Salazar condemns Musgrave attack ad, calls for probe

Sen. Ken Salazar on Saturday called for an investigation into a new Marilyn Musgrave TV ad, terming the ad’s claims “absolutely false in every way.” Rep. Musgrave’s opponent, Democrat Betsy Markey, also called on the 4th District Republican to “immediately stop airing” the ad, which attacks Markey with claims she enriched herself with “non-competitive Halliburton-style government contracts” and “used her congressional job to double her company’s contracts.”

“Musgrave’s accusations are completely fabricated, baseless and despicable,” Markey said Saturday in a statement. Her campaign released a point-by-point challenge to the ad’s charges, including that Markey’s former job as Salazar’s regional director based out of Fort Collins hardly qualifies her as an “ultimate Washington insider,” as the ad claims.

Noting that Colorado law makes it illegal to air false statements about a political opponent, Salazar said on Saturday, “Marilyn Musgrave’s false accusations should be thoroughly and fully investigated by the authorities, and Marilyn Musgrave and her campaign should comply with that investigation.” He also called on Musgrave to voluntarily stop airing the 30-second commercial, which began airing Friday night on Denver broadcast stations.

“Marilyn Musgrave should also immediately pull this false ad from the air and apologize to the people of Colorado who she is supposed to be representing” Salazar said in language unusually strong for a member of a state’s delegation to use against another. “Dishonesty of this kind should have no place in the halls of Congress.”

The ad charges Markey’s “contracts more than doubled after she took a key congressional job.” Not true, the Markey campaign responded, noting the company, Syscom Services, actually saw a decrease in government contracts the year after Markey took a job with Salazar’s northern Colorado office in 2005.

Syscom earned $1.8 million on 41 contracts for the three fiscal years before Markey joined Salazar’s staff in 2005, according to federal records. For the three subsequent years, the company’s receipts from federal contracts grew to $2.9 million for 94 contracts.

The Markey campaign said only 11 percent of Syscom’s contracts with the federal government since 2000 were non-competitve, as they were renewal or maintenance contracts, which is standard practice with the federal GSA. The percentage actually dropped to 9 percent in 2007, the last year Markey worked for Salazar, the Markey campaign said.

The ad’s charge that Syscom benefited from “Halliburton-style government contracts” refers to no-bid federal contracts for Iraqi reconstruction with the company that was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney in the 1990s. Cheney appeared last month at a fundraiser for Musgrave in the Denver area.

Syscom, founded in 1986 by Markey and her husband, Jim, provides e-mail, Web site and document management services to non-profits, corporations and government agencies, according to its Web site.

“They’re just slinging mud,” Markey campaign spokesman Ben Marter said Saturday afternoon. “Betsy and her husband, Jim, turned out their pockets, saying, ‘This is how we’ve done our business.’ ”

“Millionaire Markey has demonstrated an amazing knack for making millions from the government, when she had the inside track as a congressional employee,” Musgrave Campaign Manager Jason Thielman said in a press release before the ad was unveiled.

“His math is not right, it’s not good math,” Marter said. “It’s just dishonest. They’re desperately trying to make something out of nothing.”

Syscom, according to its Web site, has been an approved GSA contractor since the Reagan Administration.

Marter scoffed at the notion Markey’s job with Salazar could have influenced federal contracting procedures. “Betsy’s reach with the Bush administration — not strong,” he said, noting that Syscom’s GSA contracts were with a “separate branch of the government.”

The Markey campaign also refuted the ad’s claim Markey is “Worth up to $25 million,” which appears on-screen in the ad. “Saying ‘up to’ is misleading and dishonest,” a Markey statement said, pointing to personal financial disclosure forms for federal candidates which include a box to check for business holdings between $5 milliion and $25 million. “Syscom is worth between $3 and $6 million dollars, of which Markey formerly owned half of 51 percent,” the Markey campaign said, noting that she has fully divested herself from the company to run for Congress.

To top it off, the Markey campaign said, “Millionaire Markey” earns less than Musgrave’s 2008 salary of $169,300, an increase of $4,100 over the congresswoman’s 2007 pay. Musgrave is serving her third term in Congress, the Markey campaign pointed out, suggesting she’s more of a “Washington insider” than her Democratic challenger.

Thielman did not return a phone call requesting comment Saturday evening.

Here’s the ad’s script:

Musgrave: I’m Marilyn Musgrave and I authorized this message.

Excerpt from Markey ad: What would you say if you knew Betsy Markey had grown a small business —

Announcer: But what if you knew she actually got rich on non-competitve, Halliburton-style government contracts, and her contracts more than doubled after she took a key congressional job.

If Betsy Markey used her congressional job to double her company’s contracts, what will she do as your congresswoman?

Millionaire Markey. The ultimate Washington Insider. It’s time to come clean.

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Ernest Luning

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