COLUMBUS — A state panel Thursday found "probable cause" that Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and her Republican opponent, Rich Iott, knowingly lied about each other in their TV ads.
A three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission found enough evidence exists of "false statements" on both sides of the 9th Congressional District race to bring the issues to full hearings later before the entire five-member, bipartisan panel.
If the commission ultimately decides that the statements were false, it could issue public reprimands against the campaigns and could even refer a case for prosecution. The panel has rarely imposed the latter penalty.
The complaint against Ms. Kaptur stems from her campaign's ad and a related web site that accuses the former CEO of the Seaway Food Town grocery store chain of running the business "straight into the ground" and putting 5,000 people out of work.
"In fact, when he took over for Food Town stores … profits increased every year he was president,'' Mr. Iott's attorney, Donald Brey, told the probable cause panel. "After five years, the owners, the shareholders, decided to merge [with Michigan-based Spartan Stores]. Three years after he ceased to be president … the surviving company sold a number of stores."
But Mr. Kaptur's attorney, Corey Colombo, argued that Mr. Iott was not innocent in the demise of the former Food Town stores.
"He enthusiastically supported that sale,'' he said. "He did receive millions of dollars as a result of [the] transaction … It's a valid opinion that Rich Iott ran the stores into the ground."
He also noted that Mr. Iott continued to serve on the corporation's board, although Mr. Brey said his opinion was largely ignored by fellow members.
The complaint against Mr. Iott stemmed from his campaign commercial accusing Ms. Kaptur and the federal stimulus package of failing to prevent "38,000 Toledoans" from losing their jobs.
The problem is that the number cited in the ad is for the Toledo metropolitan statistical area that includes Lucas, Fulton, Wood, and Ottawa counties while the actual unemployment figure for the city itself was less than half of that.
"They chose a number that would be as shocking to the audience as it could," Mr. Colombo said.
But Mr. Brey countered that the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to the region as Toledo, and that the ad also included the accurate city unemployment rate of 11 percent.
"We didn't lie anymore than the Bureau of Labor Statistics lied," he said.
The complaint against Mr. Iott was filed by Ronald Weckerlin, a vice president of Teamsters Local 20 who drove for Food Town for 17 years.
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