Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper characterized his conviction on ethics violations as Republican "smear attacks" during a primary debate Tuesday night.
Hickenlooper was found guilty by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission last Friday of twice accepting free luxury travel from business interests while he was governor. The five-member panel also voted unanimously to hold him in contempt for initially defying a subpoena to appear at the hearing.
"These allegations were waged by a dark-money Republican group and they're going to lay attacks and millions of dollars of smear ads against whoever the Democratic candidate is," Hickenlooper said in response to a call from his opponent, former Democratic Colorado House speaker Andrew Romanoff, that he drop out of the race.
The allegations against Hickenlooper were first submitted to the nonpartisan commission in 2018 by the Public Trust Institute, a watchdog group founded by former Republican Colorado House speaker Frank McNulty.
Hickenlooper's ongoing ethics trial and conviction has cast a pall over his Senate bid, although he continues to hold a significant polling lead over incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R.).
Romanoff blasted Hickenlooper as "the first person ever held in contempt by an independent ethics commission" and called on him to withdraw from the race.
"Now, when he breaks the law, [he] refuses to apologize, defies a subpoena," Romanoff said. "You heard John blame the Republicans, you heard him blame the staff, I suppose he even blames the [ethics] commission, which includes his own appointees who ruled against him."
The Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board also came out against Hickenlooper’s candidacy on Tuesday, writing that a "politician proven susceptible to inappropriate gifts by corporations is the last thing Colorado needs in Washington."
Hickenlooper's sentencing is scheduled for Friday, and he faces fines of up to twice the value of the illicit gifts as well as sanctions for the contempt charge.