Sen. Bennet slips between worlds of reform, fundraising |

Sen. Bennet slips between worlds of reform, fundraising

Michael Riley
The Denver Post

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has settled on the persona of a Washington reformer as the best way to steer his election bid through the choppy waters of 2010, touting an ambitious ‘fix-it’ agenda in his first campaign ad this week.

But analysts say that effort will quickly run up against an essential fact of his candidacy: Perhaps more than anything else, Bill Ritter’s Senate appointee has distinguished himself as a prolific fund-raiser, a master of Washington’s money game.

Stacking up million-dollar quarter after million-dollar quarter, Bennet has far out-paced his opponents with lucrative takes from lobbyists, corporate PAC’s, and Wall Street.

Health insurance lobbyists and companies specializing in pay-day loans – industries facing new regulatory efforts by Congress – have showered him with money.

One of 13 Democrats on the Banking Committee who will have an outsized say on how financial regulation reform impacts Wall Street, Bennet has taken in more than $500,000 from individual donors who have capital, finance, investment or banker in their job titles.

“That was one of the first things we noticed about him. Who was this kid who was all of the sudden raising millions of dollars? It’s what made him so unique and extraordinary,” said Floyd Ciruli, a Denver pollster.

“Now he has to somehow say, that’s not really me. I hate these suckers,” Ciruli said.

Or at least he has to contend that money can’t buy love.

“We’re not going to not raise money and hand this seat over to Republicans,” said Craig Hughes, Bennet’s campaign manager.

“At the same time, you have to say to people, ‘I strongly believe we need lobbying reform, I think we need filibuster reform and to reform the way Washington works.’ If that causes some problems, it causes some problems,” he said.

Hughes pointed out that despite significant donations from banks and health insurers, Bennet voted for sweeping restrictions on credit card companies and for health care reform. (In the other column, the freshman voted against the so-called ‘cram down,’ a provision hated by banks that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages.)

Bennet’s is a conundrum faced by just about every incumbent this cycle.

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