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Ads targeting Begich over carbon tax disputed by fact checkers

Lisa Demer

JUNEAU -- A $400,000 television ad blitz by a Koch brothers-supported group is targeting U.S. Sen. Mark Begich over a carbon tax, but both the senator and two fact-checking groups say the latest ad is wrong.

Americans for Prosperity says the TV spots by its Alaska chapter are mid-way through a three-week run in an attempt to pressure Begich to oppose a carbon tax, a tool for curbing greenhouse emissions through fees on coal, oil and natural gas.

The group says it is advocating on an issue, not campaigning against Begich's re-election bid, so it doesn't have to disclose where the money for the ad came from.

The ads are running in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks with a budget of more than more than $400,000, says Levi Russell, who grew up in Anchorage and is now the Virginia-based spokesman with Americans for Prosperity.

More than 100,000 people contribute to the conservative political action, group including Charles and David Koch, Russell said.

The wealthy industrialists, who helped found the group, hold interests that include the soon-to-close Flint Hills oil refinery in North Pole. The brothers push hard against the Affordable Care Act, climate change legislation and other progressive causes. David Koch chairs the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a sister group.

The new ad shows a clip of Begich saying he's fighting a carbon tax but contends he's not true to his word on that, just like on Obamacare when he promised people could keep their health insurance.

"Begich is on record supporting a carbon tax, even pushing Harry Reid to make it a priority" the ad narrator says, "a carbon tax that will cost the average family over $2,000 annually and destroy thousands of Alaskan jobs, all without helping the environment."

Begich says he opposes any carbon tax and that the Americans for Prosperity ad intentionally misconstrues his position. FactCheck.org found the ad to be "not true" and PolitiFact.com, the Tampa Bay Times watchdog outlet, found it "mostly false."

Asked about the issue this week after his annual speech to the Alaska Legislature, Begich first pounced onto the Flint Hills connection.

"That ad funded by Koch brothers, who have no problem firing 80 Alaskans up in Fairbanks and leaving dirty water -- let's make sure we have a little context to the criteria here," Begich said. A pollutant that leached from the Flint Hills refinery site after being dumped on the property by prior owners has contaminated water for hundreds of people in North Pole, state environmental officials have said.

The ad refers to a July 2010 letter sent to Reid, the Senate Majority leader, by Begich and 11 other senators in the "Freshmen Democratic Class," as they called themselves.

In the letter, the senators urged support for "a clean energy economy -- one that includes an all-of-the-above approach." And they outlined reforms including this:

"First, we believe the scale of this challenge dictates the need for a comprehensive solution that includes making polluters pay through a price on greenhouse gas emissions."

What did they mean by that?

Begich said Monday the mechanism was unspecified and "clearly that was not a carbon tax." Various tools involving the private sector could have been used, he said.

The senators wrote that they supported a push for energy efficiencies, a federal "renewable electricity standard," and tax incentives, grants and loans to help manufacturers "retool for a clean energy economy."

"I didn't agree with every piece of that letter -- people think when you sign those letters, you are 100 percent," Begich said. "My objective with that letter was to make sure we did not lose the debate and the discussion of what we needed to be doing around climate change."

FactCheck.org, part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, noted that the ad's $2,000 figure for what a carbon tax would cost was based on general assumptions and not any particular legislation.

"In reality, there is no legislation currently being debated in Congress that would institute a carbon tax," FactCheck said.

Americans for Prosperity says Begich also has taken votes that signal support for a carbon tax, a claim made in an earlier round of robo-calls and ads.

For instance, Begich voted in March 2013 for a budget amendment that said "all revenue from a fee on carbon pollution is returned to the American people."

But that wasn't a vote for a tax or a specific plan but rather support for making any "hypothetical tax revenue neutral," FactCheck said. The amendment's author, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, told The Hill in September that the vote was not intended to bind anyone to a carbon fee.

With dramatic music growing louder, the new ad's narrator urges viewers to "tell Sen. Begich to keep his word and stop supporting a carbon tax." His Anchorage office phone number flashes on the screen.

As of Tuesday, the office had received fewer than 10 calls, Begich spokeswoman Heather Handyside said in an email. That's a tiny number compared to the hundreds who have called on Pebble Mine or gun rights, she said.

Begich's staff has been telling callers that he doesn't support a carbon tax, she said.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 952-3965.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com