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An online video by the Charlie Justice for Congress campaign tries to link opponent Rep. Bill Young with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It is a case of guilt by association without proving any association. In a separate item, we've rated the suggestion of an Abramoff connection as Pants on Fire. But the video makes other claims about Young, a Pinellas County Republican, that have some truth to them, including one that Young used campaign money for "a luxury car."
The video uses Abramoff's fedora as a metaphor for the alleged ties between the two men. A copy of the hat flips off Abramoff's head and lands on Young's. The screen says that Abramoff "used his money for, among other things, luxury cars." The hat lands on Young as the screen says, "Bill Young uses his campaign money for, among other things, a luxury car."
Putting aside the sleight-of-hand implication of an Abramoff connection, it's worth exploring the simple question of whether Young did indeed use campaign money for a luxury car.
The Justice campaign is referring to a 1990 revelation in the St. Petersburg Times that Young used campaign money to buy a Lincoln Continental for nearly $30,000.
The Times article noted that he also billed the campaign for the new car's taxes and title, "a portable telephone and frequent fill-ups at the gas station." The article said the purchase did not violate federal laws, which give members wide discretion for spending campaign money.
That, however, was 20 years ago. Justice used the present tense in the words on the screen, implying that Young is still paying for his car with campaign contributions. We wondered if that part was true.
Indeed, though the model of car has changed -- it's a Lincoln Navigator now -- Young spokesman Harry Glenn told us that the campaign makes monthly payments to lease the vehicle. He said the expenses have never been questioned by the Federal Election Commission and that Young felt it was better to use campaign money for the vehicle than taxpayer dollars as other members of Congress do.
According to an expenditure report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in 2009 Young paid $799 per month to Ford Motor Credit for the "campaign vehicle."
Is it fair to call a Lincoln Navigator a luxury car? We'll start with the price. The Web site says they start at $54,950, so it's definitely on the high end. The Navigator is an SUV, but Justice's use of "car" seems to suggest a vehicle rather than to specify a sedan. Lincoln describes the Navigator as "the world's first luxury SUV." The "premium leather-trimmed" seats are available in hues of Camel, Charcoal Black or Stone and have heating and cooling built into the front seats. Sounds like luxury to us.
So Justice is right. Young used campaign money to buy the Lincoln Continental in 1990, which was traded in many years ago. But he is still using campaign money today to lease a Lincoln Navigator. Both can reasonably be called luxury cars, so we find Justice's claim True.
YouTube, Young/Abramoff Video, accessed April 23, 2010.
Politico, Lawmakers spend 1K/month on taxpayer-funded cars, by Jake Sherman, March 15, 2010.
OpenSecrets.org, Bill Young's 2010 Campaign Expenditures: Ford Motor Credit, accessed April 24, 2010.
Florida Division of Elections, Charlie Justice's 2010 Campaign Expenditures, accessed April 24, 2010.
St. Petersburg Times, Campaigning in a luxury car, by David Dahl, Sep. 27, 1990.
Phone interviews with Harry Glenn, spokesman for Bill Young campaign, April 23, 2010.
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