U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, is running for governor of Colorado.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News

Congressman Jared Polis has spent an unprecedented amount money on his campaign for governor. By the latest count, he’s donated $18.3 million of his own money. That’s more than the total candidate spending in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

The Democratic nominee says self-financing buys him political independence. Unlike his opponent, he refuses donations from corporations and special interests, which he argues frees him to push bold proposals. Meanwhile, Republican nominee Walker Stapleton accuses Polis of trying to buy the election.

These opposing talking points raise bigger questions. What does it mean for democracy when someone is ready, and able, to spend whatever it takes on a campaign? How does that change the dynamics of a race? And where does it leave voters?

This episode looks back at the origin of the candidate’s fortune and how it’s long been a potent force in Colorado politics. And we’ll explore why he’s likely to be far from the last wealthy candidate in the state or the country.

This episode was produced by Sam Brasch. This episode contains music by Podington Bear licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. Additional music by Brad Turner.