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Republican draws flak over some donations
Candidate took cash from regulated firms
By Chris Barge
Rocky Mountain News
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Republican running for Colorado's most contested congressional seat accepted campaign contributions from phone companies while overseeing the board that regulates them, campaign finance records show.  Qwest and AT&T gave Rick O'Donnell $1,500 and $1,000 respectively in 2003 to help him retire the debt he racked up in his unsuccessful primary run against Bob Beauprez, who went on to win the 7th Congressional District seat.

By the time he received the donations, Gov. Bill Owens had appointed O'Donnell executive director of the Department of Local Affairs, which oversees the Public Utilities Commission.

Progress Now Action, a liberal Colorado activist group, plans to blast an e-mail this week informing its 23,000 members of that detail and accusing O'Donnell of being hypocritical when he talks tough about congressional ethics reform.

"He should have never been soliciting those people," said Mike Huttner, executive director of Progress Now Action.  "I don't know if it's illegal, but it's certainly questionable, especially for the 'ethics candidate.' "

O'Donnell dismissed the criticism Tuesday, saying that he held no sway over the PUC.  O'Donnell also said he felt honored to have the companies invest in him even after he'd lost to Beauprez, who is now running for governor.

Beauprez's decision not to run for re-election in the 7th Congressional District, which spans Denver's western, northern and eastern suburbs, has left the seat up for grabs. Democrats Peggy Lamm, Ed Perlmutter and Herb Rubenstein are competing in an August primary.

O'Donnell, who has no primary opponent, said anyone who criticizes him based on who has contributed to his campaign hasn't read his 12-point ethics plan.

"Nowhere in my ethics plan do I say campaign contributions are bad," he said.  "We live in a democracy where people have a right and a responsibility to put their money where their mouth is, and I'm honored that all these people want to support my candidacy."

More recently, O'Donnell has drawn fire from Democrats who questioned his ethics after he held a private, $300-a-plate fundraiser at a Denver law firm, headlined by the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency and attended by executives whose companies were regulated by the EPA.

Among those attending the event with EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson on March 9 were Xcel Energy's head lobbyist and executives from several oil, coal and natural gas companies, Federal Election Commission filings show.,2808,DRMN_24736_4632123,00.htm