Rocky Mountain left

"Rocky Mountain left" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

The University of Denver's Huttner says the progressive movement should not take blame for a McCain victory in the state any more than it should take credit for an Obama win: "Even with a strong progressive infrastructure, when it comes to presidential politics, there are so many other things that decide it." Therein lies one significant limitation of the Colorado blueprint: It could prove a lousy nationwide model for winning presidential elections.

Besides, replicating the model's local political impact would be expensive. A memo from a Democratic political consultant, leaked to reporters in January, revealed plans to devote $5.1 million to undermining the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bob Schaffer. The same memo earmarked another $2.6 million toward defeating GOP congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave.

That level of financial backing has driven the progressive movement's advance in Colorado from the beginning. Four multimillionaires in the state, known locally as the "Gang of Four," have devoted loads of capital toward the creation of activist agencies. Tim Gill, a Denver gay-rights advocate who made his fortune developing the publishing software QuarkXPress, highlights the group. His Gill Action Fund has spent millions of dollars to change Colorado politics and is now targeting strategic races around the country.

Pat Stryker of Ft. Collins, whose inherited fortune stretches into the billions, likewise funnels large sums into building protected-class status for homosexuals. Entrepreneur Jared Polis of Boulder and petroleum exploration innovator Rutt Bridges of Denver round out the quartet.

Journalists have not been able to trace precise amounts of dollars or the exact delegation of funds from the four political financiers, because the resultant organizations do not disclose their donors. But sufficient evidence exists to connect the Gang of Four to the establishment of numerous liberal groups like Colorado Media Matters, Colorado Ethics Watch, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, The Colorado Independent, ColoradoPols.com, and Progressive Majority Colorado, among others.

With careful coordination, this collection of agencies applies continual pressure to media, develops new liberal policy ideas, brings accusations and lawsuits against Republicans, reports findings in online newspapers and blogs, and mobilizes voters for elections.

Progressives have managed at least partial replications of that formula elsewhere. ProgressNow has established chapters in 10 other states, including battleground centers like Ohio, Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan, Stryker's brother Jon dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into ousting Republicans from the state legislature in 2006. In this election cycle his political action committee, Coalition for Progress, has trained liberal activists and rallied voters behind progressive candidates.

But finding similar dynamic funding sources in most other states is hardly realistic. And waging an all-out, year-round, multi-tiered, highly coordinated political blitz is no easy task on a shoestring budget.


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