WASHINGTON — If Joe Coors beats incumbent Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter in November, he could be the richest member of Congress.
Coors, the 70-year-old great-grandson of beer-crafter Adolph Coors, has family assets worth between $132.8 million and $478.1 million, according to financial disclosures.
That rivals the wealthiest member of Congress now, California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who was worth between $156.1 million and $451.1 million in 2010.
Coors is vying for Perlmutter's 7th Congressional District seat this year. He has donated $218,000 so far to his own campaign.
"No matter what background someone comes from, the ability to prosper is never guaranteed," said Michelle Yi, a Coors spokeswoman. "Joe's career in the private sector added to his family's savings, while giving him a unique perspective on what it takes to create jobs."
Money does not necessarily guarantee an ambitious person a seat in Congress.
California's 2010 election cycle had two wealthy GOP candidates, Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for the U.S. Senate. Each dumped millions of their own money into their campaigns, only to lose on Election Day.
But University of Colorado political scientist Ken Bickers said cash certainly helps — even psychologically — when plotting strategy. Candidates make decisions differently when they know in the back of their mind they have a safety net.
"It means you don't really have to make difficult choices as a candidate ... compared to a candidate who relies wholly on campaign contributions in a reporting cycle on the course of the campaign," he said.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, is a good example of this. In the last days of his summer 2010 primary race against Andrew Romanoff, the former managing director at Anschutz Investment Co. loaned himself $300,000 to pay for a weekend advertising campaign to try to push ahead. He beat Romanoff in the primary by 8 percentage points.
Rep. Jared Polis, too, has leveraged his fortune to help himself advance in politics. The Boulder Democrat, worth between $36.7 million and $285.1 million a couple of years ago (he filed an extension this year) spent $1.2 million to first get on the Colorado Board of Education. Then, in 2008, he dumped more than $5 million into his congressional campaign.
Financial comfort also helps prevent problems such as that of outgoing Indiana GOP Sen. Dick Lugar, who sold his Indiana residence in favor of a suburban Washington one. A primary opponent, just a couple weeks ago, hammered him as a Washington insider for that, and Lugar lost.
Candidates for Congress and members must file financial disclosures annually that list assets, home mortgages and stocks they own, sold or traded in the previous calendar year. Members and candidates are asked to disclose values of assets only in ranges, such as between $15,001 and $50,000, for example, so in cases in which large amounts of money are reported, the ranges are broad.
All of Colorado's candidates filed, except Democratic Reps. Polis and Perlmutter, who filed extensions, as did Democrat Sen. Mark Udall.
The Coors campaign points out that much of its candidate's wealth is tied up in family-obligated trusts, so he could not peel off and drop that much money on anything even if he wanted to.
"Washington needs to correct the course that the economy is on, and Joe believes his real-world business experience can help do just that," Yi said.
When asked whether it is intimidating for a popular — but significantly less wealthy — incumbent to run against someone with this much money, Perlmutter spokeswoman Leslie Oliver said there was a "a clear difference between Coors — who said he would pay for further tax cuts for people like himself by cutting Medicare for seniors — and Ed."
"(Perlmutter) will always fight for the hardworking people in the 7th," she said.
Finances of Colorado pols
Sen. Michael Bennet has assets worth between $4.9 million and $19.3 million. He bought a home in Washington last year, he said, to give his young daughters space to visit. The senator owes between $250,001 and $500,000 on the residence, and nothing on his Denver home.
The former Denver school superintendent and mayoral chief of staff made his fortune as managing director at Anschutz Investment Co. in the late 1990s.
Sen. Mark Udall filed an extension for 2011 disclosures.
1st Congressional District
Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, has between $838,000 and $2.1 million in assets, mostly in IRAs and a 401(k). She has between $200,002 and $500,000 mortgage balance on her home in Denver and a balance on a home in Washington, D.C.
2nd Congressional District
Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat, filed an extension. Previously, he has been worth between between $36.7 million and $285.1 million — money made as an Internet entrepreneur.
3rd Congressional District
Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican, has between $2.9 million and $10 million in assets and stock, including between $113,000 and $345,000 in oil and gas stocks — which he says he's owned for decades.
Tipton is on the House Natural Resources Committee, which deals with laws and regulations in oil and gas. He says his stock holdings are no more a conflict of interest than anyone who pays taxes voting on a tax bill.
"Can anybody serve on Ways and Means and Appropriations because they're going to be voting on taxes?" he said. "I come from a place that is rich in natural resources. ... You hope you have some people who have some background on those issues."
Tipton's opponent, Sal Pace, made $33,864 in 2011 as a state House representative and for a part-time teaching gig at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has assets between $4,000 and $63,000 and no debt.
4th Congressional District
Rep. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, has between $45,000 and $325,000 in assets, mostly mutual funds. He also carries a $10,000 to $15,000 credit-card debt and between $15,000 and $50,000 in school loans. He owes money on his Yuma home and a second Denver condo.
His opponent, Democrat Brandon Shaffer, carries a credit-card debt between $15,001 and $50,000. He has assets worth between $100,009 and $325,000.
5th Congressional District
Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, had assets worth between $22,008 and $155,000. He owes between $100,001 and $250,000 on a line of credit tied to his home.
His primary opponent Robert Blaha has assets between $2.8 million and $8.7 million. He has loaned his campaign at least $375,000 so far.
6th Congressional District
Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, has between $450,006 and $1 million in assets. He owes between $50,001 and $100,000 on a second mortgage on his primary residence.
His Democratic opponent, Joe Miklosi, has between $15,003 and $53,000 in assets, including money in PERA. He is paying off a student loan.
7th Congressional District
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Jefferson County Democrat, filed an extension. His 2010 disclosures show he has assets between $529,038 and $1.4 million.
His GOP opponent Joe Coors has family assets worth between $132.8 million and $478.1 million.
Allison Sherry, The Denver Post