Every two years, congressional candidates take to the airwaves with their claims and counterclaims.
“There they go again: Bill Owens and his Washington friends are spreading lies about Matt Doheny,” begins one television commercial for Doheny, the Republican congressional candidate in the Glens Falls region.
“Matt Doheny’s attack ad? It’s as old as the Adirondacks,” begins a commercial for Owens, the incumbent Democrat from Plattsburgh.
This year, redistricting has brought a new wrinkle to the biannual blitz.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who currently represents the Glens Falls region, is running against Democrat Julian Schriebman in a new district that stretches from Rennselaer County south into the Hudson Valley.
Commercials for that race also are airing on Albany-area television stations.
Campaign commercials can be entertaining, but sorting out the fact from exaggeration, and sometimes outright inaccuracy, can be time-consuming.
The Post-Star analyzed six commercials, three from the Doheny campaign and three from the Owens campaign.
Both candidates are using Washington, D.C.-area advertising agencies that have extensive political experience.
Greener and Hook, based in Arlington, Va., is handling Doheny’s advertising.
The firm’s clients have included National Republican Congressional Committee, Republican National Committee, New York Association for Off-Track Betting and 50 Plus, a conservative advocacy organization that portrays itself as an alternative to AARP.
Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly, based in Alexandria, Va., is handling Owens’ advertising. The firm’s clients have included the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union.
Group 1 (Response ads)
Republican Matt Doheny — “Hurting Seniors”
Text: (Three senior citizens speak, the second of which is the candidate’s mother.)
Speaker 1: “There they go again: Bill Owens and his Washington friends are spreading lies about Matt Doheny.”
Speaker 2: “Matt Doheny is my son. He knows I count on Social Security and Medicare.”
Speaker 3: “That’s why he’ll go to Congress and fight to save both from bankruptcy.”
Speaker 1: “Bill Owens actually voted to cut Medicare, and his cuts will gut Medicare Advantage, a program I depend on.”
Speaker 2: “Now that’s just wrong.”
Analysis: This commercial raises two of the prominent issues in the race. Doheny supports gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security, and ending benefits for the wealthy, in order to shore up long-term financial viability of the programs. Owens has said the best way to ensure the financial viability is to improve the economy, so more people are paying into the system.
FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan political accuracy research organization, has said claiming Medicare is going bankrupt is an exaggeration, as the program could continue unchanged for at least another 12 years.
FactCheck.org also has said it is inaccurate to claim the health care reform law, which Owens voted for, “cuts” Medicare spending. The law reduces the rate of future growth in spending, not the current spending level.
This is not the first time Matt Doheny’s mother has appeared on television. She also appeared in a commercial for his 2010 congressional campaign.
Democrat Bill Owens “Adirondacks”
Text: (narrator speaks) “Matt Doheny’s attack ad? It’s as old as the Adirondacks. Bill Owens wants to fix ObamaCare, not repeal it all. We can’t go back to letting the insurance industry deny care for pre-existing conditions. And Bill Owens worked with Republicans to repeal the ObamaCare tax increase on businesses. Matt Doheny said the Ryan budget plan that essentially ends Medicare didn’t go far enough.”
Analysis: The Owens campaign is responding to a Doheny campaign ad that links Owens with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. To say that argument dates back to prehistoric times is using poetic license, but it is an old argument which area Republican candidates have used in every local congressional race since 2006.
Owens has said he supports discussing changes to the health care reform act, rather than repealing it.
The Owens campaign said in a press release the commercial refers to Owens’ support for repealing a 2.3 percent federal excise tax on medical device companies an repealing the requirement that businesses, no matter what size, file 1099 forms with the Internal Revenue Service for every purchase of goods and services more than $600.
Owens co-sponsored legislation to repeal the medical device tax in May. Doheny has criticized Owens for not co-sponsoring the legislation sooner.
Doheny, earlier this year, did say Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal did not go far enough, but he was referring to proposed spending cuts, not specifically to Medicare. Doheny does support offering Medicare recipients a choice of using private plans, with the federal government paying the premiums directly, a concept similar, but not identical, to what Ryan has proposed.
Group 2 — Biographical ads
Democrat Bill Owens — “What Matters”
Text: (Candidate speaks) “I come from a family of soldiers. My great grandfather served in the Civil War, my great uncle in World War I and my father in World War II. I’m Bill Owens, and I was a captain here at Plattsburgh Air Force Base before they closed it down. Since then I’ve helped to attract over 2,000 jobs to upstate New York. I’m running for Congress and I approve this message because my family taught me to fight for what matters. And right now we need to fight for upstate New York.”
Analysis: The operative word here is “helped.” Owens, a retired Air Force JAG officer, was a legal advisor and participant in a successful effort to recruit new employers in Plattsburgh after the Air Force base closed.
Republican Matt Doheny — “Fighting for Jobs”
Text: (Candidate speaks) — “Hi — I’m Matt Doheny. I grew up in the North Country. I worked my way through college. I spent my career turning around troubled companies and helping small businesses. I came back home to be closer to my mom. Now my wife, Mary, and I are starting our family right here. I’ll use my business experience in Congress to help get our economy moving again, to create jobs right here in the North Country, and to put an end of Washington’s out of control spending. I’m Matt Doheny and I approve this message because we need a representative who will fight for your job — not his own.”
Analysis: This is a basic biographical profile.
Group 3 — Attack ads
Democrat Bill Owens “Four Islands”
Text: (narrator speaks) “The Matt Doheny story: A tale of four islands. Matt Doheny worked here in Manhattan on Wall Street. He took over vulnerable companies then fired workers and cut benefits to maximize his profit. Next he worked for a company that used the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes. Then Matt Doheny bought his own two islands and moved here to run for Congress. Matt Doheny gets his islands. America loses jobs.”
Analysis: Dohney has repeatedly said that his experience turning around financially troubled companies has been good experience for him to serve in Congress. But in a recent interview responding to this commercial Doheny said this his role did not include decisions about jobs or where companies did their banking.
“Part of that in terms of investing in a company is making the strategic decisions, not some of the micro-decisions on the ground, but the bigger decisions in terms of the fundamental strategy and the big building blocks. When you’re dealing with companies that large, sometimes, it’s just more of a lower level decision.”
Doheny supporters have said the Owens campaign is using class warfare.
Owens, in a recent interview, said the campaign is not using class warfare.
“That’s not at all what we’re doing. What we’re contrasting is where and how he made his money, which we don’t object to. We think it’s wonderful that he was able to accomplish that. But we’re contracting where and how he made his money, and where and how I made mine.
Both candidates have received significant campaign contributions from the financial sector.
Owens received $41,450 in contributions in the first half of this year, while Doheny received $52,475, according to the most recent information available on reports the campaigns file with the Federal Election Commission.
Republican Matt Doheny “He’ll Do Anything”
Text: (Narrator speaks) “Bill Owens is lying about Matt Doheny. Matt was raised in the North Country, never owned a company in the Cayman Islands, and helped save thousands of American jobs. While Bill Owens wants to talk about islands, the island he won’t talk about is Taiwan, where he traveled first calls on a trip planned by D.C. lobbyists, violating House rules. After he got caught, Bill Owens tried to buy his way out of trouble. Bill Owens — he’ll do anything to keep his job.”
Analysis: The operative word here is “never owned.” Owens did not claim that Doheny owned a company in the Cayman Islands, only that Doheny worked for one. Doheny worked for Fintech Advisory, a real estate partnership that had a subsidiary incorporated in the Cayman Islands.
In May, staff for two separate public interest organizations said that a cultural exchange trip that Owens and his wife took to Taiwan in December appeared to violate a House ethics rule that prohibits members of Congress from participating in trips that lobbyists organize.
ProPublica.org, an online news service, reported Park Strategies, a lobbying firm headed by former U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., was involved in organizing and arranging the trip, which the Chinese Culture University paid for.
Owens refunded the approximately $22,000 cost of the trip, and brought in a consultant to conduct an educational seminar with his House staff about House ethics rules.
Park Strategies did not pay for the trip, and no one from the lobbying firm participated in the trip, Owens said at the time.
Owens said the House Ethics Committee had approved the trip in advance.