Election 2020 John Hickenlooper

In this file photo, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, speaks during his presidential campaign at a forum sponsored by AARP and The Des Moines Register on July 15, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

A national campaign finance and election reform group on Wednesday endorsed Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper and named the Republican incumbent he hopes to run against, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, to its list of top targets.

End Citizens United and Let America Vote said the former two-term governor is demonstrating a commitment to reform the campaign finance system by rejecting corporate PAC donations.

Gardner, the groups said, has raised more than $5.4 million from corporate PACs, landing him on End Citizens United "Big Money 20" — incumbents the campaign finance reform group say carry out the agendas of the pharmaceutical industry, oil companies and Wall Street while taking their money.

Hickenlooper is one of three potential Gardner challengers on Colorado's June primary ballot. In the last quarter, he pulled in $4.1 million, enough to outraise Gardner and the entire Democratic field by a wide margin.

“As governor, John Hickenlooper's independent perspective brought people together to get things done for Colorado, and we need that same approach in Washington," said Tiffany Muller, president of the two groups, which combined forces in January.

She added: "Sen. Gardner has proved time and again that his priorities are with corporate special interests, voting to cut protections for preexisting conditions while giving a $28 billion tax break to the pharmaceutical industry. John Hickenlooper doesn't take a dime of corporate PAC money, and that's why Coloradans can count on him to fight for them instead of corporate special interests in Washington."

Hickenlooper welcomed the endorsement in a statement first obtained by Colorado Politics.

“We know that Washington is broken and special interests are rigging the system to pad their pockets and make it even harder for the little guy to get ahead," he said. "I’m not taking corporate PAC money and I'm running for Senate to make Washington work for Colorado instead of corporate special interests. I look forward to working with End Citizens United to get our government working for the people again."

Hickenlooper's critics point to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's support for his campaign. The DSCC, which helped recruit Hickenlooper into the primary and has spent heavily on his behalf, accepts donations from corporate PACs.

Before the endorsing groups' merger earlier this year, an ECU spokesman said the group was planning to spend $10 million to support candidates in the 2020 cycle. It spent $1 million last fall — raised from grassroots donors — on a TV, digital and mail campaign.

A year ago, the group endorsed U.S. Rep. Jason Crow's re-election bid in the Aurora-based 6th Congressional District. The Democrat, who unseated an incumbent Republican, was one of the first candidates ECU supported in the 2018 cycle.

ECU counts nearly 77,000 members in Colorado, a spokesman said. Its average donation is $14.

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