18° F
Scattered Clouds
Scattered Clouds

Reality Check: Feingold, Johnson Ads Spar Over Gov. Bond

Published On: Sep 21 2010 05:18:46 AM CDT   Updated On: Sep 21 2010 06:16:11 AM CDT

WISC-TV's We the People Wisconsin Fact Finder reports continue with a look at a battle over TV news coverage.

There are two central questions to the battle of the words between U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and Republican challenger Ron Johnson.

First, does the bond that Johnson's company received constitute a government payment? Second, is Feingold's characterization of the issue in a 30-second TV ad misleading?

"I have never lobbied for some special treatment or for a government payment," said Johnson in television coverage by a Madison TV station. The clip was used by Feingold in an ad that strings together clips from the station's coverage, asserting Johnson got "government aid," or a "government payment."

A WISC-TV analysis found this needs clarification.

News coverage in the ad shows Johnson's company Pacur got $4 million in "government loans" in the 1980s.

WISC-TV's partners at Wisconsin Public Television found that these industrial development bonds are issued by local governments then sold to a private bank. It's essentially a special low-interest loan, paid back by the business, where rates can beat a loan the same business might get just going through a bank.

In this case, a Fact Finder analysis shows Johnson saved more than $350,000 over the life of the loan by doing it this way. Is that a government payment?

"They're not a direct payment like sending a check to a business or a farmer," said Gary Green, a University of Wisconsin Extension economic development specialist. "They're an indirect subsidy in that they're a loss of revenue to the federal government and in some cases, state government, and that transfer of resources is considered in all cases, a subsidy."

Then there's Johnson's response ad.

"This newscaster's station says Feingold took their report out of context and that its just plain wrong," says the announcer in Johnson's ad. "The Associated Press says Feingold's ad is misleading and Ron Johnson's loans came from private investors."

WISC-TV also found this claim misleading.

The TV station did say Feingold took the report out of context, but instead said Feingold using the footage without permission was "just plain wrong."

Then the ad uses two separate Associated Press stories, making them seem like one. The one in the back that's being crossed out in the ad was once again news coverage reporting on Johnson's loans. The pulled quote in front is from a recent analysis of Feingold's ad, which said the references to government aid were misleading.

As mentioned in Feingold's ad, Johnson's company also got $75,000 to help build a rail spur, and that was a federal grant. But Johnson said that happened before he joined the company.

If you have a question or claim for Fact Finder to check out, send it to, and check out all our recent reports at

  • Wildlife refuge


    Oregon armed protesters: What to know

    A 41-day occupation at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon ended Thursday when the four remaining protesters surrendered to authorities. Here is what to you need to know about the group.

  • Titanic II

    Blue Star Line

    Titanic II: A look inside

    The new Titanic II will be practically identical to the original luxury liner, which famously sank in April 1912 after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Here's a look inside the ocean liner, which is slated to sail in 2018.

  • Couple holding hands

    iStock / kevinruss

    Best American cities for Valentine's Day

    Some cities are just more romantic than others, but which U.S. cities provide the best chance for some Valentine's Day romance without breaking the bank?

  • Audrey


    Look Who's 3

    Check out who's turning 3, and send in your photo.

  • Valentine's Day card

    Valentine's Day

    Gift ideas, getting in the mood, popping the question, recipes and ideas for kids, all in our special section dedicated to Valentine's Day.

  • heart--stethoscope--doctor--medical---21654271

    Healthy Heart

    Tips to stay heart healthy, reducing your risk of heart disease, advice and the latest research on heart health.