Democrats pull second TV ad in New Jersey congressional race

    For the second time in five weeks, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pulled a TV ad attacking New Jersey Republican congressional candidate Tom MacArthur after questions about its accuracy.

    MacArthur used to head an insurance services firm, and the DCCC ad featured a Phoenix fire captain, who says firefighters injured on the job were stiffed when they sought compensation.

    “My brother and sister firefighters had to take Tom MacArthur’s company to court over all of these denied claims,” the captain says. “They shouldn’t have made their money hurting guys like me.”

    Indeed, there is a pending lawsuit against the firm, York Risk Services Group, but all except one of the claim denials cited in the case occurred after MacArthur left the company. Further, it appears that the adjusters who denied the Phoenix claims at the time worked for a company called Avizent, which York Risk later acquired.

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    The MacArthur campaign had threatened to sue the DCCC and Comcast if the ad weren’t taken down.

    “The facts are clear in this case,” MacArthur campaign consultant Chris Russell said in a phone interview. “Tom MacArthur had absolutely no connection to these claims, and the Democrats know it.”

    In a statement yesterday, DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bitner said “there is no question that Tom MacArthur profited from a company that denied claims of injured firefighters.”

    Then late yesterday, Comcast said that it was taking the ad down at the request of the DCCC.

    When I called the DCCC to find out why they were removing the ad, I was told by someone who agreed to speak as “a DCCC aide” that the DCCC staff in making the ad had relied on information MacArthur provided in his required House of Representatives Financial Disclosure Statement to conclude that when he signed the document in November, he still had an ownership stake in York Risk.

    Russell of the MacArthur campaign said that his candidate’s filing clearly stated that income reported as coming from York was from a “residual stock option” and that it says his “employment ended in 2010.” You can look at the document itself here. Go to Schedule J on the last page.

    Russell also referred me to some DCCC research that said MacArthur had left the company in 2010.

    My take on this?  The available evidence suggests MacArthur wasn’t running the company that committed the alleged offenses in the lawsuit, and the DCC was stretching when the ad tied MacArthur to that conduct (though you can have a hair-splitting debate over the wording in the ad — can the phrase “MacArthur’s company” accurately refer to a firm he used to head?).

    On the other hand, I spoke to Michael Doyle, the Phoenix the attorney who filed the case, and he pointed out that the allegations are “not about a rogue adjuster. This is corporate pattern of conduct.” We don’t know whether the corporate practices of Avizent were the same as York Risk, but we know York found the company suitable for acquisition.

    Disputes do come up in insurance claims, and the allegations in the Phoenix case haven’t yet been resolved. Doyle said they’ve been slogging through discovery and he’s found the York folks difficult to deal with.

    The DCCC made an earlier ad attacking MacArthur that was criticized by the independent fact-checking group Politifact. It was removed and a graphic modified.

    That ad accurately said MacArthur’s firm had been accused of cheating disaster victims, and Russell pointed out that the Democrats had picked a handful among the thousands of claims the company handled, and he noted they’d been settled with no finding of wrongdoing (which is common in settlements).

    If you’re inclined to think insurance companies and their reps aren’t to be trusted, you might think the worst of MacArthur and his firm. I don’t see enough evidence so far to reach much of a conclusion.

    One more detail: The MacArthur campaign called on Democratic candidate Aimee Belgard to denounce the DCCC ad. Her campaign manager,  Hannah Ledford, sent me a statement that said a lot of nasty things about MacArthur but ignored my question about the DCCC ad.

    The two candidates will debate next week. Should  be interesting.

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