WASHINGTON — Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A congressman’s car lease has become an election year issue in Minnesota.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is putting $291,000 behind a TV ad and website hitting Rep. Collin Peterson for his office’s two car leases and mileage reimbursements Peterson receives for flying around the expansive 7th District in his personal plane. Peterson’s office has leases for two cars — both Ford Focuses — worth more than $330 a month each, according to House records, and he was reimbursed more than $4,500 in mileage between April and June, the most recent filing period for office disbursements. The NRCC put together a website cataloging his office’s spending over his tenure in the House, and the TV spot is part of a $2.8 million ad blitz against Peterson this fall.
“Collin Peterson’s 23 years in Congress have made him a creature of Washington,” the NRCC said, and he’s now “enjoying taxpayer-funded car leases and private flights.”
Peterson said the car leases are for staffers in his congressional office, many of whom prefer driving an official vehicle while on the job rather than their personal cars — one staffer was putting 25,000 miles a year onto her car at one point, he said. The lease payments are high because House rules only allow members to apply for two-year leases (lest a member lose re-election during the life of the lease), which pushes up the cost, Peterson said. The cars have a mile limit of 19,500 miles a year each.
“It’s still cheaper to lease than it is to pay mileage,” he said in an interview.
As for the personal mileage reimbursements, Peterson blamed flights he makes on his personal plane for official business. He acknowledged that it would be cheaper to drive, but he said it’s much quicker to fly.
“The car mileage would be about 75 percent of what the plane mileage would be,” he said. “But instead of four hours to Pipestone [a town in the southern reaches of his district], it’s one hour.”
This isn’t the first time a member of the Minnesota delegation has had to answer for his office’s car lease. In 2012, a liberal group hit then-Rep. Chip Cravaack over his $1,000-a-month lease of an SUV.
Nolan also a target
Rep. Rick Nolan was the target of an NRCC ad of his own on Tuesday.
That spot hit Nolan for three votes: one for a measure that would have blocked spending on the war in Afghanistan after the end of the year, one against a Veterans Affairs spending bill in 2013 (a vote Nolan has called a “protest vote” because he thought the bill didn’t spend enough money on the VA) and one against a Republican plan to expand work requirements for welfare recipients. The ad says Nolan is “dangerously liberal” and “wrong for Minnesota.”
His campaign released a statement calling the ad “the latest example of the kind of misleading and inaccurate fabrications” Republicans will use against him this fall.
The NRCC is spending $250,000 on this ad, part of a $2 million ad campaign against Nolan between now and Election Day.
Elsewhere, the American Action Network, former Sen. Norm Coleman’s political outfit, is planning to spend at least $600,000 on ads against Nolan this fall, the group announced Tuesday. The group spent $1.7 million on the 8th District race in 2012.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry