Responding to charges of inaccuracy from Rep. Joe Sestak's Senate campaign, two Pittsburgh-area television stations have agreed to stop airing a commercial, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sharply attacks the Democrat's voting record
Mr. Sestak is running against former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey for the seat held by Sen. Arlen Specter. The Chamber ad is independent of the Republican's campaign and is an early example of what is certain to be a flood of third-party ads targeting the nationally prominent Senate race. The commercial, which began airing Monday across the state, contends that the Senate nominee "voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time" and that he voted for "a government takeover of health care."
In letters of complaint to television stations, the Democrat's campaign charges that both statements are false. Jonathan Dworkin, a spokesman for the Sestak campaign, noted that Mr. Sestak voted against House Speaker Pelosi's position last month on a controversial amendment that would exempt certain lobbying groups from the provisions of the DISCLOSE Act, a proposal to regulate campaign financing. Mr. Sestak's counsel also maintained that the ad falsely characterizes the Obama administration's health care legislation as "a government takeover of health care."
Mr. Dworkin said that Rich Cook, the executive sales manager for WPGH and WPMY, sister stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, informed the campaign that they would pull the ads. In correspondence supplied by the campaign, the station executive told Mr. Sestak's attorney that, "At this time, our two stations, WPGH and WPMY, will discontinue airing the Chamber of Commerce commercial. It appears that the ad is false because it is not true that Sestak voted with Pelosi 100 percent of the time."
In a telephone interview late Tuesday, Mr. Cook declined to comment on the issue.
Mr. Dworkin said that the campaign had sent similar letters of protest to another 14 stations that have been airing the anti-Sestak ad. He said that so far, the two Sinclair stations were the only ones to offer a definitive response. He said the campaign was continuing conversations with other stations, "one or two" of which, he said, had indicated that they planned to continue the ads. The aide contended that the commercial represented an attempt to "mislead voters with false attacks about Joe Sestak's record on behalf of our opponent."
"The advertisement, launched by the ultra-conservative Chamber of Commerce, is full of false, misleading, and deceptive statements," Mr. Dworkin said. "We are pleased to learn that at least two television stations in Pennsylvania have decided to stop airing this false attack ad and we hope our opponent will call on others to do the same."
Despite the station's decision, a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, J.P. Fielder, defended the ad's accuracy. He said that while Mr. Sestak voted against Ms. Pelosi's position on the amendment cited by the Democrat's attorney, he supported the final version of the bill, which included the substance of the amendment.
"What's clear is that Joe Sestak voted with Nancy Pelosi on passage of the DISCLOSE Act; that vote includes the exemption as well," Mr. Fielder said.
The Toomey campaign took the Chamber's side of the argument.
"The fact is that Joe Sestak has voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time for the first 18 months of this Congress," said Nachama Soloveichik, Mr. Toomey's director of communications. "A few token votes for political coverage now don't change the fact that Congressman Sestak is still too liberal for Pennsylvania."
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562.