Lock and Load: Veterans Group Goes After Musgrave

Fort Collins: Now

September 4, 2008 – A new campaign ad targeting U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave represents a new tack for independent political action committees seeking to dethrone the three-term congresswoman.

It features Colorado Iraq war veterans, cutting to the heart of an issue dear to Musgrave, R-Fort Morgan, and other Republicans: support for the troops and their efforts overseas.

Other ads against Musgrave in this and previous election cycles have been led by what can more easily be defined as liberal causes, including those championed by Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund or Fort Collins billionaire Pat Stryker, who is committed to gay rights issues.

But the ad with Iraq veterans, from a group that has also donated to Republican candidates, is meant to cut closer to the bone, the group said, because military issues have been a core topic for the GOP.

Musgrave’s campaign decried the ad by VoteVets.org Action Fund, which includes three Colorado veterans taking Musgrave to task for voting against a troop pay increase while members of Congress got raises.

Members of Congress get automatic cost-of-living pay increases each year. Musgrave’s campaign said that on three occasions, she voted against a procedural move that allowed the pay-raise vote to go forward.

She did vote against a $1,500 bonus for service members in 2004, a measure that would have taken money from Iraq reconstruction and given it to service members. The vote fell largely along party lines.

The commercial features veterans talking about the rising prices of food and energy, including Milliken veteran Stephanie Driessel, and ends with Colorado Springs veteran Mike Lemke saying, “I expected the worst in Iraq. I expected better from Marilyn Musgrave.”

Musgrave’s campaign manager, Jason Thielman, said the group has a partisan agenda.

“If folks would understand the fact that Marilyn is a mother, too, with a son and daughter-in-law in the military. And she’s one of the few in Congress who has their children enlisted in the military in these times,” he said. “For this group, who unfortunately has a very partisan agenda, and is affiliated with the most extreme left elements of the political spectrum, to suggest that a mother of active enlisted military does not have their interests closest to her heart is reprehensible.”

Jon Soltz, an Iraq war veteran who directs the Vote Vets group, said Musgrave has been wrong on veterans’ issues and on focusing efforts in Iraq and not Afghanistan.
“I’m sorry that you jumped off the cliff with George Bush,” he said. “But there’s consequences. She listened more to the White House than most politicians. So it’s irrelevant to me that her son is in the military. She was wrong on the core issues.”

Founded in 2006, the group’s primary mission is to elect veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Congress, but it also targets candidates whom the group believes have poor marks on veterans’ issues, Soltz said.

“The war is one issue, but the veterans issue is a whole other one,” he said.
The Disabled American Veterans, a nonpartisan advocacy group, tracks congressional votes on veterans issues and said Musgrave voted with veterans six times and against them eight times since 2003.

The ad cost $370,000 and is part of a $1 million campaign against Republicans Musgrave, former U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Bob Schaffer of Fort Collins, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Despite the anti-GOP ads, the group has given money to members of both parties.
In 2008, it made contributions on behalf of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., who lost his primary earlier this year, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

“We’ve given money to Republicans. We’re not tied to Democrats, per se. It’s not partisan,” Soltz said.

Thielman countered that the group is closely affiliated with MoveOn.org, a liberal group funded by a wealthy New York donor George Soros.

MoveOn did contribute $4,000 to VoteVets.org in August 2006, according to Federal Election Commission records. And so far in the 2008 cycle, 89 percent of VoteVets’ donations have gone to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Web site that tracks political money.

Soltz said he isn’t sure whether the group will air any other ads after this week but was curious about how Musgrave’s campaign was reacting to the ad.

“We don’t pull any punches,” he said. “There’s no punches being pulled in Iraq.”

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