• Dig into the above OpenSecrets data and identify for readers (or, get familiar with for future stories) Colorado’s top political donors. The top five as of the most recent filing are: Hugo Enterprises at $500,000; DISH Network at $377,096; Brownstein, Hyatt et al at $370,330; CH2M HILL at $346,015; National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. at $307,134. Who are these entities?

Until researching this article, I had never heard of Hugo Enterprises, the company topping the list above. Turns out it’s owned by conservative billionaire entrepreneur and Denver resident Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade and the nonprofit advocacy group Ending Spending (with a related super PAC), and owner of the Chicago Cubs—and a generous political contributor. In December 2011, Ricketts’s Hugo Enterprises gave $500,000 to Campaign for Primary Accountability, an anti-incumbent super PAC which had spent about $3.1 million as of June to defeat House incumbents from both parties in 2012. Ricketts made news in May when he reportedly considered bankrolling a $10 million ad campaign linking Obama to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but backed out after fierce criticism.

Clearly, Ricketts (and Hugo) are political players in Colorado and beyond, and should remain on reporters’ radars. The Denver Post’s Allison Sherry, to her credit, included Ricketts in well-reported campaign finance pieces in February (on the rise of super PACs) and in May (on Colorado’s super PAC donors, the data for which she gathered with the Sunlight Foundation).

Some other odds and ends that simply piqued my interest while I was exploring OpenSecrets and Sunlight recently, and that might lead to a story down the line:

• An invitation to a $2,500-a-head ($5,000 for PACs) fundraising weekend getaway at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen this past weekend to benefit Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO. Who attended, and what issues might they bend the senator’s ear about? How much was raised?

• Data that the University of Colorado’s lobbying expenditures were among the highest for schools in the nation last year. (It takes lobbyists to win medical research grants, apparently, and CU brings home its share.)

• A $5,000 donation to Mitt Romney by legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway and his wife, Paige. Elway is not in Sheldon Adelson’s league, but the mere mention of the legendary Colorado player might attract readers who would otherwise ignore a story about politics. What other local celebrities are donors?

• Of Colorado’s 64 counties, Hinsdale County, population 946, has reported the least amount in political donations this cycle: $500. A color story on a slow day: Who’s the Hinsdale donor?

• Sen. Michael Bennet, on March 21, was recipient of a DC fundraising breakfast at The Source by Wolfgang Puck, hosted by Louis Dupart, a lobbyist who frequently fetes Colorado politicians. According to a February 2010 Sunlight Foundation article, “Dupart and his colleagues at The Normandy Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm that ranks appropriations and federal legislative issues among its specialties, have hosted or are scheduled to host at least nine fundraisers for Colorado politicians, including some who have requested earmarks for projects benefitting the firms clients.” Why is Louis Dupart so fond of Colorado lawmakers, and have they helped him with any legislation?

Such information doesn’t usually produce a page-one story—but it could. At the least, it gives readers engaging material and interesting insights into elected leaders. At best, follow-the-money stories shine a light on who’s funding our policy makers and trying to influence their votes. It’s an exercise in keeping elected leaders honest, and it’s a high, hard calling.

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Mary Winter has worked for seven newspapers, most recently the Denver Post, and was assistant managing editor at PoliticsDaily.com. She spent the bulk of her career at the Rocky Mountain News, first in features and later managing the legislative and state government teams. In 2008, she oversaw delegate coverage at the Democratic National Convention for the paper. She wrote a weekly column for the News for 10 years.