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Adwatch: Pennsylvania Senate race ads attacking McGinty

TV attack ads are flying in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty. The race could help determine control of the U.S. Senate in the Nov. 8 election. Here is a look at two of the attack ads currently on the air in Pennsylvania.


THEME: An Arlington, Virginia-based super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund, is attacking McGinty.

TITLE: “Whose Job.”

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: Undisclosed markets, beginning May 26.

KEY CLAIM: “As a state official, Katie McGinty helped steer millions of taxpayer dollars to companies that promised to hire us. Instead, factories shut down and hundreds were fired. But McGinty got hired. She walked away with a board position and a six-figure salary.”

ANALYSIS: The ad is lumping together state subsidies to help establish two wind farms, the fate of two wind turbine component factories run by the Gamesa company, and McGinty’s paid board position at a subsidiary of the multinational Spanish energy firm Iberdrola SA.

A $1 million loan was made in 2005 to help build a wind farm in Luzerne County developed by a company that was an Iberdrola subsidiary for a time. The turbines were to be purchased from Gamesa, in which Iberdrola was a shareholder. A $500,000 grant in 2006 went to help an Iberdrola subsidiary build a wind farm in Somerset County. That same year, the state signed an agreement to buy electricity from the wind farm in Luzerne County.

The $1.5 million was awarded by the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority. McGinty was a voting board member of the authority at the time by virtue of her position as the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Both wind farms continue to operate.

McGinty stepped down as secretary in 2008 and, the following year, she became a board member of a U.S.-based Iberdrola subsidiary. She left the board position in January 2015. In a financial disclosure statement filed with the U.S. Senate, she reported her board compensation as $125,000.

After McGinty left her state post, Gamesa began laying off employees at a factory in Cambria County and, later, at one in Bucks County. Gamesa officials have cited lower demand for wind turbines and the unpredictability over whether Congress would renew a federal tax credit that helped wind farm developers and manufacturers. Toomey opposed the renewal of the tax credit.

Ultimately, Gamesa shut down the two factories. McGinty was not a board member of Gamesa.


THEME: The Toomey campaign is attacking McGinty.

TITLE: “Ethics.”

LENGTH: 30 seconds

AIRING: In Philadelphia, beginning May 26.

KEY CLAIM: “Katie McGinty funneled millions of tax dollars to a group that employed her husband. The state Ethics Commission unanimously denounced such actions and the Supreme Court agreed. An insider with ethics problems.”

ANALYSIS: This ad refers to a case that drew scrutiny, beginning in 2007, when McGinty’s nomination was before the state Senate for a second term as Pennsylvania’s environmental protection secretary.

McGinty’s agency had approved more than $2.7 million in grants for a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization that employed McGinty’s husband as a consultant. The money went for agricultural conservation, watershed protection, abandoned mine cleanups and other activities. Senate leaders had demanded that McGinty’s boss, then-Gov. Ed Rendell, request an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission on whether such an arrangement violated ethics laws.

The Ethics Commission ruled that such a grant-making arrangement would violate ethics laws if it were to continue, and the state Supreme Court, in 2009, effectively rejected a Rendell administration challenge to the commission’s rationale. The Ethics Commission did not judge whether McGinty violated ethics laws and McGinty was never sanctioned or reprimanded.

The Rendell administration at the time said the grants were awarded on merit after an open and competitive application process that adhered to program guidelines. The organization that employed McGinty’s husband had a track record of receiving DEP grants before McGinty joined the department in 2003, getting more than $4.6 million between 1995 and 2002, the Rendell administration said. It also had had grant applications for more than $4 million rejected while McGinty was the DEP’s secretary, the administration said.

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