Elizabeth Esty is the target of double-barreled ads in the Democratic primary for the open 5th Congressional District seat: one aired by Dan Roberti and another of questionable accuracy from the super PAC supporting Roberti’s candidacy.
A commercial released Wednesday by the super PAC questions Esty’s credentials as a Democrat by pointing to her vote as a state legislator against a proposed budget in 2009 that was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. It make some assertions that are accurate and others that are misleading, at best.
“In the legislature, Elizabeth Esty voted against the Democratic budget, against funding Connecticut’s prescription drug program and against funding job training,” says the ad.
That is true, but it would be equally true if the ad said, “In the legislature, Elizabeth Esty voted for the Democratic budget, for funding Connecticut’s prescription drug program …”
There was more than one budget that came to a vote in 2009, the year cited in the commercial. Esty opposed one version vetoed by Rell, and she voted with the Democratic majority for the one that became law.
As a result, Esty can be made out as a conservative who opposed a Democratic budget, or as a liberal who supported a big tax increase in a Democratic budget. Such is the nature of budget votes, especially for Democrats from swing districts.
In 2009, the Democratic legislature and Republican governor engaged in a long summer of wrangling over how to balance the budget in tough fiscal times following the 2008 recession.
On June 26, the House took a vote on a budget knowing it would be vetoed by Rell, who had promised to veto any tax increase. Esty, a freshman elected from Cheshire in a close race over a GOP incumbent, was one of a dozen Democrats to vote against the plan.
Esty was one of the Democrats in GOP-leaning districts to cast votes against one or more proposals. Another was Rep. William Tong of Stamford, who was the first Democrat to win his seat.
The outcome was different on Aug. 31, when the House passed a budget that eventually became law without Rell’s signature. Nine Democrats voted no, but Esty voted with the majority on every amendment and the final version.
The super PAC ad also accuses her of protecting tax breaks for the wealthy. That is a stretch, at best.
By voting for the final budget in August, Esty supported increasing the income tax rate on the wealthy from 5 percent to 6.5 percent, a hefty tax increase by any standard. The budget she opposed in June had a top rate of 7.5 percent.
So, she supported a hefty tax increase, but opposed a heftier one.
More troublesome for Esty among liberals is a Democratic alternate budget she offered that summer with other Democrats from swing districts. A preliminary version was $631 million less than the two-year $35.6 billion general-fund budget vetoed by Rell.
According to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analyis, most of the cuts would have come from human services and education.
A revised version had a bottom line closer to the the Democratic budget.
The alternative also would have made the tax structure more progressive, though not by the same degree as the budget eventually adopted, by raising the top income-tax rate from 5 percent to 5.5 percent on incomes above $250,000 and to 6 percent on incomes above $500,000.
(In 2010, Esty narrowly lost her re-election bid to Al Adinolfi, the conservative Republican she unseated in 2008. Adinolfi made the case that Esty, who voted to repeal the death penalty, was too liberal for the district.)
Esty and Roberti are competing in a primary Tuesday with House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, for the Democratic nomination for Connecticut’s only open congressional seat. With Donovan wounded by a fundraising scandal, Esty and Roberti have been focusing on each other in recent days.
So has the super PAC. Its first commercial was an attack on both Donovan and Esty, while the new ad focuses solely on Esty.
The super PAC’s commercial and the one released Tuesday by the Roberti campaign each cast her as inappropriately raising money from utilities regulated by her husband, Dan Esty, who is the commissioner of energy and environmental protection.
Esty, who has raised more than $1.2 million, did accept four $500 contributions from employees of Northeast Utilities.
Roberti’s commercial is a response to an ad Esty released last week that described him as the co-owner of a Washington lobbying firm, an assertion that is based in fact, though it might mislead viewers into thinking Roberti is a lobbyist. He is not.
In Roberti’s reply ad, he appears on camera to tell voters that the lobbyist in his family is his father. His commercial might mislead viewers into thinking Esty had accused him of being a lobbyist, instead of calling him the co-owner of a lobbying firm.
The ownership claim is based on Roberti’s being the beneficiary of a family trust whose holdings — at least until he is finished divesting them — include a half interest in his father’s lobbying firm.