COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)–With a special congressional election less than two weeks away, NBC4 Investigates fact-check messages that appear in campaign advertisements for each of the opposing candidates.
State Representative Allison Russo, a Democrat, is running against Republican lobbyist Mike Carey to represent Ohio’s 15th congressional district, replacing Republican Congressman Steve Stivers.
Because political advertising involves subjective language that can leave things up to individual interpretations, NBC4 only examined concrete assertions of fact in order to provide additional context.
In a pair of competing television commercials, each candidate wants voters to judge their opponent by the company they keep.
In an ad from the Russo campaign, Russo holds up a prop designed to look like a newspaper, while a voiceover says, “Mike got caught lying about his involvement with Larry Householder and the HB-6 scandal.”
The ad claims Carey denied his ties to a billion-dollar nuclear bailout and dark money scheme, which would go on to be known as the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history and lead to the ouster and criminal charges against then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.
Russo’s campaign says the denial came during an interview earlier this year with Spectrum News 1.
“Do you have any connection to any of (the scandal)?” the Spectrum reporter asked Carey. “Or anything — as you’re meeting constituents and say, ‘I want to clear the air,’ about anything related to that?”
“No. No,” Carey replied.
Because more questions immediately followed the reporter’s initial question about Carey’s potential connection to Householder, it could be argued that Carey’s response is more of a “no comment” than a flat-out denial.
However, Carey was a top lobbyist for a coal company that benefitted indirectly from the bailout. The company also donated to the group that supported candidates that would back Householder. Carey also chaired the board of directors for the Ohio Coal Association, whose president voiced support for the bailout in an email that was copied to Carey.
Because of Carey’s proximity to the Householder scandal, but no hard evidence of a direct hand in it, the claim in Russo’s ad is misleading.
“Allison Russo aired two ads accusing criminal activity using a fake newspaper headline,” said Blaine Kelly, Carey’s campaign manager, in an email to NBC4. “Neither the company nor the candidate has been implicated in the investigation and her allegation is a blatant lie.”
It is also worth noting that while the headline and newspaper prop in the Russo ad are fabricated, the article text and photo on the prop come from a real article written in The Daily Beast.
Carey’s ad tout’s Russo’s ties to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“We know what (Russo and Pelosi’s) liberal agenda means,” a voiceover says. “An economy crumbling from higher taxes and skyrocketing prices… open borders… police are defunded, and our American values disrespected.”
While language like “crumbling,” “open,” and “American values disrespected” are too subjective to analyze as statements of fact, the central claim in the ad is that if elected, Russo would vote strictly along party lines.
Based on the democrat’s recent voting record on key issues as a state representative, she did often side with her party on bills tackling issues such as the environment, elections, health care, taxes, and social matters. However, Russo also supported some bills backed by Republicans, including business-friendly measures regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, and the state budget, which includes funding for law enforcement.
For those reasons, and because the claim is based on votes that haven’t taken place yet, it’s somewhat false.
In a phone conversation with NBC4, Russo’s campaign manager called the individual claims in the Carey ad, “verifiably false.”