Updated: September 5, 2013 at 9:26 am
DENVER - A select few residents in Colorado Springs and Pueblo will vote for the entire state and even the nation on recall elections that have become national referendums on gun rights.
"This is no longer about Colorado Springs," says Bob Loevy, a retired political science professor from Colorado College. "Only 3 percent of Colorado's population is voting, but this is going to have state-wide and national significance."
The president of the Colorado Senate - John Morse, D-Colorado Springs - will face a recall election on Tuesday when voters in Senate District 11 will decide whether to keep him in office. In Pueblo, Senate District 3 voters will have the same decision to make for Democrat Sen. Angela Giron. Early voting in both districts has already begun.
Morse and Giron were targeted for ouster by a group opposed to the gun control legislation passed last session.
In Senate District 11, there are 69,481 registered voters and more could register in coming days. Loevy compares the recall to Iowa or New Hampshire during a presidential primary, where a small number of voters make a decision for the entire nation.
During primaries, those relatively small states are inundated with national money, as has occurred in Colorado Springs and Pueblo over the last few months as the cities have been canvassed with door knockers, robocalls, mailers and radio and TV advertisements.
Loevy, who lives in the heart of Senate District 11, said it's been unlike any other legislative race he's seen.
"There are rarely, if ever, TV ads in a state Senate campaign," he said. "Let alone the flooding of the TV that we have with this recall."
Fueling the media frenzy are donors from coast to coast.
Opponents of the recalls have raised almost $3.1 million since the campaigning began through a variety of committees registered with the Secretary of State's Office.
Proponents of the recall - those hoping to oust Morse and Giron - have only reported $516,231. That includes a last-minute $250,000 donation from the National Rifle Association.
But those numbers can be deceiving.
Two of the largest recall supporters - Americans for Prosperity and I Am Created Equal - have established non-profit organizations through which donations and expenditures are made without any public disclosure. Those non-profits, registered as "social welfare" groups or 501(c)4s - don't have to disclose anything until they file their federal tax returns sometime within the next three years.
Laura Carno, founder of I Am Created Equal and IACE Action, said all but a few of her donations have come from inside Colorado.
"When you turn on the radio in this media market it is very clear that we are being outspent about 8-1 and if we had $350,000 we would have our ads everywhere," Carno said, who personally appears in a TV ad criticizing Morse. "They've got a billionaire that can write a $350,000 check. If we have somebody like that on our side, I'd be happy to meet with him or her."
Morse and Giron's groups did receive $600,000 in donations from two wealthy men - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad from Los Angeles.
The National Rifle Association, which has members across the nation including Colorado, has created a campaign committee registered with the state that reported raising about $361,000 on the recall effort.
Loevy said he has received mailers from the NRA that are postmarked from Maryland, indicating expenditures coming from the Second Amendment advocacy group that are not coming from registered Colorado committees.
"The attempt to control money in politics has failed completely," Loevy said. "The anti-gun control people, the NRA, they may not have as much money but they've had no trouble filling my mailbox with the kind of fliers and large postcards ... that's a dead giveaway that a lot of work is being done out of state by highly paid professionals."
If Morse and Giron are both recalled, the policy impact won't be large.
Democrats would still hold a one-vote majority in the Senate, making repeal of the gun control laws that sparked the recall efforts virtually impossible. And the House still has a clear Democrat majority and Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed the gun bills, remains in office.
Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College in New York, said it's one of the most symbolic recall elections he has ever seen, because the outcome will have little real impact other than the message it sends across the state and across the nation.
But regardless of the outcome, Spivak said recalls are here to stay as a tool in the political tool belt.
"It's easier to get the recall on the ballot than ever before," Spivak said. "The technology has made it easier. People know about it and they know it works."
Source: Colorado Secretary of State's Campaign Finance Data (as of Sept. 3, 2013)
The anti-recall map above shows every donor to the groups who support Senators John Morse and Angela Giron. The pro-recall map shows the groups working to unseat the two Democratic lawmakers for their support of gun laws that took effect this summer. Click on any point to see who donated and how much. Voters will decide Sept. 10 whether to oust the lawmakers or keep them in office.
Anti-recall groups have raised $3.1 million while pro-recall groups have raised $266,231. These numbers do not include non-profits that have raised and spent money in the recalls but do not have to disclose their contributions.
- Donated less than $50
- Donated $50 up to $1,000
- Donated more than $1,000