LITTLE ROCK — A television ad accusing Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson of wastefully spending taxpayer money on employee bonuses and a lavish "birthday party" was called false Tuesday by an independent fact-checking website.
FactCheck.org, a website run by the nonprofit Annenberg Public Policy Center, debunked claims in an ad by Jobs and Opportunity, an affiliate of the Democratic Governors Association, which supports Hutchinson’s Democratic opponent, Mike Ross.
The ad blames Hutchinson for "huge bonuses" going to "government bureaucrats," a reference to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security that found the Transportation Security Administration awarded nearly $1.5 million in bonuses to 88 TSA executives for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2003.
Hutchinson at the time was undesecretary for border transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security and was not in charge of day-to-day operations at the TSA, FactCheck.org said
The ad also accuses Hutchinson of spending about $500,000 on a birthday party, a reference to a Nov. 18, 2003, program that celebrated the TSA’s second anniversary. Hutchinson did not control TSA spending and is not even named in an inspector general’s report that found the cost of the program excessive, according to FactCheck.org.
Hutchinson said in a statement Wednesday, "I am pleased that FactCheck.org has confirmed that I had nothing to do with any of the claims made in this false and desperate ad. I have stated from the beginning that the ad is false and the voters of Arkansas deserve to know the truth. I have always fought against wasteful government spending and will continue to do so as governor of Arkansas."
DGA spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said the DGA stands by the ad. She said Hutchinson has claimed in an official biography to have been responsible for TSA employees.
"His own official bio says he was responsible for what happened at TSA when he was in D.C.," she said. "But now that it comes to light that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on a birthday party and bonuses for his fellow bureaucrats on his watch, he wants to act like he had nothing to do with it."
FactCheck.org acknowledged the language used in Hutchinson’s bio but said "it does not change the fact that Hutchinson was not the person in day-to-day control" of the TSA.
The website also said the truth has been stretched by both sides in the race. It noted that Hutchinson has accused Ross of supporting legislation in Congress that "led to Obamacare," even though Ross voted against the Affordable Care Act.
Ross spokesman Brad Howard said Wednesday, "Outside groups will continue to flood the airwaves this election with all kinds of allegations, which is why Mike Ross is focused on his own positive vision to improve public education, strengthen career and technical training, cut taxes, reduce burdensome regulations and create more good-paying jobs in Arkansas."
Howard pointed to an ad by the Republican Governors Association that accuses Ross of having a record of voting for higher taxes.
"Mike Ross has voted to repeal the death tax, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, end the marriage tax penalty and voted for many other tax cuts that help Arkansas families, small business and manufacturers, while also voting for the largest tax cut in three decades," Howard said in a news release the campaign issued Wednesday.
The RGA did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday afternoon seeking comment. Hutchinson spokesman Jon Gilmore said the Ross campaign’s response to the ad was "nothing more than a distraction."
"He is hoping that the voters of Arkansas will be distracted by this charade but his 12-year record in congress of being a team player for liberals speaks for itself," Gilmore said.
The election will be Nov. 4.