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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Democrat-on-Democrat Attacks in Ohio

Ohioans are getting a healthy dose of misinformation in a nasty congressional primary in Ohio, which pits incumbent Democrats Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich against each other. Only one can survive the March 6 vote.

Though Kaptur and Kucinich — both 65 and pro-union liberals — were longtime political allies, that changed with a Republican remapping of zones that put them in the same congressional district.

Kaptur has dominated the TV air wars with ads the Kucinich camp calls “dishonest,” “deceitful” and “deliberately misleading.” Kucinich had no TV advertising until putting up a single, positive ad on March 1. But a Texas-based super PAC has curiously taken an interest in the race, airing two attack ads against Kaptur — one of which includes a charge that the Kaptur camp calls a “preposterous lie.” Meanwhile, Kucinich is up with a radio ad that Kaptur calls “disrespectful,” while Kaptur is on the radio airwaves with an ad the Kucinich campaign calls “a false smear attack” and a “new low.” With only a few days until the primary, we’ll try to help you sift through the misinformation.

  • A Kaptur campaign ad says Kucinich voted against “$42 million for new manufacturing jobs” and “$15 billion more for veterans care.” But these were not simple up-and-down votes for those specific programs. Both were small parts of massive appropriations bills that Kucinich voted against because they included more money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Kucinich has adamantly opposed.
  • An ad from super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability contests Kaptur’s claim in a TV ad that she still lives in the same Toledo house she grew up in, claiming that “actually,” Kaptur lives in a “fancy condo in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.” Owning a second home in the D.C. area is common for legislators — Kucinich also has a second home there — and there is no evidence that the Toledo home is not Kaptur’s primary residence.
  • Another ad from the super PAC says Kaptur’s claim in a campaign ad that she “voted against the pay raises for Congress” is “not true.” In 2007, Kaptur voted to kill a bill that sought to get a direct vote to block a built-in, cost-of-living pay increase, but she has often voted against pay raises for Congress and has donated all pay increases she has received since 1990 to charity.
  • A radio ad from the Kaptur campaign links Kucinich to former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is now on trial for corruption, noting that Kucinich once praised Dimora in the Congressional Record, calling him “a great man, a public servant and friend.” Kucinich did indeed heap that praise on Dimora, but the resolution to honor Dimora was offered in 2001, years before corruption charges were filed against him.

The Democratic primary for Ohio’s newly drawn 9th District will be held on March 6. In addition to Kaptur and Kucinich, political newcomer Graham Veysey, a video entrepreneur, is also in the race.

Does No Mean No?

Kaptur fired the first volley in the air wars with an ad that knocks Kucinich for three “no” votes: against money for manufacturing jobs, veterans care and a prescription drug plan for seniors. But in all three cases, the funding was a small part of massive bills that Kucinich opposed because they included further military spending. We’ll take them one at a time.

“When Marcy Kaptur brought home $42 million for new manufacturing jobs, Dennis Kucinich voted no.”

This was not an up-or-down vote on $42 million for new manufacturing jobs. Rather, this refers to a bevvy of manufacturing-related earmarks sponsored or cosponsored by Kaptur (and even one cosponsored by Kucinich, our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact Ohio noted) and tucked into a $636 billion defense appropriations bill in 2009. The bill passed the House by a 395-34 vote. Kucinich voted against it, and Kaptur voted for it.

Kucinich, a longtime opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, cast his opposition to the bill as an anti-war vote. Kucinich’s campaign says he opposed the legislation because “principal provisions of that bill included $127.3 billion in additional defense spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“When Kaptur helped get $15 billion more for veterans care, Kucinich voted no.”

Like the last claim, this one refers to a small part of a massive appropriations bill that Kucinich opposed because of his anti-war stance. In this case, it was a $447 billion omnibus appropriations bill that came up in late 2009. The bill passed 221 to 202, with Kucinich joining 27 other Democrats and every Republican voting against it. Kaptur voted for it.

According to the Kucinich campaign, Kucinich supported many of the provisions in the bill, including increased veterans benefits, but he voted against the larger bill because it included “billions of dollars in military aid, sanctions and funds for policies in the Middle East that undermine the Administration’s call for a commitment to diplomacy; $239 million in foreign military financing for Pakistan; destabilizing investment and trade sanctions; and restrictions on aid to Gaza and the West Bank.”

Matthew R. Klempner, press secretary for the Kaptur campaign, says Kucinich is trying to have it both ways.

“In Congress, you can’t pick and choose,” Klempner told us in an email. “You have to put your card into the reader and make a decision: Yes or No. Very few bills are perfect. You have to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision. Yes or No.”

“And when Kaptur fought for the Democrats’ prescription drug benefits for seniors, Kucinich voted no.”

The ad is referring here to an alternative budget proposed by the Blue Dog coalition of centrist Democrats in 2000. The budget did include $387 billion over 10 years for “priority programs” including prescription drugs and other programs such as agriculture and education.

The Kucinich campaign said he voted against the “Blue Dog budget” because it also included too much money for the military. “He supported and voted for the budget plan advanced by the Democratic leadership of the House, which included $40 billion over fiscal years 2001 through 2005 and $155 billion through fiscal year 2010 for a Medicare prescription drug benefit and premium and cost-sharing protections.”

Happy Birthday and Other Indiscretions

A radio ad from Kaptur (which you can listen to here) seeks to link Kucinich to former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who is currently embroiled in a federal racketeering trial. In a 149-page indictment, Dimora is accused of bilking taxpayers and running a bribery and kickback scheme out of the county administration building. Though Kucinich has not been linked to any of Dimora’s alleged crimes, the Kaptur ad criticizes Kucinich for “repeatedly praising” him.

Kaptur radio ad: Narrator: Why has Dennis Kucinich repeatedly praised indicted party boss Jimmy Dimora?

Second speaker: Isn’t Dimora on trial for public corruption?

Narrator: Dennis called Dimora, quote, a great man, a public servant and a friend.

Second speaker: But Dimora’s been indicted for taking bribes.

Narrator: Kucinich said Dimora was, quote, a man of the people who served Cleveland selflessly.

Second speaker: Selflessly? He’s on trial for taking bribes.

Narrator: And Dennis didn’t just say it. He put it into the Congressional Record.

The resolution to honor Dimora in the Congressional Record was offered by Kucinich on June 18, 2001, on the occasion of Dimora’s birthday. It states, in part:

Kucinich, 2001: Mr. Dimora is a great man, skilled politician, public servant and most importantly, a friend.

… Commissioner Jimmy Dimora is truly a man of the people, and has served the Cleveland community selflessly his entire life.

So the ad accurately cited Kucinich’s praise. But it fails to mention that Kucinich’s resolution was delivered years before the corruption investigation came to light.

However, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that while at a March 2009 Cuyahoga County Democratic Party fundraiser — held after the corruption probe had surfaced — Kucinich said of Dimora, “You are the backbone of the Democratic Party in Ohio.”

In a campaign mailer, the Kucinich campaign called the ad “misleading” and “a false smear attack that’s straight out of the Republican, Karl Rove playbook. It is character assassination and pure GOP Swift-boating.”

Home Away from Home?

A Texas super PAC called “Campaign for Primary Accountability” has inserted itself into the Democratic primary in Ohio, launching two ads on cable TV attacking Kaptur. According to its website, the group includes “citizens from across the political spectrum” who seek to “level the playing field in primary elections” for candidates who are facing incumbents that “usually have a ‘message monopoly’ during primaries.”

According to the Texas Tribune, the group is largely funded by “Houston construction mogul Leo Linbeck III, the self-described ‘conservative communitarian’ who has led a national effort to shift control of the nation’s health from the federal government to the states.”

Kaptur certainly fits the bill of an entrenched incumbent, having served in Congress since 1982. As of the most recent reports on file with the Federal Election Commission, Kaptur had spent $372,684 since Jan. 1, and still had another $422,911 in cash as of Feb. 15. During that same time, Kucinich had spent $231,540 — and had only $250,407 left in the bank.

The first of two Campaign for Primary Accountability ads against Kaptur takes aim at Kaptur’s claim in a TV ad that she still lives in the same Toledo house she grew up in.

“Actually,” a narrator in the ad states, “Marcy Kaptur lives in this fancy condo in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.” In the background is a photograph of Kaptur’s townhouse, and the graphic, “$488,000 condo.”

According to Alexandria, Va., property records, Kaptur does, in fact, own the townhouse, and it has an assessed value of $488,732. Kaptur bought the property in 1998 for $235,000.

But it’s not uncommon for legislators to own two homes, one in the Washington, D.C., area and one in their home district. In fact, Kucinich owns a four-bedroom brick home in D.C. that he bought in April 2009 for $387,000 after the home went into foreclosure. The home currently has an assessed value of $404,910. Kucinich also owns a home on Cleveland’s West Side.

In its backup material, Campaign for Primary Accountability notes that Kaptur has voted absentee nine times over the last 10 years and that she does not claim a homestead exemption on her home in Toledo. That’s true, but Alexandria, Va., does not have homestead exemptions, so she does not claim one there, either. We found no compelling evidence that Kaptur cannot claim her Toledo home as her primary residence. In fact, it’s a home she inherited from her parents.

“The fact that she chose to have a townhouse in the DC area is not unusual” for a legislator, said campaign spokesman Matt Klempner. “She works in DC and she needs a place to stay. The fact is, she lives in Toledo. She definitely is someone who tries to stay back home as much as possible.”

The ad also makes the claim that while Kaptur’s property taxes in Virginia are paid in full, her Ohio property tax payments have been late nine times. Kaptur owns several rental properties in Toledo, in addition to the home she claims as her primary residence.

Toledo tax records confirm that Kaptur paid late fees nine times — for a total of $295 —   on four properties she owns in Toledo, including $10 in 2006 for the property she claims as her primary residence.

“She was late on a couple occasions,” Klempner acknowledged.

But only once was she more than 11 days late, he said, when it was closer to six weeks.

“She has a very busy schedule,” Klempner said, “and this was just something she overlooked. She asked for no special treatment and she didn’t try to get out of the penalties.”

Records show that Kaptur paid all of her taxes and late fees and is fully paid up.

Another Campaign for Primary Accountability ad plays a clip of Kaptur saying in a campaign ad, “I voted against the pay raises for Congress.”

“Not true,” says the narrator. “She raised her pay in 2007.”

In 2007, Kaptur did vote for a measure that killed efforts to get a direct vote on whether to block a scheduled cost-of-living pay raise for members of Congress. Kucinich voted against it. Although the Kaptur campaign passed it off as a vote against a Republican-led “procedural device” and not specifically on members’ pay, it was identified by the Associated Press and others at the time as a vote to block a chance to vote on the pay raise.

But it’s also true that Kaptur has long been an outspoken advocate for freezing congressional pay.

In 2006, she voted in favor of a measure seeking a direct vote on otherwise automatic cost-of-living pay increases for members of Congress. In a press release that year, Kaptur said members of Congress should forgo the cost-of-living increases “at a time of great hardship for millions of Americans who are out of work or possibly serving in the armed forces” and because “the nation is running record budget deficits with red ink as far as the eye can see.”

The release noted that Kaptur “has long opposed Congressional pay raises hikes” and that for several years, she has passed the raises on to charitable causes in her Ohio district through an established account with the Toledo Community Foundation.

We also found a 1997 clip from USA Today that notes that Kaptur voted against an inflation adjustment raise, saying, “I would never take a raise until the people of my district get one. In spite of the economy, real median income in our country has not gone up.”

She also voted in 2010 for legislation that would freeze congressional salaries for 2011.

“From 1990 to today, Congresswoman Kaptur has donated any pay increases she received to charity, or the Treasury,” Klempner told us. “This amount is over $450,000.”

The Kaptur campaign has contacted television stations in Cleveland and Toledo and asked them to stop running the Campaign for Primary Accountability ads.

No TV Response, But on the Radio …

Kucinich’s first TV ad, meanwhile, makes no mention of Kaptur and includes a number of testimonials from people calling him a “fighter for the people,” a strong union advocate and someone who works for the underdog.

Kucinich did, however, fire back at Kaptur with an attack ad on the radio. It begins with a dig at Kaptur’s ads, with the narrator saying, “Maybe in Toledo, facts don’t matter.”

The narrator continues, “Toledo’s Marcy Kaptur voted to waste half a trillion on Bush’s wars. Cleveland’s Dennis Kucinich voted to bring our troops and their money home to rebuild our economy. Toledo’s Kaptur took hundreds of thousands from war contractors and voted for billions more than even the Republicans wanted for military spending.”

According to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign contributions, Kaptur has gotten $256,450 in contributions from the defense industry since 1989. Kucinich, by comparison, got $17,455.

As for the claim that Kaptur, an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, “voted to waste half a trillion on Bush’s wars,” Kaptur’s campaign quibbles that the calculation appears to include war funding by the Obama administration as well.

The Kaptur campaign also points to a 2007 story in the Toledo Blade, in which Kucinich said of Kaptur, “Marcy’s the kind of person who can’t be bought. That’s the most precious quality in government. I’m the president of her fan club.”

That was before their districts merged.

— Robert Farley