Faithful readers may recall my discussion of Colorado's so-called "Gang of Four," a collection of very wealthy liberal activists who have been working to get Democrats elected to the statehouse since 2004. (See also my review of Schrager and Witwer's wonderful new book on the topic.) Well, I finally put together a paper analyzing what's going on and will be presenting it at next week's State Politics and Policy Conference in Springfield, Ill. The paper's a bit rough still, but here's what I found:
To make a long story short, Tim Gill, Jared Polis, Pat Stryker, and Rutt Bridges made a decision in 2004 that they were dissatisfied with Republican control of Colorado and thought they could change partisan control of the state with an appropriate allocation of huge sums of money. For Gill and Polis, in particular, the politics had a personal angle; they're gay, and the state government had taken a number of recent stances against gays and lesbians. Due to state and federal campaign finance laws passed on 2002, individual donors and the state parties were limited as to how they could affect and target races, but this small group of individuals reasoned that some 527s could get around this problem by amassing funds and spending them on election communications in a handful of targeted races.
I find that the 527s created by Gill et al (known collectively as the Roundtable or the Gang of Four) is having a measurable impact on Colorado politics. I trace their campaign finance reports to determine which Democratic candidates they aided in 2004 and 2006, and I find that those state legislative races targeted by the group saw an average Democratic vote surge of roughly four points. This is huge -- nearly twice the estimated incumbency advantage in these races. I also identify six state house races and one state senate race targeted by the Roundtable in 2004 in which the Democrat won by less than four points. That, it turns out, was enough to flip both houses from Republican to Democratic control in 2004, the same year that Bush beat Kerry statewide by five points.
I spend a little time in the paper trying to assess whether we should consider this new form of organization a political party. My feeling is that it's close, but not quite. Schattschneider described a party as "an organized attempt to get control of government," and that's basically what's going on here. But I'm reticent to call this organization a party simply because they seem almost wholly uninterested in nominations contests. They managed to rise to power without engendering much pushback from the older party elites or the formal Democratic Party leaders in the state, and for the most part, they pretty much take the nominees that emerge from the primaries and try to get them elected.