Election 2012
2:25 pm
Wed October 10, 2012

Ad Watch: Missouri Governor's Race

As the campaign season kicks into high gear, KCUR brings you “Ad Watch,” a series examining the accuracy of statements in advertisements for political candidates and issues.

This week, an ad in the Missouri governor’s race has led to calls for TV stations to stop running it or face a lawsuit.

Candidates complaining about the content of their opponents’ ads isn’t so uncommon in the heat of a campaign. But “cease and desist” letters to the stations airing them?

That’s what Republican Dave Spence’s campaign sent out late last week. But the ads are still running, and new ones too, with Democratic Governor Jay Nixon doubling down with spots like this one, which came out on Tuesday.

Announcer: "Are you angry about Washington’s bailout of Wall Street and the banks? Candidate for governor Dave Spence helped run a bank that got a $40 million bailout."

Dave Spence: “Our bank, after I was in, took TARP funds.”

On the screen, the clip of the Republican nominee is labeled “St. Louis Banker Dave Spence.” This led to a new ad from the Spence campaign, with the candidate speaking directly to the camera. The words at the bottom of the screen read, “Dave Spence: … NOT a banker."

"I’m Dave Spence. I’ve spent the last 26 years creating jobs. And Jay Nixon? He spent those years running for office. Maybe that’s why he’s hiding behind false attack ads. He’s had a lot of practice."

So what have these two men been doing for a living?

Dave Spence is not, primarily, a banker. His day job has been running Alpha Packaging—they’re a St. Louis company that makes plastic bottles and jars. He bought the company at age 25 and did run it for 26 years until he sold it in 2010 and left the company late last year when he began his run for governor.

But whether he’s a banker depends on what you mean. Spence joined the board of Frontnac’s Reliance Bank in 2005, and was elevated to the board of its holding company in May 2009. That’s three months after the holding company received $40 million in TARP—troubled asset relief program—funds from the federal government. But more on that in a second…

And Jay Nixon? It’s true he’s been in office for 26 years: six in the state senate, 16 as attorney general, and now four as governor.

It's really what’s happened in the last four years, that both candidates want to focus on in these ads. Here’s the Nixon ad on what came next with the bank:

Announcer: "But Dave Spence refused to pay back the taxpayers. Instead he took an insider loan to buy a million dollar vacation home. Newspapers criticized Spence for rigging the system and trying to fool voters about his role in the bailout."

So it’s true that the TARP funds weren’t repaid. Spence confirmed to the Associated Press that he voted against paying back the government, deciding the bank couldn’t afford it. He resigned from the board in early 2011, and according to the Treasury Department website, the TARP funds still haven’t been paid back.

It’s also true that the bank loaned Spence $1 million dollars —actually more than this on several other occasions, and other board members, too. But that’s not uncommon: Sometimes bank boards are made up of the bank’s best customers. It’s good for business. And he didn’t technically approve his own loans; he left the room when votes were taken.

For his part, Spence would rather talk in his ads about Nixon’s record:

Spence: "But Nixon’s attacks won’t bring back the jobs we’ve lost because of his failed policies. With career politician Jay Nixon in charge, Missouri’s doing worse than our neighbors and we’re losing more jobs."

The screen is filled with a bar graph showing the change in the size of Missouri’s labor force –90,000 fewer jobs than in January 2009 – and how that compares to other states in the region. It’s the worst of the nine states listed, although Nixon’s campaign points out that the state’s unemployment rate is still below the national rate.

And as for the claim that the state’s economy is doing worse than much of the country, that’s been a trend for a long time that goes beyond policy to larger issues. As one economist told the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “Jay Nixon’s not really responsible for it, and Dave Spence probably can’t fix it.”

In any case, one thing’s for sure—these two candidates haven’t finished trying to define each other, whether it be Nixon on Spence:

Announcer: "Dave Spence. Using our money to help himself."

or Spence on Nixon…

Spence: "The choice is clear. You can vote to save his job, or to save yours."