Bennet and Romanoff camps clash on the airwaves and in parking lots

The heated Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate primary race faced off this week not on policy matters but on campaign ethics, with former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff railing against what he characterized as a dishonest ad put out by the campaign for Sen. Michael Bennet, and the Bennet camp pushing back by saying the ad was merely a response to a dishonest ad brought out earlier in the week by the Romanoff campaign.

Sparks flew Wednesday at a press conference held at Romanoff’s Denver headquarters and attended by members of the Bennet campaign. Romanoff Deputy Campaign Manager Berrick Abramson and Bennet Communications Director Trevor Kincaid clashed in the parking lot after Romanoff finished speaking.

“As ballot’s are starting to hit mail boxes I am glad that Andrew agrees with us that facts are important. Our ad is 100 percent based on the facts– and we just think that there are questions that demand answers,” Kincaid said.

Romanoff had criticized the Bennet ad earlier, saying “I realize that truth is often the first casualty of a political campaign, which is why it’s so important for us to stick to the facts.”

The Bennet ad:

In the parking lot, Kincaid echoed points made in the recent controversial Bennet ad, saying questions need to be asked about a political action committee run by Romanoff, who has centered his campaign around a rejection of so-caled PAC funds.

“Why did Romanoff close his PAC four months after he started running [this campaign]… four months is a long time when you stop accepting PAC money,” said Kincaid. Why was the PAC left open? he asked.

“[Romanoff] didn’t mention anything about PACs or special interest money when he announced his candidacy in September. [He] waited until January. I think that there is a legitimate question… He ran his own PAC. He accepted PAC contributions while he was serving in the legislature.”

The Romanoff ad:

Abramson said he couldn’t let the veiled accusations go unanswered.

“To say that Andrew only made the decision to shun money four months into the campaign is not only a rewriting of history, it is factually inaccurate.”

He said that Romanoff talked about not accepting PAC money at numerous public events in October and only highlighted that aspect as the campaign progressed and as it became clear the stand would make a major difference in the candidate approaches to the election.

Bennet has been a prodigious fundraiser and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling last year shed a greater spotlight on the role played by special interest money on the political process.

Abramson also said that, although Romanoff had not technically shuttered his “leadership” PAC, until late last fall, it had been dormant for a long time and certainly into the campaign.

“That PAC has sat dormant since 2006. The last money that was in it was given to a charity for veterans. For people to accept this spin that this PAC was actually sitting there and Andrew was running it– it’s not only spin, it’s a twisting of the facts,” Abramson said. “To say that Andrew was taking PAC money up through this race, which is what the [Bennet] ad insinuates, is a misstatement of the facts and a twisting of things from a guy who has said he is running a rose garden strategy and staying above it because he didn’t want to engage in politics as usual.”

For his part, Kincaid railed against the recent Romanoff ad that suggests Bennet opposed legislation reining in big oil and Wall Street because he was getting campaign donations from the energy and finance industries.

“I think Andrew’s charges that he made against Michael are factually inaccurate. I think Michael’s record proves that it is inaccurate. And it’s somewhat disappointing to see that [kind of messaging].”

Romanoff told the Colorado Independent that he admittedly could not unquestionably tie the campaign money Bennet has accepted to his voting record but he said corporations did not donate to candidates without expectations.

Bennet had previously said that closing the loopholes providing $35 billion in tax breaks to the oil and gas industry was a good idea but that the legislation aimed at doing so was poorly written and would have negatively and unnecessarily affected Colorado industry.

Kincaid said Romanoff’s ad was a character attack.

“To say that you can be influenced by money you take… Andrew took money for eight years, nearly a decade. What does that say about his eight years of service?”

Abramson was having none of it.

“The people of Colorado need to know that Andrew Romanoff has taken PAC money in the past but that he has seen the light,” he said.

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