Democrats Bennet, Romanoff jostle over influence of money |

Democrats Bennet, Romanoff jostle over influence of money

Michael Booth
The Denver Post

COLORADO SPRINGS – Challenger Andrew Romanoff continued his big-money attacks on U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in Friday’s second Democratic primary debate, calling out specific corporate donations and asking how they influenced Bennet’s voting.

Romanoff pointed to a $2,400 donation from Westwood, a for-profit college company, to Bennet just before a Senate committee vote on legislation that Romanoff said should have been tougher on that industry’s questionable lending practices.

“Is that the way Washington works, Michael?” Romanoff asked, adding later that none of the senators added stronger regulation of for-profits that had been proposed in the House.

“The only time I’m reminded of Washington is when you and I are debating,” Bennet said.

Bennet said he has talked with the Department of Education about doing a better job of distinguishing between legitimate private colleges and “fly-by-night” operations that misuse federal student loan support.

“I would expect to be a very strong advocate that people who are doing a terrible job stop getting public money to do it,” he said.

Romanoff hammered away at his donations theme repeatedly, reminding listeners at Colorado College that he was swearing off PAC and corporate contributions while saying Bennet would take in millions. But the candidates often agreed on wider policy issues, just as they had in their first debate, and Bennet continued to shrug off the money charges.

“My voting record reflects the desires of Colorado voters; I challenge you to demonstrate where that’s not true,” Bennet said.

Romanoff and Bennet are fighting for the Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar when he became secretary of interior. Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet, then the chief of Denver Public Schools, to the seat in January 2009.

Romanoff leads in delegates to the state caucus next month, but Bennet has outraised Romanoff by millions for the Aug. 10 Democratic primary. The winner will likely face Republican Jane Norton, Ken Buck or Tom Wiens in November.

Both Democrats said it would be unacceptable for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, and that prospect should be attacked with sanctions or even military action.

Also, Bennet specifically held President Barack Obama accountable for his promise to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in Afghanistan within 18 months of the current surge.

Romanoff said one difference between the candidates was that he fully supports a carbon tax on energy that would encourage conservation and renewable sources, offset by lower income taxes. Bennet said he is not wedded to one renewable-energy solution and is willing to consider a cap-and-trade strategy on pollution that would target industry instead of consumers.

Both expressed wariness about nuclear power as a cleaner source for future power. Romanoff said he’s not convinced waste fuel can ever be safe, while Bennet added he doesn’t think the nuclear industry can build new plants economically.

Romanoff frequently turned questions from the moderator and audience back to campaign-finance issues. He said the Senate banking committee, where Bennet sits, had the chance last year to bolster protections for Americans facing foreclosure on their homes.

“They turned that down and got rewarded by contributions from the banking industry,” Romanoff said.

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