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Reality Check: Peterson Ads Are A Stretch

Published On: Oct 28 2004 04:20:46 AM CDT   Updated On: Oct 28 2004 05:03:00 AM CDT

In our Reality Check Series, News 3 examines an ad that draws the battle lines in a state senate race.

The seat belonged to 20-year lawmaker Chuck Chvala. He isn't running again, yet, he might have a huge impact on this election.

Republican Eric Peterson is running an ad linking Chvala to the Democrat trying to replace him, Rep. Mark Miller.

The ad begins, "Chuck Chvala is leaving office following indictments for 18 felonies, including extortion. Insider Mark Miller gave money to Chuck 11 times."

This claim is true.

Chuck Chvala is charged with 18 felonies, however it's very important to point out that he hasn't been convicted of anything.

It is true that Miller gave Chvala money, but it was very small amounts.

Miller donated to Chvala's campaign 11 times over the last decade, although never more than $60.

The next part of the ad claims, "Which Chvala used to pay for high-priced lawyers."

This is misleading.

Foremost, those 11 donations add up to a total of $345, and all came at least 10 months before Chvala was charged.

In July of 2003, Chvala transferred $35,000 into his legal defense fund. Miller's total combined donation of $345 is so small in comparison; it would be hard to believe Miller's money had any impact on Chvala's defense.

The ad goes on to say, "Miller even took Chuck's bucks for his own campaign."

This claim is based on one donation of $50 from Chvala to Miller in 1996.

News 3 consulted with two political watchdogs, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Both say this donation is insignificant.

One member of a watchdog group said, "This is smaller than small potatoes."

As leader of the state Senate, Chvala often doled out $1,000 to help candidates win. However, he almost always helped Senate candidates.

Miller, until now, always ran in the assembly.

There's yet another claim in this ad.

"And Miller voted with Chuck more than 90 percent of the time and co-authored a bill with him to raise taxes by $37 billion."

While factually correct, this statement is also misleading.

Those same watchdogs say since Miller and Chvala represent the same constituents, it would be surprising if they didn't vote the same way.

Plus, they say, "Ideological beliefs and corruption aren't tied together."

The next sentence is also misleading.

"Chvala and Miller both sponsored Senate Bill 133."

That bill created publicly financed universal health care.

Which means that instead of paying insurance companies, individuals and businesses would pay the state which would negotiate for better prices.

Under the bill, the public would pay $37 billion in 2007.

Because the money goes to the state and not to insurance companies, Peterson counts it as a tax increase.

The bottom line is that Peterson's links are considered "a big stretch" by the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

"I haven't tied them together," said Peterson. "They are tied together. He praised him (Chvala) in March for being such a great senator. Nineteen felony counts to me is not a great senator."

"The fact that Chuck is having some legal difficulties which still has to be resolved has nothing to do with issues that are facing us," Miller replied.

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