U.S. Senate Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum, November 9, 2019

The Democratic Party of Denver hosted a forum for U.S. Senate candidates on Saturday, November 9th.  The organizers only invited Democratic candidates to the forum.    

Seven candidates participated in the forum: Trish Zornio, John Hickenlooper, Lorena Garcia, Andrew Romanoff, Stephanie Rose Spaulding, Diana Bray, and Michelle Warren.  

For our reporting on the source of campaign contributions for all U.S. Senate candidates, please click here.

Candidates each had 60 seconds to answer CleanSlateNow Action's question on campaign finance reform.  Our question asked the candidates to move beyond typical talking points and speak specifically about concrete examples documenting the direct effect that big money in politics has on shaping policy.  

The moderator's abbreviated version of our question asked the following:  Specifically, how has big money in politics affected policy? (Answers below are in the order in which they answered the questions at the forum.)

Diana Bray

"Sometimes we get questions about foreign policy, but in this case, I think that big money has affected our democracy by destroying our democracy from within.  And our greatest threat is not another country.  Our greatest threat is not Russia or Iran or China.  Our greatest threat is what we are doing to ourselves.  And that is...connected to the fact that elections are bought, that we don’t have campaign finance reform, and that we might be in a place right now where we can’t trust our justices and judges.  Citizens United was an egregious, egregious law that has put the power in the hands of people who do not have the best interest of the most vulnerable amongst us in mind.  We have to move toward a system of equity."


Michelle Warren

"Thank you for asking this question overtly.  I’ve been searching things about money in our legislative process throughout this morning.  I can’t say enough about, yes, absolutely, in every way it is impacting our legislative systems, from buying our elections as well as keeping certain legislators in place.  I’m in full support of the For The People Act [H.R.1].  The For The People Act is a response to what happened with Citizens United.  I support publicly funded elections.  I want to see more transparency and an end to dark money in our campaign.  But it does not just stop with campaign finance reform.  The reality is that people are always looking for loopholes.  Also, when you look at the lobbying industry, we have 535 seats that make up the House and the Senate; we have 21 lobbyists to every one Congressional leader.  I guarantee that the money problem does not just sit at campaign finance, but is throughout the whole system."


Trish Zornio

"I’ve been very lucky throughout this race to get not only local press but also national press. However, one of the things that was very interesting to me was that when I launched this campaign it did not preclude the fact that sometimes I got emails back saying we will not cover the fact that you launched because we haven’t had a chance yet to see your bank account. That is the sort of thing that is happening right now. And we need to also talk about the women’s issue. In over 142 years we have never elected a woman to the United States Senate from Colorado. 142 years. And when we talk about who the donor base for the Democratic Party largely is, it’s a certain demographic. And it’s not women. And it’s especially not younger voters. And so when we have to look at how special interests prevents people like me from being taken seriously at this table. To that end, we are a grassroots-funded campaign, we do have BREs in the back, and if you would like to donate 5, 25, whatever you can, we have volunteers -- can you raise your hand? -- running around. So please, help us out and remedy this injustice."


John Hickenlooper

"So the question how specifically has money in politics affected policy. Oh my God! Where do you start? Health care. Why is that we’re paying more for our prescription drugs than any other country on earth? Why is we have so little transparency? Where if you go out of your health care system and get an emergency appendicitis operation you have no idea what it’s going to cost or what your co-pay is going to be. Look at guns, for goodness sakes! The NRA continues to restrain universal background checks through their – let’s call it their persistence – at a time when 80% of Americans believe in background checks and over 91% of people in Colorado. Corey Gardner and Mitch McConnell aren’t sure really it would be useful. That’s not their opinion of the dollars they spent. Climate Change. I’m already out of time, Climate Change, if we’re going to solve this, I should have answered this last question, there’s – we’re going to create jobs for everyone, but those jobs have to be evenly distributed."


Lorena Garcia

"Yeah, I think we know how much money plays into politics. And the reality is that all of these amazing ideas that have been put out, whether it’s addressing the climate crisis, health care, fixing our education system, fixing our broken immigration system – none of this is going to happen if we don’t have comprehensive campaign finance reform. As long as big money can buy votes, we’re not going to win. As long as big money can determine who’s appointed to run our agencies, we’re not going to win. We have to do that, and that should be our No. 1 priority when we get to the U.S. Senate. When we talk about all of us on stage, I’m proud to say that I’m the only candidate on this stage that receives more dollars from their campaign at less than $200 per donation, more than 50%. At 53% I’m proud of that, and it continues to grow. We need to make sure that when we are looking at who we are going to support, where are they getting their support from? Are they going to [be] beholding to just a few top donors, or are they going to [be] beholden to us the electorate."


Andrew Romanoff

"I’ll answer that question too. 84% of our donations come from Colorado, 100% come from humans, because we’re not taking corporate money. I’m proud to be running a grassroots campaign. Look, Mark Twain once said, everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. So I think we ought to solve this problem by enacting, as Lorena said, comprehensive campaign finance reform, and I think we ought to expose the pay-to-play politics in our own party that continues to sell Senate seats to the highest bidder. We ought to reverse the Supreme Court’s decisions, both in Citizens United that transformed corporations into people, and in an earlier decision called Buckley vs. Vallejo that transformed money into speech. Unless we do those things, we will continue to dramatically narrow the pool of candidates who run and the pool who win and warp the decisions they make as a result. I never want to have to worry about doing what’s right for my constituents or what might be profitable for my corporate contributors. I avoid that dilemma because I don’t have any corporate contributors."


Stephanie Rose Spaulding

"Y’all asked the question, how has money impacted policy? It has allowed here in the state of Colorado an initiative that would have given us climate policy and legislation, that would have given us answers to our crisis, it allowed for individuals to sue communities, it allowed for individuals right here on this stage to bail out on immigrants when they were in position and had the opportunity to go against what was happening. It allowed for a number individuals even right now to have a leg up in what we are experiencing right now in this Senate race. African American women are the least funded candidates across the country for every seat. That is how money impacts policy. You don’t get the kind of candidates to speak from a different perspective and create an inclusive policy because we don’t even get a seat at the table. We need campaign finance reform today, because it’s impacting us right now."