A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Upstate Insults

Truth is a bystander in the throwdown for a House seat in New York's 20th.


Summary

The campaign to fill the vacant House seat in New York’s 20th congressional district is the race that keeps on giving – giving false and misleading ads, at least. Two new spots, one from Democratic businessman Scott Murphy and another from his foe, Republican state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, both take liberties with the facts.

  • Tedisco’s spot says Murphy "supported a loophole letting AIG executives keep their bonuses." That’s false. Murphy voiced support for the overall stimulus bill, but not the "loophole." In fact, Murphy has excoriated those types of bonuses and incentives.
  • Murphy’s ad claims Tedisco "created" a big job with the state Assembly for one of his "biggest" campaign donors. But it was a preexisting job that had been vacant for some months, and the lawyer who got it had given Tedisco $1,300 over the past decade, less than one-half of 1 percent of all his donations from individuals.

Analysis

We’ve written about this special election race four separate times now. This time, we’ve found problems in two more ads, one from each of the candidates.

AIG Angst

Republican Tedisco’s new TV spot plays on the public uproar over the millions in bonuses AIG gave to employees.

Tedisco for Congress Ad

 

[TET ]

Tedisco: I’m Jim Tedisco and I approved this message.

Announcer: America is outraged about $165 million in bonuses paid to AIG executives after taxpayers bailed them out . Like AIG, Scott Murphy gave huge bonuses to executives in a company losing millions. Claimed he had to do it, and he supported a loophole letting AIG executives keep their bonuses with our money. AIG and Murphy, he’s one of them.[/TET]

The narrator claims that Murphy “supported a loophole letting AIG executives keep their bonuses with our money." That’s untrue. Murphy supported the massive stimulus legislation but not the then-obscure provision relating to bonus payments by firms receiving bailout funds.

A graphic in the ad words the claim a bit differently, saying Murphy supported the "law" rather than the "loophole." It credits a March 17 Associated Press story as the source. But the truth is that the AP story describes Tedisco’s own allegations about the bailout legislation – the  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The AP said: “Tedisco, 58, said Tuesday the stimulus includes language that protects companies like AIG that accept government money and want to award bonuses – as long as they were agreed to before Feb. 11.” That’s true enough; the Feb. 11 provision was added quietly in a Senate-House conference committee at the insistence of the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as we explained in our March 19 article.

Murphy is not a member of Congress and thus couldn’t vote on ARRA. He did voice support for it, though not for the Feb. 11 provision, which was not widely reported at the time. And Tedisco fails to mention the very AP story he cites also quotes Murphy as saying the bonuses were “reprehensible” and that he favored capping any such incentives.

Associated Press: Murphy released a written statement Tuesday calling the AIG bonuses "reprehensible." He said he wants to cap bonuses for all companies that receive federal bailout funds at $500,000. "We are working hard to make sure AIG gives that money back," Murphy said of his fellow Democrats. He says he supports the stimulus because it’s forward-looking legislation that adds new caps on future executive compensation. He also argues it will help support the creation of new jobs in upstate New York.

Tedisco should know better: We previously chastised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for similarly distorting his own stance on corporate bonuses.

In that previous article, we also provided context for the charge, repeated in this ad, that Murphy gave out “huge bonuses to executives in a company losing millions.” As we explained, the company in question did lose money in a year in which executives received more than $400,000 in bonuses; Murphy was on the board of directors of the company. But the losses were less than they had been the previous year, and net sales had increased substantially, which was a condition for receiving the bonuses. 

Job Creation?

Democrat Murphy’s ad claims that Tedisco “created a $100,000 government job” for one of his “biggest campaign contributors.” The claim refers to Michael R. Cuevas, a New York attorney who was appointed to the position of chief counsel to the Assembly Minority Conference by Tedisco in 2006.

Murphy for Congress Ad

 

[TET ]

Murphy: I’m Scott Murphy and I approved this message.

Announcer: They’re hurting through no fault of their own. Still, Jim Tedisco refuses to support Barack Obama’s economic policies. He calls the job stimulus law “pork.” But when one of his biggest campaign contributors needed a job, Jim Tedisco created a $100,000 government job just for him at taxpayer expense. Refused to support jobs for Americans who are hurting, but take care of your friends. That’s an Albany politician for you.[/TET]

But Tedisco says the position wasn’t “created” for Cuevas, as the ad claims, and the evidence supports him. And as for campaign donations, at least 15 others gave Tedisco larger amounts than Cuevas, who has given $1,300 since 1999.

To support the claim that Tedisco "created" the job, the Murphy campaign points to a January 2007 report in the Albany Times-Union that refers to the $100,000 counsel position as "newly created." It’s true that as chief counsel Cuevas earns more than $100,000 a year, according to payroll information available at seethroughny.net, a site sponsored by the Empire Center for New York State Policy. But was Cuevas the first to hold that position? Several other news reports over the years indicate he wasn’t.

An Associated Press report in 2007 said James M. Catterson Jr. was “chief counsel to the New York Assembly minority leader” during the 1970s. In 1983, The New York Times reported that minority leader Clarence D. Rappleyea Jr. selected Paul F. Macielak as his “chief counsel.” In 1989, Syracuse’s Post-Standard reported that Victoria Graffeo replaced Macielak as “chief counsel and counsel to the Republican minority in the Assembly.” Gary Spencer, a public information officer with the New York Court of Appeals, confirmed for us that Graffeo, who is now a judge, held the position of chief counsel to the Assembly minority leader from 1989 until 1994. An October 2008 press release from New York Life Insurance, announcing new executive promotions, said Gayle Yeomans was “Chief Counsel and Secretary to Minority Leader John Faso” in the state Assembly before rejoining the insurance company in 2002. And according to a June 2003 report in the Times-Union, Kimberly Galvin served as “counsel to the Assembly minority conference” and "chief counsel" under former leader Charles Nesbitt, who preceded Tedisco as minority leader.

Tedisco campaign spokesman Adam Kramer told us that the chief counsel position had been vacant for almost a year before Cuevas was brought on board. Filling a vacant position isn’t the same thing as creating the position, and numerous news reports show this one already existed.

Low-Cal Sugar Daddy

The truth of the claim that Cuevas is one of Tedisco’s “biggest campaign contributors” depends on how you define "big." We checked records of the New York State Board of Elections and found that Cuevas has donated $1,300 to the committee Friends of Assemblyman Tedisco since 1999. Among individual donors, Cuevas falls behind at least 15 other people in the total amount contributed – and probably 17. (Two donors are listed as giving separate gifts from different addresses. Unless these two are really different people with identical names, both their combined totals exceed Cuevas’.) In any event, the $1,300 that Murphy gave over the past decade amounts to 0.4 percent of Tedisco’s total contributions ($297,196.85) received from all individual donors.

– by D’Angelo Gore and Justin Bank

Sources

Bauman, Valerie. “AIG bonuses creep into NY Congressional race.” Associated Press, 17 March 2009.

Cermak, Marv. “Memories of ‘nice guy’ president.” Albany Times-Union, 3 Jan. 2007.

New York State Board of Elections. Contributions and Expenditures Database.

Associated Press. “James M. Catterson, 77, L.I. Prosecutor, Dies.” The New York Times, 20 Oct. 2007.

New York Life Insurance. New York Life Announces Executive Promotions, 23 Oct. 2008.

Lynn, Frank. "G.O.P. Minority Elevates 4." The New York Times, 6 Feb. 1983.

Bliven, Gus. "Lauder May Run For New York City Mayor." The Post-Standard, 4 Jan. 1989.

Odato, James M. "Kimberly Galvin 37, Saratoga Springs." Albany Times-Union, 9 June 2003.