Ohio Democrats are accusing a leading national business federation of altering a photo of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and misrepresenting one of his votes in TV attack ads airing statewide.
Brown, the state's senior senator, has been targeted by several national groups heading into his re-election bid next year. Democrats say the latest round of ads, paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, altered a photo taken by The Associated Press from color to black-and-white in a way that makes Brown look unshaven and haggard.
The party has dubbed the issue "Picturegate" and is seeking to link it to what they say has been a pattern of deception by Brown's likely Republican opponent, state Treasurer Josh Mandel.
"The countless false and misleading claims made by Josh Mandel and his special-interest friends have repeatedly been debunked by numerous non-partisan organizations, and apparently not just content with distorting his record they've now taken to distorting his picture," said Justin Barasky, a party spokesman. "Instead of repeated efforts to mislead the public, (they) should explain why he refuses to stand up for Ohio's middle class against bad trade deals and China's unfair currency manipulation which hurts our economy and costs jobs."
Mandel campaign spokesman Joe Aquilino declined to respond to the criticism. But he said the ad's message regarding Brown "appears to be spot-on accurate."
"Sherrod Brown's hyper-partisan attitude and refusal to work across party lines has caused failure in Washington and massive job loss in Ohio," he said. "Even though the vast majority of Ohioans opposed the government's takeover of health care, Sherrod Brown just trampled over the will of the people by casting the deciding vote on this ultra-partisan, job-killing legislation."
Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder says the organization didn't doctor the photo. A message seeking comment was left with Revolution Agency, the Washington, D.C.-based firm that produced it.
"By the reaction of the Brown campaign and his Democrat allies, it's pretty clear what they don't want to discuss. They're running away from his record in Washington," Fielder said. Brown has only rarely supported the chamber's economic agenda in his voting record, he said.
He said Democrats are lobbing their attacks to distract from the message of the ad, titled "Stop Hiding." The TV spot says Brown "supports raising energy taxes" in policy positions that are killing Ohio jobs.
Brown has called the ad cynical, and its contents "outright lies."
Brown spokeswoman Meghan Dubyak said the ad references his vote to end subsidies for oil companies, which was not the same as raising taxes on energy. The companies _ BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell _ made a combined $101 billion in profits during the first nine months of 2011, she said.
Fielder said there is more to Brown's record on energy taxes than the subsidy vote. He also opposed a budget resolution that would have prevented the Senate from passing any legislation that would increase energy taxes on individuals earning less than $200,000.
The photo of a wind-blown Brown squinting in the sun was taken on July 7, 2006. It pictured Brown _ then an Ohio congressman running for Senate _ outside AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio, alongside two picketing union workers.
"AP licensed the photo, but did not give permission to alter it," AP spokesman Paul Colford said.
Brown was among Democratic senators in five states targeted by Crossroads GPS, a Republican super PAC with ties to former George W. Bush political director Karl Rove, in a $1.6 million ad campaign in July. The 60 Plus Association, a conservative rival to the AARP, aired $750,000 in ads last month targeting Brown's positions on Medicare.