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Make no mistake, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, opposes the federal stimulus.
He’s decried President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which poured $787 billion into the economy, a "waste of money" and a move "to ignore the will of the American people."
He’s released media statements and ads accusing Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson, whom he wants to unseat from the U.S. Senate, of pushing a stimulus that wasted "millions in taxpayer dollars" on things like cocaine-addicted monkeys. (PolitiFact pegged that ad as Mostly False.)
"I’ve said time and time again, we cannot spend our way to prosperity," Mack said in a 2010 media release about the stimulus.
That’s why, on the night of the Oct. 17 Senate debate, Nelson was prepared to use Mack’s own political weight against him.
"(Mack) rails against the stimulus bill, he didn’t tell you he wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation in order to get $29 million in stimulus for his congressional district," Nelson said.
Mack, perhaps prepared for the comment, absorbed Nelson’s punch unruffled. But he also didn’t refute it.
That’s why we decided to fact-check for ourselves.
We started by asking Nelson’s campaign for evidence.
Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin gave us a copy of a letter Mack wrote to Secretary Ray LaHood at the U.S. Transportation Department asking for the money on behalf of Charlotte County.
Mack’s letter, dated September of 2009, asked the federal government for $29 million to build the Southwest Florida Intermodal and Logistics Center, a project to introduce high-speed rail transportation to Southwest Florida.
To read the letter, you’d think Mack not only approves of the stimulus, but believes it’s a potential boon to Southwest Florida’s economy.
"This project will establish a connection between Southwest Florida economic centers and the seaports of Tampa and Manatee counties, advancing the region’s economic competitiveness," Mack wrote.
The letter continued: "This project is shovel-ready and will facilitate the transportation of goods and people throughout Southwest Florida, spurring economic development in a region crucial to the economic health of the state. These aspects make Charlotte County’s project an excellent candidate for funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was designed in part to encourage economic growth through investments and infrastructure."
The Transportation Department denied the grant, and the project never got off the ground, said Charlotte County administrator Jason Stotzfus.
But Mack also sent at least two other letters to help the county apply for different stimulus grants.
"Chances are better if we have the support of our legislators," Stotzfus said.
Pietro Nivola, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Mack’s approach to the stimulus is common.
"Constituent services is all about responding to appeals and requests," Nivola said. " If people in (Mack’s) neighborhood were thinking here's some money, here's an opportunity...it's incumbent upon him to follow up."
In fact, Vice President Joe Biden used a similar gotcha against Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., during the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate. Ryan, looking flustered, replied that all representatives ask for stimulus money for their constituents.
Mack political consultant Gary Maloney had a similar analysis, and he offered this analogy.
In 2001 and again in 2003, Nelson voted against tax cuts. But when Floridians wrote him for help on tax issues, Nelson didn’t tell those constituents to take a hike because he opposed those bills, Maloney said.
"In 2009, Mack voted against the stimulus on principle. Nelson voted with Obama, and the Democrat majority prevailed," Maloney said. "Once the stimulus bill was the law of the land, Mack still represented his constituents. And when Charlotte County applied for funds, Connie naturally helped the taxpayers of his district."
During the U.S. Senate debate, Nelson accused Mack of denouncing the stimulus but asking for money.
It’s no secret: Mack frequently bashes the stimulus as an impediment to economic growth.
Yet, his letters suggest he thinks the stimulus money would boost his area’s economy.
We rate Nelson’s claim True.
The Buzz, Watch the Mack/Nelson Senate debate in full, Oct. 17, 2012
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, bill summary, accessed Nov. 2, 2012
PolitiFact: Connie Mack said Bill Nelson voted to study monkeys on cocaine, April 12, 2012
Email interview with Dan McLaughlin, Oct. 29, 2012
Letter from Mack to the U.S. Transportation Department, Sept. 8, 2012
Interview with Charlotte County administrator Jason Stotzfus
Interview with Pietro Nivola, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution
YouTube, Oct. 11 vice presidential debate
Phone and email interviews, Gary Maloney, Mack political consultant, Nov. 1, 2012
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