Friday, July 30, 2010

Bennet's business record at issue

The most important story in the Denver Post this morning did not appear on the front page, but was placed in the lead, left-hand column of the newspaper's Denver & The West, B-section cover.

It was about Michael Bennet's work for conservative billionaire businessman Phil Anschutz. Photo credit:

In the news story, Post writer Michael Booth dissected incumbent Sen. Bennet's business career with Anschutz, which Bennet's rival in the Democratic primary, Andrew Romanoff, has made an issue of in campaign advertisements now running on local television.

The ads try to link Bennet to the Wall Street practices of high finance that helped bring the nation to its financial knees in 2008, and Booth's story tries to explain those practices as undertaken by Bennet during an early part of his professional career when he made millions of dollars for himself and his family.

It was a time, too, when Bennet made many of the contacts he has used to finance a multi-million-dollar campaign for election to the U.S. Senate seat Gov. Bill Ritter appointed him to about a year ago.

It's Bennet's first attempt to be elected to any office, and Romanoff, a former elected state representative and speaker of the Colorado House, has been right to challenge the incumbent senator in the Aug. 10 Democratic primary election.

The ads Romanoff is running are decidedly negative. They accuse Bennet of being a henchman of Anschutz in looting failing movie-theater companies during the early 2000s, when many movie chains were suffering from investing too much in bigger, fancier theaters at a time when movie audiences were actually growing smaller.

I have been a delegate for Romanoff at the state Democratic convention, and I'm going to vote for him when I fill out my mail primary ballot in a few days.

But Booth's story shows that Bennet, as a private businessman, did nothing more than be the kind of predatory private businessman he was supposed to be when he worked for Anschutz. Bennet helped Denver's local billionaire assemble the nation's largest movie-theater chain by buying up chains that were making less money than their previous owners had hoped to make.

Bennet became pretty good at the task, and made himself millions as well as hundreds of millions for Anschutz. In other words, Bennet did a good job.

He did, however, use big-business finance techniques that created wealth on the order of Wall Street leveraged transactions that finally brought down some of the nation's most prestigious financial firms. And he did that in the same decade the Wall Street firms did it.

So you might say Michael Bennet and Philip Anschutz helped lead the way for Wall Street's most infamous financial schemes.

Then again, you might not say that.

Nothing Bennet did was illegal, and nothing he did ought to besmirch his reputation as a successful, high-dollar money maker. He was ethical all the way, and he left Anschutz's employ to become the first chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who is now running for governor.

When I interviewed Hickenlooper shortly after he took office as mayor, Hick cited Anschutz's takeover of Regal Cinemas as a pretty admirable accomplishment. I didn't know then that it also happened to be his chief of staff's admirable accomplishment.

If Bennet beats Romanoff in the primary, I'll vote for him in the general election.

He will make Colorado a fine elected U.S. senator.

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