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Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact: Justice's ad tying Young to Abramoff is essentially baseless

ST. PETERSBURG — In a new Web ad, state Sen. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, comes armed with ominous music and some sloppy Photoshop work to link opponent Rep. C.W. Bill Young with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

But does Justice, who is seeking to unseat the 20-term Pinellas County Republican, have any facts to back up the association?

PolitiFact Florida decided to break down the two-minute ad to find out.

The ad describes "Abramoff Inc." vs. "Young Inc.," and spends two minutes drawing parallels between Young and the disgraced lobbyist now serving almost six years in prison on charges of tax evasion, mail fraud and conspiracy to corrupt public officials.

The video uses Abramoff's famous fedora as a metaphor for the ties between the two men. A copy of the hat flips off Abramoff's head and lands on Young's. We'll discuss the overall association between Abramoff and Young in a minute. But first, we'll analyze two of Justice's specific claims.

The ad: Bill Young uses his campaign money for, among other things, a luxury car."

The Truth-O-Meter: The Justice campaign said it was referring to a 1990 revelation in the St. Petersburg Times that Young used campaign money to buy a Lincoln Continental for nearly $30,000. But that was 20 years ago, and Justice's ad uses the present tense.

Turns out, however, that Young still uses campaign money on a car. The model has just changed. It's a Lincoln Navigator now.

According to an expenditure report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in 2009 Young paid $799 per month to Ford Motor Credit for the "campaign vehicle."

We rate that claim True.

The ad: Young, who has never been bashful about directing federal money back to his constituents in the Tampa Bay area, "has accepted $737,000 from lobbyists and recipients of his earmarks."

The Truth-O-Meter: Justice's campaign said the $737,000 figure includes campaign contributions going back to 1997. That translates to about $61,000 a year. The campaign provided documents to back up the numbers.

But the documents were riddled with problems. First, they actually provided contributions totaling about $2 million.

But then, most of those contributions were double, triple or sometimes quadruple counted.

When PolitiFact Florida counted only unique contributions, the total was about $795,000.

And that figure included contributions that might not be tied to a company receiving an earmark.

It is not technically accurate to say "recipients of his earmarks" gave Young that money. The recipients of his earmarks were mostly corporations, but they have been prohibited under federal law from making campaign contributions.

And Justice's figure includes money from lobbyists who worked on behalf of a company that received an earmark, but it's not certain that lobbyist ever met or worked with Young's office.

We rate the claim Half True.

Now back to the Abramoff-Young connection.

Several other lawmakers, including former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney of Florida, got tangled in the Abramoff scandal in one way or another. But there's never been a solid link to Young that we were aware of.

We checked Nexis, a pay service that aggregates news articles from across the country, and found a few stories from 2006 that did mention the two together — all centering on $1,000 Young received in 2002 from an Abramoff client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. But nothing directly links Abramoff and Young.

Indeed, Think Progress, a website run by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, has a section on Abramoff's links to Congress. Many members were mentioned, including Alaska Rep. Don Young (no relation), but Florida's C.W. Bill Young isn't discussed at all.

We also checked Abramoff's federal charging document. Young isn't mentioned. The document does refer to an anonymous "Representative #1" but that turned out to be former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney, who resigned from office and pleaded guilty to corruption charges as part of the Abramoff imbroglio.

"Mr. Young never met him," Young spokesman Harry Glenn told PolitiFact Florida. "He wouldn't be able to pick him out if the two passed on the sidewalk. To try to link them is ridiculous."

In the end, Justice's claim about Abramoff is an attempt at sleight of hand.

The only connection is a tenuous one, that one of Abramoff's clients contributed $1,000 to Young in 2002. There's no evidence that Abramoff himself contributed to Young or that Young ever sought earmarks for Abramoff, or that they even actually met. That's not enough to hang a hat — or a fedora — on.

The attempt at a link warrants a Pants on Fire!

PolitiFact: Justice's ad tying Young to Abramoff is essentially baseless 05/02/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 2, 2010 11:01pm]
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