News10 Reality Check: Bogus claim in Garamendi ad

10:31 AM, Sep 11, 2012   |    comments
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It's a bold accusation: a politician getting a lavish perk, at taxpayer expense, while a local veteran's hall goes wanting for repairs.

It also turns out to be inaccurate, which is why the television ad has been taken off the air.

The ad was produced by the campaign of Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and includes an on-camera approval of its message by the Democrat.  But after News10 began asking questions about the veracity of one of the ad's claims, Garamendi's campaign manager announced the ad was being pulled.

Garamendi's ad accuses his Republican opponent, Colusa County supervisor Kim Vann, of using government money to buy a $4,000 office chair.  And it pokes Vann for doing so while, at the same time, telling a Colusa County veterans group that there was no money to repair their historic meeting hall.

Watch the ad (story continues below video):

But as part of News10's election season series, "Reality Check," we reviewed Colusa County spending records and found that Garamendi had missed the mark.  The $4,068 in taxpayer dollars accounted for the cost of ten chairs -- five of which actually went to the district attorney -- and Vann's own chair cost the county $386.68.

Monday night, the Garamendi campaign agreed.

"It now appears that for some reason, the county was not itemizing expenses according to standard accounting practices, and the chair was purchased at a lower cost," wrote campaign manager Maureen Erwin in an email.  "We have taken the ad out of rotation and will correct the ad based on this new information."

But Erwin has not responded to our follow-up questions.  Why didn't the Garamendi campaign simply call Colusa County officials, who say they were not contacted,  and clarify the confusing document?  And why did Garamendi assume such an expensive chair was for Ms. Vann, whose name doesn't appear on the confusing document in question, and not someone else?

The TV ad includes some other questionable charges, though ones that are more about context than the clearly incorrect claim about an expensive chair.

"Kim Vann stopped an effort to save a deteriorating local American Legion hall, saying 'Sorry we just aren't going to write you a check,'" says the ad's narrator.

But the quote in question, found in a Colusa County newspaper article from 2010, is in reference to the county's struggling finances, and was reported as said by Vann as, "I would love to just write a check, but it is something I cannot do."

The context of the newspaper article is that the county's finances are tight, and not that Vann opposes the idea of helping the veterans hall project as the ad suggests.

Garamendi also criticizes his opponent for accepting a pay raise while turning down the veterans hall project for funding.  But our review of county records show that while Vann did get a pay raise, it was approved in February 2008 -- before local, state, and national economies were thrown into recession -- and long before the veterans hall debate happened in the spring of 2010.

The two were not, as the ad asserts, happening at the same time.

Garamendi -- a former lieutenant governor, state insurance commissioner, and state legislator -- is running for his second term in Congress, though in a reconfigured district that is more competitive in party registration.  Political watchers expect the race to be one of California's most competitive on November 6.


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