And that presents an intriguing angle on the race for those of us who obsess over tech policy. Udall is known as one of Congress's most vociferous advocates for reforming how government, and the National Security Agency in particular, conducts its surveillance programs. He has been for years. And changing how the NSA works is one of the technology world's top priorities. So while Udall's political future is up to Colorado's voters, of course, how is it that Udall is hurting for cash when tech is one of the country's wealthiest industries?
This election cycle, there's been story after story about how the tech world has failed to get its way in Washington. Udall's struggles raise a possibility: What if that has less to do with Washington intransigence than it does the tech sector's naivete about how politics works?
The Reform Government Surveillance Group coalition is made up of nine companies: AOL, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo. The grand total given to Udall this cycle by the employees and political action committees of those companies amounts to $44,800, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Meanwhile, those same individuals and groups have given $98,400 to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The senator from New Jersey is enormously popular with the tech sector. He also happens to be leading his opponent by a considerable 14 points. Yet Booker got more than double the amount of money from Reform Government Surveillance Group members and their employees than Udall did.
And that pattern continues with the rest of the tech sector. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, employees and PACs affiliated with what it defines as the "computer/Internet industry" have given Booker nearly $370,000 this cycle. Udall, meanwhile, has raised just over $155,000, or less than half, from those same people and groups.
To be sure, the tech sector is no monolith: Facebook employees gave Booker $34,00o and Udall only $500 -- perhaps not surprising, given their CEO's relationship with Booker, particularly related to school reform in New Jersey. But Google employees gave Booker $14,750 and Udall $22,350. (The Udall campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Meanwhile, on the ground in Colorado, surveillance reform has taken a back seat. "We'd be remiss," the Denver Post wrote in its endorsement in the race, "in not giving credit to Udall for using his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee to crusade against spying activities that encroach on individual freedom and privacy." But the newspaper still endorsed Gardner, noting that he, too, has talked about reforming the NSA.
But what Gardner isn't is a member of that powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. That's the body charged with wrangling with surveillance reform. Udall is fifth Democrat in seniority on the committee, and retirements and reshuffling of assignments put him in a good position to take over the gavel in the not-so-far-off future.
Joshua Lamel is a former high-profile Senate staffer covering technology issues. "If Mark Udall were to become chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee," he says, "he could do a lot of good for a tech sector concerned about the effects of the NSA's actions, in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, on their bottom line."
That Udall could use the more of the technology sector's abundant cash and isn't getting it could suggest that the industry has been shortsighted in its political giving. On the other hand, it could be smart money. The Colorado Democrat has stumbled on the trail and may well lose on Nov. 4. Booker, meanwhile, looks likely to be the senator from New Jersey as long as he wants to be.
Steven Rich contributed reporting.