A secretive coalition of wealthy liberal political donors in Colorado has channeled millions of dollars this year to "progressive" causes and seeks to help turn over the highly contested swing state to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, records show.
The Colorado Democracy Alliance (CoDA) has been credited with helping Democrats reclaim the governor's office in 2006 after an eight-year Republican run, bolster their majorities in the state legislature and capture a previously Republican-held U.S. House seat in a state where Democratic registration ranks third behind that of Republicans and the unaffiliated.
Colorado voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but many political analysts consider its nine electoral votes to be up for grabs this year. Last week, Mr. Obama led Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain in Colorado by about five percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics Web site, which tracks all polls.
According to documents made public last week and statements by CoDA leaders, the organization has enlisted both wealthy donors who have contributed millions of dollars to targeted campaigns and nonprofit groups that support what its leaders term "progressive" causes, bypassing funding limits on candidate committees.
Key CoDA benefactors include billionaire Pat Stryker, heiress to a $6 billion international medical equipment supply company; and millionaire businessmen Tim Gill, a computer software entrepreneur and gay rights activist who created the Quark software program, and Rutt Bridges, a geophysicist and software entrepreneur. They have been listed as members of CoDA's board of directors and are major contributors.
"It was really done well," said Jon Caldara, head of the conservative Colorado-based Independence Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research organization. "It's a blueprint of how a handful of rich guys and unions have given their money to organizations that have particular jobs instead of giving it to candidates."
Mr. Caldara said he received the CoDA documents outlining the campaign effort earlier this year from an anonymous source. The 2008 campaign effort is based on the group's successes in 2006 and includes a $12 million media plan aimed at supporting Democratic candidates in the presidential election, the U.S. Senate race and a bid for a House seat in the state's 4th Congressional District.
The media plan, marked "confidential" by its author, outlines a wide range of television, radio, outdoor and direct-mail advertising financed through a variety of independent nonprofit political groups. The plan - a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times - was prepared by Denver-based political strategist Dominic DelPapa for Al Yates, identified on the plan as a member of CoDA.
"The budget we submitted makes a whole series of 'blue sky' assumptions that represent little more than our own thinking about what a successful 527 operation for the presidential, U.S. Senate and [congressional district] elections might look like," Mr. DelPapa wrote.
He said the figures were based on "very rough projections" and some were "slightly more robust than the minimal competitive investment because we felt it advisable to project what a potentially winning budget would look like."
Mr. DelPapa declined in an e-mail to The Times to discuss the plan. Mrs. Stryker, Mr. Gill and Mr. Bridges likewise did not respond to requests for comment.
The documents describe CoDA's operation, mission and structure and were posted on the conservative political Web site Face the State, which quoted CoDA officials as verifying the authenticity of many of them.
They include internal memoranda detailing how the nonprofit group advises wealthy donor members to contribute to CoDA-approved organizations that support progressive causes, including tax-exempt 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) charities and the so-called 527 organizations that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash as long as they do not specifically call for the election or defeat of a particular candidate.
CoDA Executive Director Laurie Zeller initially agreed to provide answers to questions concerning the alliance's origins and purpose, but after reviewing an e-mail from The Times, she declined to comment for this article.
But Mrs. Zeller said during a CoDA presentation at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August that the group provides "services to our members - in terms of research, advice on their giving, activating their collective interaction to help make the progressive sector stronger."
She said CoDA sought to "harness the financial resources as well as the brains and the energy of the progressive sector."
Taking part in the presentation was Rob Stein, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Alliance, who said CoDA's successes could be replicated in 12 to 15 other states by 2010. Democracy Alliance was formed in 2005 with backing from billionaire international financier George Soros, who spent $13 million in an unsuccessful bid to defeat Mr. Bush in 2004.
CoDA members are expected to make multiyear commitments, pledging up to $400,000 annually to recommended progressive groups and up to $25,000 each year to fund alliance operations. During the Denver presentation, Mrs. Zeller said CoDA was "firmly focused" on trying to grow its "membership base" of wealthy donors.
In Denver, Mrs. Zeller said CoDA does not release information on its members in an effort to "remain effective and agile." She said the group wants to be "discreet about our efforts," and added that there is a "playbook here that you don't want to leave on the table in a Starbucks."
With an estimated net worth of $1.9 billion, according to Forbes magazine, Mrs. Stryker is widely credited as one of CoDA's founders and has given $98,000 to Democratic candidates and committees in the 2008 election cycle, federal records show. Mr. Gill also donated $98,000 to Democrats this year, while Mr. Bridges has given $24,750 to Democratic candidates and committees, Federal Election Commission records show.
Dick Wadhams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, said that although he has seen fewer ads attacking candidates during this election cycle, they appeared to be "highly coordinated."
He attributed the drop to 18 pending Colorado ballot measures and a backlash from the release of the DelPapa media plan.
Mr. Wadhams also said that while CoDA's activities "haven't crossed the line legally ... they're getting close to it."