September 17, 2012

Truth Test: Republican ad fails to get facts, period

It attacks two Senate candidates: independent Angus King over a loan he didn't benefit from and Democrat Cynthia Dill over bills that died before affecting taxpayers.

By Michael Shepherd
Staff Writer

The TV ad paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee hits independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King and Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill and has a couple of the most spurious claims seen so far in the campaign season here.

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TRUTH TEST is a regular feature of MaineToday Media's campaign coverage in which we cast a critical eye on the truthfulness of advertising and public comments by political candidates.

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It uses speculation against King's history in the wind power business, criticizing him for loans that documents show he wasn't around to benefit from.

It says Dill, a state senator from Cape Elizabeth, "left taxpayers the bill with her liberal policies," citing two legislative bills she sponsored. But the bills never made it into law. Another claim, about Dill supporting policies advocated by President Barack Obama, is right.

"King used his political connections to get a taxpayer-backed loan for his windmill business. The press says King's loan was so sketchy, Congress had to investigate."

The ad is referencing Independence Wind LLC, a Maine-based company in which King was a partner until earlier this year, when he sold his share of the company to his then-partner Robert Gardiner, just after announcing his Senate run.

The project referred to is Record Hill in Roxbury, one of two projects Independence Wind was involved in. Record Hill applied for the loan in 2010, got a conditional approval in March 2011, and the U.S. Department of Energy announced the $125 million loan's finalization in August 2011. A congressional committee did criticize that loan. More on that later.

But Gardiner said Independence Wind sold its 10 percent share of Record Hill in January 2011. That's seven months before the loan was granted. King's campaign provided a document showing the Record Hill share was sold Jan. 14, 2011.

Now, we'll tackle the reference to "political connections." A Republican Senatorial Committee official said that was a reference to a 2010 recommendatory letter for the Record Hill project sent by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District. The official also noted that King has said he is close friends with Pingree, which is true. But a Pingree spokesman said King wasn't involved in asking for the letter.

"Rob Gardiner called me, I talked to our staff, we wrote the letter for Chellie and never communicated with Angus on that," said Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch. "I would point out that this is the kind of thing Congresswoman Pingree does all the time. She supports the wind industry and thinks it should grow."

Pingree's husband, S. Donald Sussman, is majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and other media outlets in Maine.

Now, for the congressional blowback: A staff report from the Republican-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform criticized the loan to Record Hill, among many other government loans.

The committee was motivated to examine Department of Energy loans by the failure of Solyndra, a solar power company that got a $527 million government loan and went bankrupt. Gardiner has told MaineToday Media that Record Hill is paying back the loan, so taxpayers aren't on the hook for money so far.

Verdict: Since King's former firm sold its small share of the Record Hill project in January 2011, before the loan was issued, it's hard to say King got "his" company a loan. Pingree's office also denies that King was involved in getting her letter of recommendation for the loan. From the information we can gather, there's no support for the Republican committee's claims. They simply didn't compile the sourcing to make them.

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