In the race to represent Colorado’s Western Slope in Congress, contributions from outside the sprawling, mostly rural 3rd Congressional District, have powered incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, while challenger Adam Frisch has relied heavily on his hometown of Aspen, as well as his personal wealth, to fund his campaign. But an acceleration in donations for the Democrat in the third quarter showed that he too can raise significant sums from outside the district.
Boebert, a Silt Republican seeking her second term, has established herself as a prolific fundraiser, bringing in $6.2 million since last year in her race to be reelected, putting her among the two dozen highest-funded members of Congress seeking reelection, according to a ranking maintained by the website opensecrets.org.
According to campaign-finance filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Boebert’s campaign has raised $2.7 million from itemized individual contributions, where the donor’s name and address are disclosed, and another $2.9 million from non-itemized donations, which are contributions of $200 or less where campaigns are not required to disclose a donor’s name and address.
Of Boebert’s itemized contributions, 77% were from outside of the district, according to an Aspen Journalism analysis of the FEC data.
“There’s a lot of support from Colorado and across the nation because people want someone who’s going to stand up for them,” Boebert told Aspen Journalism this month. “People in other states, they recognize they can’t vote for me, but they can support me, and when I’m in D.C. I vote for them, and so we’re all part of the same mission.”
Democrat Adam Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member who in February announced his candidacy, narrowed the fundraising gap with Boebert with $1.7 million in third-quarter contributions — $1.032 million in itemized and $639,000 in non-itemized contributions. Of those itemized third-quarter donations, 66% were from out-of-district sources. Through the end of the third quarter, roughly 60% of Frisch’s itemized donations to date are from outside the 3rd Congressional District.
“We’re going to focus on the local issues that affect the district the most, but we know that there’s national interest in this race,” Frisch said. “We have a name-brand Republican that is not liked across the country. … Money really [started] kicking in as more and more people found out.”
The third-quarter filing, made public this month, shifted Frisch’s fundraising narrative, as it topped Boebert’s third-quarter haul of $900,000. Through the second quarter, Frisch had raised a total of $395,000 in donations. He had also funded his campaign with a series of five personal loans between February and June totaling $2.2 million, although he paid back a $1.5 million March loan a few weeks later.
Frisch attributed the third-quarter jump to increased national attention in the 3rd District race after his narrow victory in the June 28 Democratic primary.
Kenneth Bickers, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado Boulder, noted that, including the personal loans, Frisch raised more than any other Democratic candidate — incumbent or challenger — in Colorado in the third quarter for the U.S. House races.
“He’s done a terrific job at raising money, but Boebert has also raised far more [in total] than any other candidate,” Bickers said.
Experts at Campaign Legal Center, a government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., said Boebert has made more of a national name for herself than most candidates, which boosts her fundraising capabilities.
“That’s really pretty typical when there’s an incumbent that believes himself to be vulnerable,” Bickers said. “They’re usually raising the vast majority of money from outside their district or even outside their state. For the challenger, it’s usually more common to raise a much larger percentage from within their district or within their state.”
Bickers added that across the country there are mainly two categories of incumbents who raise large amounts of money: incumbents who believe their reelection is going to be challenging, and incumbents who are raising money for future advancement, such as running for governor or a Senate seat.
By the end of the third quarter this year, Boebert had about $1.9 million in cash on hand, while Frisch had about $761,000, according to the FEC.
Frisch’s connections have anchored fundraising
Frisch, who served on the Aspen City Council from 2011 to 2019, has received strong support from Aspen residents, who donated a total of $315,000, or 23% of his itemized contributions. His total take from Pitkin County in the campaign is $349,000 in itemized contributions.
Donors from New York state also loom large for Frisch, who lived in New York City in the 1990s while working in the finance industry. State residents have donated a total of $220,500 to Frisch since the beginning of the campaign, with $150,000 of that coming from New York City.
Donors from inside Colorado, but outside the 3rd District, account for $218,600 in Frisch’s itemized contributions. Most of that came from Denver.
The Democratic candidate said living in Aspen for 20 years has helped him meet people, including visitors or second-home owners from New York City or other big cities, who are wealthier than the average person and don’t like Boebert.
“He knows people that can write checks with lots of zeros, and it’s always good to know people that can write checks with lots of zeros, and those people know people that can write checks with lots of zeros,” Bickers said. “I think that if you’re going to be a challenger, being a challenger who’s an officeholder in one of the wealthiest communities in the world is probably an advantage.”
Pitkin County residents — perhaps unsurprisingly, given the area’s liberal leanings — have given far less to Boebert ($75,000) than to Frisch.
Boebert has significant financial support from outside her district
Boebert has raised $622,500, or 23% of her funds, within the 3rd District — mostly from Pueblo and Mesa counties, the district’s two counties with the most residents. Boebert raised about $96,000 in itemized contributions from Pueblo County, compared with Frisch’s $17,300. Mesa County residents have given Boebert $82,600, compared with $25,400 for Frisch.
Garfield County residents donated $48,000 to Boebert and $39,500 to Frisch.
Twenty-seven percent of Boebert’s itemized donations, or $738,000, came from other Colorado districts, with just $94,000 of that from Denver residents.
Of the $2.086 million in itemized contributions from outside the 3rd District, $265,000 came from Texas, $194,000 from Florida and $155,000 from California — the three largest sources of out-of-district fundraising. Boebert has received donations from all 50 states, while 38 states are represented among Frisch’s itemized donations.
Boebert, who ran a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle before beating incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the 2020 GOP primary, said Frisch is trying to tap into her nationwide notoriety.
“So he trolls my Twitter all day long trying to ride my coattails and, you know, trying to get that attention,” she said. “He can’t put up a post without mentioning me because that’s all he has to run on — that and lies about being a moderate, about being a conservative.”
Boebert added: “I have earned the support of voters. I’ve been out on the road for three years now as a candidate, as a congresswoman, and meeting with constituents, meeting with people, hearing from them, providing solutions in Washington, D.C.”
Older people contribute the most to political campaigns
Both candidates have received strong financial support from retirees. For Boebert, about $1.26 million came from older individuals. This represents about 47% of her itemized donations. For Frisch, retired people contributed a total of $258,000, or approximately 20% of his campaign’s itemized donations.
This strong involvement of the retirees in political campaigns is neither new nor unique to the 3rd District. According to the Pew Research Center, older Americans are more likely to contribute than younger Americans. “The average donation rate for those ages 18-29 is 9%, compared with 12% for those ages 30-49, 14% for those ages 50-64 and 32% for those ages 65 and older.”
Bickers said retirees often have more disposable income than others because they don’t have children at home and/or often have already paid off their mortgages. “They reached a point in life where they can put money into causes that they care about as opposed to saving for college expenses for the kids or saving up for a wedding or something like that.”
Bickers pointed out that once in office, people tend to be more attentive to the issues and needs of those who have donated to their campaigns.
About 8% of the donations to Boebert’s campaign were from people who didn’t list any occupation. Owners, homemakers each sent about $90,000 to $100,000 to her campaign and CEOs donated nearly $60,000 to her campaign.
For Frisch, about 24% of all the itemized individual donations came from people who listed their occupation as “not employed.” Attorneys, executives and investors each gave about $50,000 to the Democratic campaign.
About 71% of Pitkin County individuals who contributed to Boebert’s campaign are retired, compared with 18% of those who sent money to Frisch.
Retired residents of Pitkin County sent $56,000 to Boebert and $71,500 to Frisch. Residents who work in real estate gave $12,500 to Boebert and $22,000 to Frisch. Local investors contributed $29,000 to Frisch’s campaign.
The power of PACs
Another major contrast between the two candidates is how much money they have been receiving from political action committees, or PACs.
Boebert’s primary and general campaigns received about $148,000, including $93,167 in the third quarter, from PACs. Frisch didn’t receive any money from PACs in the first two quarters, but he got $12,500 in PAC money in the third quarter.
Bickers said the majority of PACs are trade association PACs, business PACs, corporate PACs and union PACs. Most of those, he said, give the vast majority of their money to incumbents since they’re more likely to win the elections.“They’re investing in future access,” he said.
Boebert received $82,000 from the Rifle-based Team Boebert Joint Fundraising Committee, $12,000 (including $5,000 raised in the third quarter) from House Freedom Fund, $10,000 from the Project West Political Action Committee, which is affiliated with Colorado’s former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, and $5,000 from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Huck PAC, among 21 others.
The House Freedom Fund, a PAC that supports conservative candidates, raised about $10 million in 2021-2022.
For the general election, Boebert received about $72,000 from PACs, including $51,500 from the Joint Fundraising Committee, $7,000 from House Freedom Fund, $5,000 from Huck PAC and another $5,000 from Save America, a leadership PAC affiliated with former President Donald Trump that raised more than $100 million in 2021-22. Bickers explained that leadership PACs create loyalty between the person affiliated with the PAC and the person receiving the money.
“What you’re seeing in this race is really really super typical,” he said. Vulnerable incumbents are going to go back to Washington and ask for financial help, Bickers added, and PACs will write checks to support them. “Challengers have trouble making that same kind of appeal precisely because they’re challengers,” he said.
Airlines also seem to support Boebert. United, Delta, American and Alaska Air each contributed to Boebert’s primary and general campaigns, up to more than $6,000 from American and United each.
Bickers said challengers almost never raise a lot of money from PACs. (Ideological PACs, which are PACs pushing a cause, are an exception, he said.)
Frisch got $5,000 from Communications Workers of America, which supports unions, and $2,500 from the National Organization for Women.
“We have PAC money from organizations that are focused on issues that are important to us, important to me as a person,” Frisch said.
Frisch received another $5,000 from Giddy Up, a leadership PAC affiliated with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado. Through the third quarter, Frisch hadn’t received money directly from the Democratic party.
Frisch said the Democratic Party holds a “Red to Blue” list, which contains 36 Democrat candidates across the country who, the party thinks, have a chance to win a seat currently held by a Republican.
“I have made the case to the Democratic party in D.C. that of all the extremists on the right, this is the only one that has a chance to lose,” Frisch said, but so far, he hasn’t received any money from the party.
“[The political parties] are kind of brutal,” Bickers said. “They’re in the business of winning as many seats as they can. … And that means that they put his chances lower than other seats that they’re hoping to either hold or maybe to be able to gain a few seats against the Republicans.”
Outside spending, which is money spent by outside groups to oppose or support a candidate, is also relatively low for the 3rd District race, with about $624,000 spent for and against Boebert, and none spent for or against Frisch. In comparison, outside groups — typically known as super PACs, which are able to raise unlimited funds but cannot coordinate with the candidates they are supporting — have poured more than $10 million into Colorado’s newly created 8th Congressional District. This is a measure of how close super PACs think the races are, according to Bickers, because they would spend more money if they believed they had a chance to swing election results.