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Akin airs new attack ad aimed at McCaskill's husband

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 30, 2012 - Republican U.S. Senate nominee Todd Akin is launching his harshest attack yet at U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, with an ad that goes up Monday that contends the federal stimulus spending “made McCaskill rich.”

The ad alleges “more than $1 million paid to partnerships owned by McCaskill’s family.”

McCaskill’s campaign calls the ad “factually incorrect,” and points to federal documents – including her congressional financial disclosure reports -- that appear to back her up.

"This ad is factually incorrect and is exactly the kind of nasty, desperate campaigning that Missourians hate,” said McCaskill's communications director Caitlin Legacki. “Todd Akin can't defend his own extreme record, so he's resorted to false, misleading attacks against Claire's family. Todd Akin should be ashamed."

Akin's spokesman Ryan Hite defends the ad, as does the Missouri Republican Party, which has been monitoring – and attacking -- the business dealings of the senator’s husband, businessman-developer Joseph Shepard, for years.

“We believe this is a major point in the case against Sen. McCaskill’s record,” Hite said.

(UPDATE) In a statement Monday, Akin said, "Claire McCaskill is on record for going through the stimulus line by line, and stated that the stimulus was solely for creating jobs and stimulating the economy," said Todd Akin. "Now we know that McCaskill's family business received $1 million of taxpayer money from the stimulus bill that she voted for. I voted against this bill because I did not believe it would help the economy and because pork-barrel spending can neither stimulate the economy nor create jobs." (End of update)

The sparring over the ad also comes as some national Republicans differ on whether to support or shun Akin, who has come under fire during the past month for various comments, most notably his inaccurate observation that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because of hormonal defenses.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. – who initially had called for Akin to drop out over the rape comment – was on national TV Sunday signaling that many Republicans are now back onboard. But they don’t include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who stated on another news show that he opposed party support for Akin.

Ad targets low-income housing payments

The business dealings reflected in Akin’s ad are complex. At the heart of his accusation is about $1 million in payments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that went to private partnerships owning five low-income housing projects in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

The $1 million was part of $2 billion allocated to HUD in the 2009 stimulus bill to cover existing commitments and contracts. 

Shepard, McCaskill’s husband, is part of the business partnerships that received the $1 million. But his interests in the five low-income housing projects range from less than 1 percent to 5 percent, according to federal documents.

According to the senator’s financial disclosure reports, Shepard’s share of the $1 million payment amounted to less than $26,000. His profit was less than $10,000.

Those figures are far less than $1 million, a point that’s being highlighted by a number of national and regional news outlets as they examine Akin’s ad.

Her campaign contends that Shepard’s share, and the entire $1 million, also shouldn’t be characterized as new federal spending in the stimulus bill because the money was used by HUD to cover the costs of existing low-income housing contracts to keep low-income families in their homes.

The payments go to companies, such as the partnerships involving Shepard, that own and operate housing units occupied by low-income people who qualify for the federal Section 8 housing program. The payments represent the gap between what the low-income occupants pay and what HUD has calculated to be the full rent of the units.

A spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, which has been monitoring Shepard’s business dealings for years, notes that Shepard also has leadership roles in many other firms in the partnerships that built the housing projects. The implication was that his financial benefit was greater than the $26,000.

In the case of the Applegate Apartments, the owner is the Kansas Rural Housing of Atchison.  According to a document on file with the Kansas Secretary of State's office, the general partner of Kansas Rural Housing of Atchison is the Lockwood Group, Shepard's firm. He also is listed on HUD documents as the "owner contact."

However, McCaskill’s campaign hit back hard, pointing out that the law requires that all of his financial interests be represented on her financial-disclosure reports. His $26,000 portion reflects all of Shepard’s financial payments involving the five projects, regardless of his role in the various other companies in the partnership, her campaign said.

Hite said Akin's campaign was first made aware of the payments from the Missouri Republican Party, but added, "We were able to verify the information and research the ad."

Replied Legacki for McCaskill: “Congressman Akin ran a false and misleading ad, which he approved, attacking Claire's family. He now admits that he cannot defend the ad. This behavior is unethical and just plain wrong.”

Jonathon Prouty, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said the ad’s chief assertion is that “McCaskill received stimulus dollars. She is not denying it — she is only quibbling about the amount.”

“Claire McCaskill supported the stimulus, benefited from the stimulus and that speaks to her character,” Prouty asserted.

The broader message, said Prouty – and echoed by Hite -- is that “McCaskill and her husband have gotten rich off of a financial and housing empire that could not exist without government subsidies.”

Such GOP attacks have been lobbed at Shepard for years.

In 2004, when McCaskill was running for governor, a last-minute GOP ad blitz that attacked Shepard’s business interests in Missouri nursing homes was widely credited with her loss to Republican Matt Blunt.

In 2006, Republicans again attacked Shepard’s business interests, prompting McCaskill to run a TV ad in which she looked straight into the camera and disputed the allegations.

Blunt says contest has national focus

The contest's national implications are the focus of increasing national attention.

Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" show Sunday with host Candy Crowley,  Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he thinks the GOP still has "at least a 50-50" chance of winning a Senate majority.

He named several states where he expects a GOP Senate victory, including Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska. He did not name Missouri at first. When pressed by Crowley, Blunt didn't predict the Missouri race's outcome but said he thinks that the campaign will center less on Akin’s controversial comments and more on control of the U.S. Senate.

"At the end of the day, that race becomes a debate about the majority in the Senate,” Blunt said. “Harry Reid is majority leader. What happens there? I think that becomes really big in that race."  Pressed on Akin, Blunt said: "Frankly, I think that anybody else would have been a candidate that clearly would have won, and Todd very well may win it. He’s on a ticket at a time when people are looking at a Senate that’s not doing its work, and the only way to change the Senate is to change the majority in the Senate."

Another panelist on the show, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said it appeared that Blunt had reversed course by endorsing Akin after calling last month for Akin to leave the race.  Crowley had read the August statement by Blunt and previous Republican U.S. senators from Missouri, who had called for Akin to withdraw.

Blunt sought to explain his earlier position: "What I said was that the national issues are big enough that we need to have a discussion of those issues rather than those that Todd managed to bring to the table. We'll see how Todd does."

Meanwhile, one of the most popular GOP figures – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – was blunt when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos whether Akin “should have the support of the Republican Party.”

“No,” Christie replied.

Later this week, according to the news website Politico,four Republicans in the U.S. Senate -- Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma-- are scheduled to cohost a fundraising event in Washington for Akin.

A SuperPAC with ties to DeMint, the Senate Conservatives Fund, also has earmarked about $290,000 to help out the Missouri congressman.

The Missouri Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging improper coordination between Akin and the PAC. Akin's campaign has denied the accusation, calling it politically motivated.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.