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PoliGraph: 3rd District ads get mixed verdicts

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Wall Street, ethics violations and climate change are all popping up in the fight for the 3rd district's congressional seat.

PoliGraph analyzed two ads from the race between Republican incumbent Erik Paulsen and his opponent, Jim Meffert, and found the results to be mixed.

Meffert's ad against Paulsen:

Meffert is promoting an online ad that addresses Paulsen's vote on a bill meant to overhaul the financial regulation system.

"I'll never forget the way you stood up for me and voted against reform," a pen spells out in loopy cursive. "I can't thank you enough. But I'll try. XOXO, Wall Street."

This investigation will focus on whether Paulsen voted for the bill - and whether he accepted "thousands in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs, US Bank, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and more," as a footnote in the ad claims.

The Evidence

Like many of his fellow Republicans, Paulsen voted against the financial regulation legislation because he felt it did not solve the problems that caused the financial crisis and that it would ultimately cost taxpayers, according to his spokesman Tim Commers.

The fine print on the Meffert ad also states that Paulsen accepted campaign contributions from some of the financial institutions the new law is aimed at taming.

This is true. For instance, during this election cycle, the Goldman Sachs political action committee has contributed $2,000 to Paulsen's campaign, and the Citigroup action committee has handed over $3,000. The Morgan Stanley PAC has given Paulsen $4,000 and US Bank has donated $4,500.

Other donors include the Mortgage Bankers Association ($7,500) and the American Bankers Association ($10,000). That said, it's important to note that none of these organizations are Paulsen's top contributors.

The Verdict

Meffert claims that Paulsen voted against the financial system overhaul and that he's received thousands from financial institutions are both accurate.

Paulsen's ad against Meffert

Paulsen's latest television spot covers a lot of ground, charging that Meffert supports higher taxes and supports cuts to Medicare. This investigation will focus on the following claims:

"[Jim Meffert] is a lobbyist who was fined for violating ethics laws," the ad states. "The energy tax Meffert favors would raise utility bills $829 a year for families."

The Evidence

Meffert was registered as a lobbyist for the Minnesota Optometric Association starting in March 1998. He terminated his registration in July 2010. So he no longer is a lobbyist as Paulsen's ad states.

It's true that Meffert caught the attention of the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board several times during his lobbying career. In 2002, he was fined $100 for filing paperwork late, according to campaign finance board executive Gary Goldsmith. In 2003, when Meffert was treasurer of the optometric political action committee, his group was fined $2,100 for failing to file fundraising reports. (Meffert says notices from the board were lost in the mail as his organization moved offices.)

Paulsen points to a third instance to support this claim. In 2005, the optometric political action committee was referred to the Attorney General because its activity had lapsed. In short, state officials wanted to know if the committee still existed. Meffert alerted the board that the fundraising operation was still active, and the matter was resolved in early 2006.

But were these ethics violations? Goldsmith emphasized that Meffert's violations were entirely administrative, and had absolutely nothing to do with his conduct because Goldsmith's board does not deal with such issues. Further, he pointed out he and his staff issue hundreds of similar fines every year, so Meffert's failure to report on time is not unusual.

Paulsen's second claim refers to a cap-and-trade bill that the House of Representatives passed in 2009, legislation that's now stalled in the Senate. Meffert does the support the legislation, and has pledged on his website "to put a price on carbon and reduce its presence in our atmosphere, whether it is a cap-and-trade system, a carbon tax, or some other method."

The trouble with Paulsen's claim is that it relies on one cost estimate drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation. According to the group, policies in the bill would cost families an average of $829 annually.

Contrast that with the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate for the same bill which pegs the cost at less than $200 annually, and one thing becomes clear: experts agree that the cost of energy will necessarily increase if the United States adopts a cap-and-trade bill - they just don't agree on how much.

The Verdict

Meffert was fined during his lobbying career by the state's campaign finance board. But his violations were administrative, and have nothing to do with ethics or conduct as the ad implies. Further, his failure to report fundraising activities on time is nothing out of the ordinary. So, this part of Paulsen's claim is false.

On his second point, Paulsen misses the mark. He bases his claim that Meffert supports an "energy tax" on one estimate from a conservative foundation that's based on a stalled bill. The bottom line is that cap-and-trade legislation is still a moving target, so it's impossible to say how much it will cost consumers until Congress puts something into law.

By Catharine Richert

SOURCES

YouTube, Wall Street: How Did Paulsen Vote?, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

Project Vote Smart, Erik Paulsen's voting record HR4173, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

How Did Paulsen Vote, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

HR 4173: Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

OpenSecrets.org, Rep. Erik Paulsen: Campaign Contributions - 2010 cycle, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

Congress.org, Rep. Erik Paulsen: Political Action Committee Contributions, 2009-2010, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Star Tribune, Paulsen hits Meffert with a second ad, by Jeremy Herb, Oct. 8, 2010

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Jim Meffert-Nelson lobbyist registration, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Jan. 15, 2003 meeting minutes, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, April 23, 2003 meeting minutes, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Dec. 15, 2005 meeting minutes, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Feb. 24, 2006 meeting minutes, accessed Oct. 15, 2010

Jim Meffert for Congress, Issues: Environment, accessed Oct. 14, 2010

The Heritage Foundation, The Economic Consequences of Waxman-Markey: An Analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, Aug. 6, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency, American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 H.R. 2454 in the 111th Congress, June 23, 2009

PolitiFact.com, Your guide to cap-and-trade estimates, by Catharine Richert, June 25, 2009

Interview, Kate Monson, spokeswoman, Jim Meffert, Oct. 13, 2010

Interview, Tim Commers, spokesman, Erik Paulsen, Oct. 14, 2010

Interview, Gary Goldsmith, Executive Director, Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, Oct. 15, 2010

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