Dispute Escalates Over Raskin’s Claims Of Environmental Accomplishments in TV Ad

Dispute Escalates Over Raskin’s Claims Of Environmental Accomplishments in TV Ad

Independent fact-checking group weighs in with analysis backing Barve's criticism

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Del. Kumar Barve, left, and state Sen. Jamie Raskin, right

A dispute between two contenders for the District 8 Democratic congressional nomination—state Del. Kumar Barve and state Sen. Jamie Raskin—over a TV ad being aired by the Raskin campaign is escalating, as an independent fact-checking group weighed in with an analysis that lends support to Barve’s criticism of the commercial.

“They all talk about climate change, but Sierra Club chooses Jamie Raskin for Congress because only Raskin wrote laws to reduce our carbon footprint and is leading the fight against fracking in Maryland,” proclaims one of the 15-second spots the Raskin campaign began running on Washington area broadcast stations late last month.

Barve, citing his role in passage of climate change legislation in 2009 and this year as well as an anti-fracking law in 2015, responded shortly after the ad started running—accusing Raskin of “misrepresenting” Barve’s record and demanding the commercial be taken down. Barve gained some ammunition late Friday with the release of the fact-checking report by Ballotpedia, a non-partisan, Wisconsin-based organization that provides online research on political races around the country.

Raskin’s claims “do not square with the legislative record,” said Ballotpedia’s fact-checking service, Verbatim. “Barve…has written laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage use of alternative energy sources. As chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, he also led efforts to enact a moratorium on fracking in Maryland.” The latter refers to an environmentally controversial method of tapping into natural gas deposits.

As Barve ramped up his criticism of the Raskin ad on social media this weekend, Raskin pushed back—insisting that of the two legislators, he has taken the stronger stance against fracking. The Raskin campaign again said it has no intention of withdrawing the ad.

The flare-up comes as the candidates in the nine-way District 8 Democratic contest intensify their voter outreach efforts with just over two weeks remaining until the April 26 primary—and with early voting starting this Thursday. Two of the candidates, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase and Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac, have been running TV ads for more than two months. They have been joined on TV in recent weeks by Raskin, of Takoma Park; former Obama White House aide Will Jawando of Silver Spring; and Barve, of Rockville, whose first broadcast ad aired Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two independent expenditure groups are increasing their spending in the district on mailings boosting Matthews and Raskin, respectively, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. As of Friday, a so-called “Super PAC” affiliated with EMILY’s List had reported spending close to $200,000 on mailings urging a vote for Matthews; the group has sent at least five mail pieces over the past two weeks.

Also in the Democratic contest are David Anderson of Potomac, who runs a Washington-based seminar and internship program; former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda; Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase; and former State Department official Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase. The winner of the Democratic primary will be the overwhelming favorite to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for Senate, in the Montgomery County-based seat.

Barve’s continuing volleys at Raskin over the latter’s claims on environmental legislative accomplishments underscore the significance of the “green” vote in a district where environmental issues are a high priority for many voters. In recent years, the Sierra Club’s endorsement has become increasingly influential in Montgomery County in local and state as well as congressional races.

Barve and Raskin have long been favorites of the Sierra Club, which endorsed both for re-election to the General Assembly in 2014. But the Sierra Club endorsement in the congressional race was awarded late last year to Raskin, who is citing the group’s backing in the disputed ad. Sources said the move by the Sierra Club reflected a belief that Raskin, with a significant edge over Barve in fundraising and the support of a large network of local Democratic Party activists, was the more viable candidate in the District 8 contest.

In a post on its Facebook page Sunday, the Barve campaign also took aim at the Sierra Club. “Shame on Sierra Club,” the post reads. “Raskin for Congress TV ad says that Sierra Club endorsed him based on claims now proven erroneous. Sierra Club should demand that Raskin campaign take ads off the air.”

Among his environmental accomplishments, Raskin’s campaign Web site points to his authorship of the Green Maryland Act, a 2010 law that mandates state agencies follow environmentally friendly procurement rules and have composting and recycling plans in place to reduce carbon emissions. It also cites his introduction of legislation in 2015 to impose strict legal liability on operations in Maryland involving fracking.

While a moratorium on fracking that passed the General Assembly in 2015 over Gov. Larry Hogan’s objections was actually authored by Montgomery County Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, the Ballotpedia analysis noted it had moved through the Environment and Transportation Committee chaired by Barve—and that several environmental groups had given Barve a large share of the credit for the measure passing by a veto-proof majority.

But in an emailed statement Sunday, Raskin contended he had done more to head off fracking than Barve.

"My friend Delegate Barve has an impressive record on environmental issues in Annapolis and I celebrate him for it,” Raskin said. “But the fact is that I introduced legislation to ban fracking in Maryland and he went instead with a two-year moratorium on fracking, a period which ends when he or I might be serving in Congress.”

Raskin added that Barve “has never sponsored or cosponsored legislation to ban fracking in Maryland or even to impose strict liability on fracking companies. I am categorically opposed to fracking in our state and he is not, which is why I think I am justified in saying that I am the one leading the fight against it.”

Raskin’s statement did not address claims in his ad that “only” he had written laws to address the state’s carbon footprint. The Ballotpedia analysis cited Barve’s authorship of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 as “the culmination of a multiyear effort by Barve to curb state carbon emissions.” This year, Barve authored legislation to reauthorize the 2009 law, which was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan last week. The latest legislation requires the state to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

On another campaign advertising front, Raskin continues to benefit from spending by the Freethought Equality Super PAC, a political arm of the American Humanist Association. As of late last week, the Freethought Equality Super PAC had spent more than $20,000 for voter mailings on top of those financed by the Raskin campaign itself, according to filings with the FEC. Unlike candidate campaign committees, Super PACS can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, but must report expenditures aggregating to more than $10,000 within 48 hours—a time frame that drops to 24 hours within 20 days of a primary election.

The American Humanist Association defines humanism on its Web site as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” An official of the Freethought Equality Super PAC said late last month that the PAC expects to spend a total of more than $50,000 on behalf of Raskin, who he characterized as “possibly” the first candidate for Congress “to openly identify as a humanist.”

Another Super PAC active in the District 8 Democratic race, Women Vote!, as of Friday reported that its spending to boost Matthews’ candidacy had exceeded $193,000, with more than two-thirds of that going to mailings and the rest spent on digital advertising. The parent organization of Women Vote!, EMILY’s List, provides financial assistance to Democratic female candidates who back abortion rights. The group endorsed Matthews late last year.

The spending on mailings by Women Vote! is in addition to what is believed to be about $1.4 million spent so far by Matthews’ own campaign committee on TV broadcast and cable advertising, based on publicly available data and knowledgeable sources. But Matthews is being heavily outspent by Trone’s self-funded campaign, which is said to have spent in the vicinity of $6.5 million to date on TV and radio ads.

Trone also is spending heavily on digital advertising and mailings, with some district voters reporting they’ve received more than 20 mail pieces from the Trone campaign. A detailed breakdown of what the nine Democratic candidates have spent to date will be available later this week, when reports covering the period from Jan. 1 through last Thursday are due at the FEC.

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