Taking on America's Top Self-Funded Candidate

October 19 2008, 7:51 AM
If you want to represent Colorado's Second Congressional District, you'd better be a Democrat. Just ask Bill Hammons, who is running for that office as a member of the obscure Unity Party. It's very difficult to raise money otherwise, Hammons says, noting his $17,000 in campaign funds is about equal to Republican candidate Scott Starin's. But it's a spit in the bucket compared to Democrat Jared Polis' $6.4 million. While the Boulder entrepreneur raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more from party sources, it seems he didn't have to spend much energy on the time-honored political pursuit of raising (and, in some cases, begging) for money. Polis, vying to replace fellow Dem Mark Udall, who is running for U.S. Senate, just broke open his piggy bank and scooped $5.2 million into his campaign coffer, becoming, in the process, the nation's top self-funded candidate--by a wide margin, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which assembles elections data. The Polis juggernaut has 245 times more campaign money than Hammons and Starin combined. This enables what Hammons calls the "vicious cycle" in running to represent the district that includes Boulder, most of Longmont, suburban areas to the east, and ski towns to the west. Though the media claims interest in being balanced with its elections coverage, before the race even seems to start, there's a bias against the "losers" who lack wads of cash, Hammons says: "They won't take you seriously unless you have money and it's hard to run a campaign without media interest." So Hammons, who has enjoyed a few mentions here and there in the newspapers and a couple television appearances, relies on an advertising campaign consisting of a bus ad and a website. He watched in awe during the Democratic primaries as Polis launched an onslaught of expensive television commercials on his way to victory against former Colorado Senate president Joan Fitzgerald. So a lot of people have missed Hammons' messages, he says: arguments for a balanced budget, ending global warming, and breaking Iraq into three autonomous countries, to name a few. Almost making the situation worse is that Hammons doesn't want to say anything bad about Polis, because Polis is such a "nice guy." He's "friendly with everyone" and impressively "knowledgeable." Polis isn't even doing bad-guy stuff like ducking debates. Instead, this week, Polis informed Hammons of a debate that Hammons might have otherwise missed. Even if the Unity Party had big bucks like Polis, Hammons concedes the party would struggle, but probably not as much. Foremost, few people know Hammons, a Texas transplant to Boulder with a background in publishing. And he's kinda lonely as the only Unity Party candidate officially on any ballot throughout the nation, although write-ins are likely somewhere beyond Colorado, and there's a growing legion for the party in about two dozen states. A former Democrat, Hammons backed the presidential campaign of General Wesley Clark in 2004. After John Kerry was defeated by President George W. Bush in a divisive campaign that made the phrase "Swift Boat" akin to "smear," Hammons and other Clark backers assembled alone in  hopes of forging a more moderate discourse in American politics. The major parties, he says, are "fighting over the steering wheel" as the nation is "headed toward an iceberg:" America could use a party that plays the role of mediator. Hammons and his party will need time and loads more support to crack the deep skepticism--if not outright cynicism--about third parties. One newspaper editorial board considering an endorsement asked Hammons if he'd ever get anything done considering the "long-shot" chance of his election. After all, Dems and Republicans rule D.C. "I told them persistence counts and so do good ideas," Hammons says, adding that "optimism is absolutely required given a system as broken as ours."