Senate candidate Romanoff says he’ll take DSCC funds after primary

Democrat still rules out PAC contributions for Senate campaign

By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Democratic Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff’s campaign said Tuesday he plans to accept help from the wealthy Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — an organization that reaps millions of dollars from political action committees — despite making his rejection of PAC contributions a centerpiece of his primary challenge to Sen. Michael Bennet.

Political foes pounced, but the candidate said he hasn’t changed his position and has no intention of taking PAC money if he defeats Bennet in the August 10 election.

“I don’t take any PAC money now, I have not done so at any point in this campaign, and I will not do so in the general election,” Romanoff said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. “I don't know how to make my stand any clearer.”

Noting that the DSCC has thrown its weight behind Bennet in the primary, Romanoff promised to ask the political organization to “exclude any PAC dollars from contributions or expenditures it makes on my behalf.”

“Mr. Romanoff is getting a little ahead of himself,” said DSCC communications director Eric Schultz. “He first needs to compete in his own primary, in which we are supporting Michael Bennet.”

The controversy lit up Tuesday morning when Romanoff campaign manager Bill Romjue told Politico the campaign would take help from the DSCC, even though PAC funds make up a portion of the organization’s coffers.

“We’d be willing to accept that, sure,” Romjue told Politico’s David Catanese. “I don’t think it is a significant part of what the DSCC raises overall, either. The DSCC doesn’t represent an industry or any group of industries or anything else. There’s no direct relationship. The percentage of PAC money they raise overall is low. We’re not going to unilaterally disarm.”

The DSCC has raised nearly $75 million this election cycle, including an estimated $15 million from other PACs.

According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Bennet has reaped a slightly smaller portion of his own fundraising from PACs than the DSCC has at this point. Bennet reported $1.3 million from PACs out of a total $7.7 million raised through July 21. That’s just over 17 percent of Bennet’s take from PACs, compared to something over 18 percent of the DSCC’s contributions. Bennet also reported roughly $360,000 in transfers from Democratic Party and joint fundraising committees.

In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Romanoff defended his position on DSCC funding and said he would ask the political organization to wall off PAC money from his share, should he get the group’s support.

“I am not taking PAC money now, and I will not take any PAC money in the general election,” Romanoff said. “The DSCC is now supporting my opponent, supplementing the $1.3 million he has taken from PACs with independent expenditures of its own. After I win the primary, I will ask the DSCC to honor my pledge by excluding PAC dollars from any contributions or expenditures it makes on my behalf.”

The DSCC has reported spending $71,157 in independent expenditures supporting Bennet through mid July, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The spending began before Romanoff entered the race last September.

Calling Romanoff’s position “a stunning flip-flop,” the Bennet campaign blasted its Democratic opponent.

"You cannot find better evidence that Andrew is a dishonest, career politician than his admission that he would undermine his entire campaign platform, and presumably his beliefs in order to win,” said Bennet spokesman Trevor Kincaid. “Some Coloradans have cast their ballots based on this commitment that Andrew has now gone back on.”

Colorado’s primary election is next Tuesday, but the majority of counties are conducting an all-mail election. According to figures released Monday by the Colorado secretary of State, 164,878 Democrats have already returned their ballots.

A spokeswoman for the DSCC’s Republican counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wasted no time attacking Romanoff.

“Andrew Romanoff is a hypocrite, plain and simple,” said Amber Marchand, NRSC press secretary. “He is clearly trying to have it both ways by claiming that he will reject PAC money and ‘special interest groups’ while agreeing to accept funds from his party leaders in Washington, who in fact accept PAC dollars. Either Romanoff is accepting PAC money or he’s not, and he needs to make his position clear to Coloradans immediately.”

Marchand, who regularly sends out e-mails blasting Bennet, has rarely criticized Romanoff directly in NRSC dispatches. A number of NRSC e-mails in June stoked a controversy over an approach the White House made to Romanoff to head off a primary, but Tuesday’s e-mail was one of only a few that takes direct aim at the challenger.

Romanoff pointed to the NRSC’s remarks as a sign his campaign was getting the opposition’s attention.

“We must be doing something right,” he said. “Now we're under attack not only from my Democratic opponent, but also from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”

On Monday, Romanoff’s press secretary disputed a January story in The Colorado Statesman that quoted the candidate saying he wouldn’t “welcome” the help of the DSCC after the primary, calling The Statesman’s account “inaccurate” in an interview with Politico.

The Statesman’s editor and publisher said the newspaper stands by its story.

Asked directly whether he would refuse the support of the DSCC, a political committee, if he won the primary, Romanoff replied, “I don’t welcome the outside interference. My campaign is going to continue to rely on contributions from individuals — we're not taking money from political action committees.”

Romanoff went on to say, “When we win the primary, we’ll find a lot of friends around the state and country we might not have now. But I'm not going to change my message to suit the interests of new-found friends.”

Romanoff sat with a reporter from The Statesman for an interview immediately following a Jan. 19 press conference where he declared he was still running for the Senate — after rumors swirled he was instead considering a run for governor — and made his most uncompromising statement to date about his refusal to take money from political action committees, which he labeled part of an “incumbent protection racket.”

“Andrew said what he said in response to a direct question about the DSCC,” said Statesman editor Jody Hope Strogoff, who has covered Romanoff’s political career for more than a decade. “If he’d like to make a case he was answering a different question than the one he was asked, he can do that. But he’s had more than six months to correct the record.”

In an interview conducted in late June and published in the July 9 edition of The Statesman, Romanoff said he didn’t “recall answering the question in the way that you all attributed it to me” when asked about his position on DSCC funding after the primary. A review of the earlier interview’s transcript determined the quote was accurate, and The Statesman appended a note to that effect with the published interview.

In his lengthy response, Romanoff said it was “unusual” for the national party to pick sides in the primary. He noted that the political organization had experienced “mixed results” in other primaries across the country, including two where challengers had defeated the DSCC-backed candidates. Romanoff continued without mentioning the role of the DSCC after the primary.

“We’re not going to start taking corporate cash after we win the primary either,” he said. “But I expect we’ll have the support of lots of individuals across the state and across the country.”

Strogoff pointed out the Romanoff campaign hasn’t been shy about challenging newspaper stories that have appeared in The Statesman or elsewhere.

“We printed a lengthy rebuttal from Andrew when he took issue with a Washington Post story he felt mischaracterized his tenure as a college newspaper editor,” she said. “He wrote that within days of the other article appearing.”

She noted that Statesman reporters and editors have regular, often daily, conversations with Romanoff or his campaign staff.

A spokesman for the Romanoff campaign didn’t return phone calls to The Statesman on Tuesday.

Recently, the Romanoff campaign also asked The Statesman to reconsider a particular verb used in a caption of a photograph within hours of its appearance in the online edition of the newspaper, Strogoff said.

“We used the words ‘argues’ to describe a discussion between a Romanoff aide and a Bennet aide, and the Romanoff campaign brought it to our attention that was probably not the best description, because the conversation had been friendly,” Strogoff said. “So, at their request, we changed it to ‘chats.’ ”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com