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The website of a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank broke some news on July 16, 2012, with an article headlined:
"Seven Tea Party freshmen spent more than $100,000 in taxpayer money on personal cars."
The word that has the most mileage with voters: personal.
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., the former prosecutor and onetime reality TV show star, was cited among the seven who "spent an average of $15,000 on cars for themselves."
Has Duffy been taking taxpayers for a ride?
Reporter Scott Keyes of ThinkProgress.org, a website of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, wrote the article. It attracted coverage from WisPolitics.com, and was criticized by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and by former state lawmaker Pat Kreitlow, Duffy’s Democratic opponent in the November 2012 election.
PolitiFact Wisconsin once before evaluated an article by Keyes, in September 2011, when we rated as Mostly False his intriguing claim that the Green Bay Packers "are a socialist organization."
Keyes’ cars article said statements of disbursements from the U.S. House of Representatives show Duffy has spent $24,525 on a "car" since taking office in January 2011. That’s about $56 less than U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., the top spender among the seven congressmen singled out in the article.
The article says Cravaack is leasing for more than $1,000 a month a 2011 Chevy Equinox, a small SUV crossover, but doesn’t say what Duffy has.
So, Keyes’ article cites congressional records in claiming that Duffy spent more than $24,000 in tax dollars on a car for personal use, but provides absolutely no evidence of what type of vehicle Duffy has or whether it’s for himself.
Duffy spokesman John Gentzel said Duffy did, as the article says, spend $24,525 -- but that’s for an 18-month lease of a 2001 Chevy Champion bus that is utilized as a mobile office.
Gentzel said the converted five-seat bus is used only by staff to provide constituent services around the 7th Congressional District in northwestern Wisconsin, which he said is the largest in Wisconsin and the second-largest east of the Mississippi River. It includes Wausau and points south, goes west to Eau Claire and runs northwest almost to Duluth, Minn.
Only four staffers have been authorized and insured to drive the bus, and Duffy has never driven it, Gentzel said. Indeed, he rarely rides in it, Gentzel said.
The vehicle has made 230 stops in all 20 of the district’s counties since it was put into service in July 2011, and makes visits on a posted schedule.
"It’d be a flat-out lie to suggest or imply (Duffy) has ever driven it or used it as a personal vehicle," he said.
So, Keyes is way off when he wrote that Duffy leased a car for personal use.
When we went back to Keyes, he said Duffy’s office hadn’t replied to a request for comment before his article was published. After it was published, Keyes attached to the article a Duffy news release refuting what the article said about Duffy.
Keyes also told us in an email:
"I take Duffy at his word on the matter and wish his staff had been more forthright on the matter initially. The larger point of hypocrisy remains, though. If he's going to use budget deficits to justify taking food stamps away from poor people, he should at a minimum be willing to lead by example in eschewing his own office expenses (like many of his GOP colleagues who represent much larger districts have done)."
Keyes accused Duffy of using tax money for a car for personal use, saying he is among seven "Tea Party freshmen" who "spent an average of $15,000 on cars for themselves."
But Duffy leases a bus that is used as a "mobile office," not a car for himself.
That makes the claim about Duffy false and ridiculous and leaves Keyes at this destination: Pants on Fire.
ThinkProgress.org, "Seven Tea party freshmen spent more than $100,000 in taxpayer money on personal cars,"July 16, 2012
Email interview, ThinkProgress.org blogger Scott Keyes, July 18, 23 and 24, 2012
Interview and email interview, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy communications director John Gentzel, July 17 and 23, 2012
Sean Duffy campaign, news release, July 18, 2012
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, news release, July 17, 2012
Pat Kreitlow campaign, Facebook page, July 18, 2012
Pat Kreitlow campaign, news release, July 19, 2012
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