PORTLAND, Maine – Angus King’s campaign called on the state’s TV stations Monday to pull two Republican ads from the air that it says offer an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of King’s involvement in a 22-turbine wind project in the western Maine town of Roxbury. King and business partner Rob Gardiner held a 10 percent stake in the project until early 2011.
At a Monday news conference, King campaign manager Kay Rand said the campaign is filing formal complaints with the TV stations airing the ads claiming that the stations are required to remove the ads under federal law.
“Initially, we thought our course was to educate, but it’s obvious that educating isn’t all that we need to do,” Rand said. “We would take legal action if that’s what’s required.”
Rand said King was out of state Monday and unable to attend the news conference.
The campaign is asking stations to remove two ads from the National Republican Senatorial Committee that target King for his involvement in the wind energy business before becoming a U.S. Senate candidate.
The announcement came more than a week after the Republican committee, the GOP’s Senate campaign arm, waded into the Maine Senate race with a two-week, statewide offensive against the independent former governor who’s the front-runner in the race to replace Olympia Snowe in the Senate. The committee has said its two-week push in Maine will ultimately total $650,000.
The most recent TV spot King is targeting, launched over the weekend, features five people portrayed to be residents who live near the Record Hill installation. They call King a “smooth operator,” say he “was making millions and millions of dollars,” and lament that “we’re not going to retrieve the tops of those mountains.” The spot ends with a man saying, “I just don’t like the idea of him being our senator.”
The ad asks, “Angus King got a sweetheart deal for his windmills … but what did Mainers get?”
King’s campaign said it was challenging the ad on two points, saying King did not make millions of dollars from the wind company and that he didn’t get a “sweetheart deal.” The campaign also launched a rebuttal ad Monday that features Record Hill-area residents praising the wind project and King for a project that created jobs and lowered local property taxes.
Federal law requires broadcast stations to accept and air ads from federal candidates. The law, however, allows stations to reject third-party ads such as the Republican senatorial committee’s and requires that the stations take steps to ensure the reliability of an ad. Stations can be held liable for the ads’ content, according to a publication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Under federal law, stations have a duty “to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising.”
Managers at stations in the Bangor, Portland and Presque Isle markets didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Record Hill was one of two wind projects King was involved in as a partner in Independence Wind, the business he owned with partner Rob Gardiner until he sold his stake in March to run for the Senate.
King has said he banked about $212,000 from his Independence Wind ventures: from selling his stake in the company in March and from collecting $50,000 a year in management fees for his work on Record Hill and one other wind project proposal, in Highland Plantation in Somerset County. King’s net worth – which his financial disclosure forms show is between $5.3 million and $23.6 million – dropped by almost $340,000 when he sold his Independence Wind stake, according to his campaign.
Brian Walsh, the Republican senatorial committee’s communications director, said the group’s ad is accurate and described King’s attempts to remove it from the airwaves “a desperate PR distraction.”
“If Angus King has an issue with Mainers talking about his federal government loan and the millions of dollars he’s made since leaving office, then perhaps he should have listened to their concerns before ramming this project forward,” Walsh said in an email. “The simple fact is that the ad is accurate and King knows it, and these legal threats are nothing but a desperate PR distraction from that fact.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s first ad in its two-week campaign targeted the $102 million federally guaranteed loan Record Hill, LLC received from the same federal economic stimulus program as Solyndra, the green energy company that failed after receiving a $528 million federally backed loan and became a political liability for the Obama administration.
The loan to Record Hill was one of more than two dozen cited in a congressional inquiry last March led by Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California.
The inquiry, which accuses the U.S. Department of Energy of “dysfunction, negligence and mismanagement,” questioned whether the Record Hill project needed the loan and whether the technology it was using met the federal guidelines for receiving it.
Gardiner said in March that the Record Hill project met all qualifications and that the project was caught up in a political battle on Capitol Hill. King’s campaign points out that the loan is being repaid and that taxpayers haven’t been on the line for the money since the company hasn’t failed.
King and Gardiner held a 10 percent stake in the Record Hill project until January 2011 and were responsible for handling state and local permitting for the project. The project received the federal loan in August 2011.
At the news conference Monday, 39-year Roxbury resident Kathy Sutton said King was responsive to residents’ concerns related to the Record Hill project and that local taxes have gone down dramatically since the turbines’ installation.
“There were windmills on the hill,” Sutton said. “That’s about the only accurate thing in the ad.”
The Sun Journal reported in August that Roxbury’s property tax rate dropped to $6.93 for every $1,000 in property value for the 2012-13 tax year from $16.86 the previous year as a result of the turbines.
Representatives from the Maine Wind Industry Initiative, wind developer Reed & Reed, and Ocean Renewable Power Co., which recently installed four turbines that generate tidal power in Cobscook Bay, also spoke in King’s defense.
The effort to remove the ads highlights how more than $1.5 million in advertising from outside groups has become a defining issue in this fall’s Senate campaign. The King campaign’s complaints came days after two polls showed King’s lead over Republican Charlie Summers shrinking. The polls indicate that the advertising attacks on King have taken a toll on his popularity, especially among Republican voters.
King last week called on Summers to ask for the negative ads to be taken off the air. In response, Summers’ campaign spokesman Drew Brandewie wrote in an email that King’s “hypocrisy knows no bounds,” noting the former governor had traveled to Washington, D.C., on Thursday for a fundraiser.
BDN writer Seth Koenig contributed to this report.
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