interests have completed their coup, and seized all power unto themselves. Elected officials will no longer represent voters, just corporate sponsors. Without matching dollars, the principal-focused, small-money, grassroots true believers on both sides are politically dead.

Gordon Klingenschmitt

Gordon Klingenschmitt

Gordon Klingenschmitt, PhD, is a former Navy chaplain and a Republican former state representative from Colorado Springs.