McMahon overreaches in new ad about ‘lies’

The campaigns of Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal are getting looser with the facts in the closing weeks of their U.S. Senate race.

McMahon is airing a new television commercial that makes unsubstantiated claims against Blumenthal over the settlement of predatory lending charges against Countrywide Financial in 2008.

And Blumenthal’s campaign sent an email blast raising the specter of McMahon voting to cut Social Security, based less on what she’s said than on her “dangerous silence” about the issue.

The new McMahon commercial is based on a story in The Nation that says a settlement lavishly praised in October 2008 by Blumenthal and some of the nation’s other attorneys general turned out to be less than a good deal for mortgage holders and taxpayers.

One element of the story is that Countrywide’s new parent company, the Bank of America, used federal incentives created in 2009 to offset the cost of writing down principal and interest payments on troubled loans.

“He said his Countrywide mortgage settlement wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. It turns out it did,” a narrator says in the spot. “Another Blumenthal lie.”

The accusation Blumenthal lied fits in with a narrative the McMahon campaign tried to establish in a series of ads, but it is at odds with the facts – and even the McMahon campaign’s initial view of what The Nation story meant.

Can it be a lie if something a politician says in 2008 is rendered inaccurate by federal action taken in 2009?

McMahon’s communication director, Ed Patru, didn’t seem to think so in an email he sent to reporters last week in which he blamed Blumenthal for failing to forsee the future, not lying.

“We elect lawmakers to write laws, and the public has a reasonable expectation that lawmakers will be deliberate and thoughtful and anticipatory about the bills they pass and what consequences – intended or unintended – that legislation will have in the future,” Patru wrote on Friday.

But in a new commercial that debuted a day later, Blumenthal’s failure to forsee unintended consequences was part of pattern of lies.

“Dick Blumenthal lied about Linda’s position on the minimum wage. About Social Security. Canadian fundraisers. Vietnam. But now, we’ve learned his biggest lie yet,” the commercial says.

“He said his Countrywide mortgage settlement wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. It turns out it did. And retiree pension funds, too — $8.6 billion.”

Retiree pension funds held Countrywide securities that The Nation says were worth less as a result of the write-down of troubled mortgages, although Blumenthal’s advisors note that many of those mortgages already were non-performing.

Connecticut never held Countrywide stock, but its pension fund did hold mortgage-backed securities that McMahon’s campaign says lost value as a result of the Countrywide settlement.

The commercial cited a story by The Mirror to support that claim that Blumenthal lied about McMahon’s position on Social Security.

But the story actually reported that a Washington blog had inaccurately reported that McMahon called for cutting Social Security during an interview on ABC’s This Week.

McMahon was talking about an across-the-board 10 percent cut of non-discretionary spending, when the ABC interviewer interjected a question about Social Security and Medicaid.

McMahon never said she favored cutting them, nor did she say she would not. The interviewer, Christiane Amanpour, failed to follow up.

In other settings, McMahon has ruled out cutting benefits for current retirees and “near-retirees.”

In an interview with The Courant’s editorial board that was recorded by and shown on CT-N, cable television’s public affairs channel, McMahon said, “I’m going to maintain the contracts we have with our seniors today.”

But, as has been the case throughout the campaign, she refused to be pressed about how Social Security might have to be altered to maintain its solvency.

“Do you imagine my children getting Social Security?” asked one editorial writer, Peter Pach.

McMahon only smiled and said, “Next question.”

A 2-minute clip of the exchange about Social Security is on YouTube. The full 49-minute interview can viewed at CT-N’s web site.

To be fair, it is a topic few candidates are willing to embrace. McMahon’s has called for a bipartisan group to review entitlements as a way to take the political heat out of the issue.

Patru said Blumenthal, by flatly promising to maintain benefits, is pandering to voters. McMahon’s call for a bipartisan group to review entitlements is more responsible, he said.

In an email blast to supporters after the ABC interview, the Blumenthal campaign connected the call for the 10-percent cut to her ambiguous answer on Social Security.

The Blumenthal campaign may be guilty of innuendo with the email, as it urged people to sign an online petition opposing “McMahon’s outrageous stance against our Social Security,” but it does not appear to have lied about McMahon’s position.

In fact, much of the email focuses on McMahon’s refusal to talk in detail about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid until after the election, calling it her “dangerous silence.”

Mindy Myers, Blumenthal’s campaign manager, said it was within bounds.

“Linda McMahon has consistently refused to say where she stands on critical issues affecting Social Security,” Myers said. “The online petition simply asks Mrs. McMahon to give seniors straight answers.”