Bridgeport -- Susan Bysiewicz mischaracterized Chris Murphy's campaign contributions Sunday as she defended keeping on the air an attack ad that falsely accuses him of taking more hedge fund money than any other Democrat.
In remarks to reporters after a debate of the two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, Bysiewicz said she stands by the central point of her admittedly flawed ad and a major thrust of her campaign: Murphy is too cozy with Wall Street.
"The big point about our ad is this: That Chris Murphy has taken $700,000 from Wall Street," Bysiewicz said. "That's more than any other Democrat in Congress."
Actually, it is not even the most money accepted from donors associated with the securities and investment industry by a Democrat in Connecticut's small delegation of five U.S. House members and two senators, much less the entire Congress.
The $754,885 donated by industry sources to Murphy since 2006, when he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, is about half the nearly $1.5 million donated to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, in less time, since 2008.
Among candidates for U.S. Senate in 2012, Murphy ranks 10th among all candidates and fifth among Democrats with $328,195. Bysiewicz has raised $77,800 from the same sector.
Those totals were tabulated by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org, which Bysiewicz cites as a key source for her commercial.
Murphy is demanding that television stations discontinue airing the ad, but he seemed more intent Sunday on capitalizing on Bysiewicz's intransigence and her singular focus on his relationship with Wall Street.
"I've never seen anything like it. I've never seen a campaign come out and admit the central claim in an ad is a fiction and then not be willing to pull the ad," Murphy said. "If Susan is continuing to insist on running this ad, then it reflect a denial of reality that is both sad and a little frightening."
Both Bysiewicz and Murphy pointed to different elements of the dispute as potential defining issues in their campaigns for the Democratic nomination to succeed the retiring Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.
"I think people have been searching for a difference between the two of us over the course of this race," Murphy said. "The difference may be emerging: Susan is willing to do anything and say anything in order to try to make this race more competitive."
Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state, aired the first negative television commercial of the campaign last week: a 30-second spot that says Murphy has received more hedge fund money than other Democrat in Congress, an assertion she acknowledged Sunday was wrong. Her campaign admitted the mistake last week.
Another problem for Bysiewicz's line of attack is contextual.
A key element of her commercial is that Murphy had run a similar ad in 2006, when he unseated U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-5th District. It took her to task for accepting contributions from drug companies.
But Johnson, as the chairwoman of a key subcommittee, was a major player in writing the controversial Medicare D prescription drug law, whose provisions banned the federal government from negotiating drug prices, a coup for the pharmaceutical industry. For that reason, the Murphy ad resonated.
During the debate Sunday and in remarks later to reporters, Bysiewicz could point to only one act by Murphy showing his support for hedge funds: He voted against a bill May 28, 2010, that would have eliminated a provison that taxes compensation for hedge fund managers as capital gains, which are subjected to a tax rate of 15 percent, as opposed to a top rate of 35 percent for wages.
Murphy said he voted against the bill, which passed the House, over objections to other provisions. He said he has voted at other times to tax hedge fund managers.
But Bysiewicz called it "a defining moment."
"That is a moment when you say, OK, are you with middle class families, or are you with Wall Street?" she said.
Murphy was in the minority among Democrats with his no vote. He and Himes were two of only 34 House Democrats in opposition. But Bysiewicz has been a lonely voice in trying to tag Murphy as a friend to Wall Street in general or hedge funds in particular on the basis of that vote and his campaign cash.
Not only has Murphy been endorsed by labor, including the Connecticut AFL-CIO, he is backed by grass-roots organizations typically seen as among the biggest critics of Wall Street and the taxation of hedge funds: the Working Families Party, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and MoveOn.org.
Those endorsements were Murphy's answer to Bysiewicz's charge he is too cozy with Wall Street.
"Who do you think is going to be more effective in standing up for the middle class?" Murphy said. "You don't have to listen to my claims of who is the better choice, listen to the groups who have worked on these issues for their entire careers."
Bysiewicz dismissed them as insiders. Murphy's vote, she said, is a concern to Democratic primary voters.
But the difficulty of trying to define a candidate by their campaign contributions can be seen in the campaign of Elizabeth Warren, whom Bysiewicz described as a role model for her advocacy of a new federal consumer protection office for Wall Street.
Bysiewicz said she was looking forward to serving with Warren, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.
According to OpenSecrets, Warren has been raising money in some of the same places as Murphy.
Warren has accepted $231,350 from securities-and-investment sources for her Senate campaign, including $21,250 from those associated with hedge funds -- double what Murphy has collected from hedge fund sources in 2012.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Murphy has received $52,250 from sources associated with hedge funds over three federal elections, in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
That total includes $10,200 in 2012, which ranked Murphy 33rd among all Senate candidates and 17th among Democratic Senate candidates for this election cycle. Bysiewicz is 20th among Democrats, with $6,500.
Bysiewicz said the difference is any hedge fund donor is on notice that she will vote to boost their taxes.
Sunday's debate was organized by the League of Women Voters and co-sponsored by two media companies with a major presence down state: Cablevison and Hearst Media.
Cablevision subscribers can view the one-hour debate on Channel 21 at least four times: 2 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m. Tuesday; 3 p.m. Thursday; and 8 p.m. Saturday.