Fact Check: Martha McSally And Mitch McConnell Are Lying About Mark Kelly

Above Graphic: It was true in 2018, and is still true today.

Update to Fact checking Martha McSally – yep, she’s lying again.

Defend Arizona PAC is a single-candidate political action committee for Martha McSally. In 2018 they were big spenders, raising and spending over $22 million for a losing campaign.

Center for Responsive Politics (Open Secrets) lists Defend Arizona PAC as having raised over $503,000 and spent only over $154,000 at the end of the last reporting period on June 30. (You can open the tabs to see who the donors are). It lists independent expenditures of $2,603,000.

I believe the next FEC filing report is due September 17. I would expect to see a substantial boost in funding and spending because this is the PAC running the deceitful attack ads against Mark Kelly on television right now. See Looks Out (8/18/20), Handed (8/25/20), and You Pay (9/3/20), 30 second ads attacking Mark Kelly’s former company World View.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, i.e., Mitch McConnell, is also running similar ads attacking Mark Kelly’s former company World View. (The ads do not appear to be on YouTube).

This appears to be the coordinated smear campaign that Republicans have settled upon running against Mark Kelly in the general election. The earlier GOP smear campaign of yelling “China!” did not work because Martha McSally has her own China investments. While GOP hits Kelly over China ties, McSally had investments too. Oops!

This GOP smear campaign does not appear to be working any better, according to the latest Fox News Poll (9/3/20):

In the senate race, Democratic challenger Mark Kelly outperforms Biden’s lead in the presidential race [Biden is preferred over Trump by 49-40 percent among likely voters in Arizona.]  Kelly bests Republican Sen. Martha McSally by a 56-39 percent margin among Arizona likely voters.

That’s what is colloquially known as a “landslide.”

Last week, World View sent a cease and desist letter demanding that television stations stop broadcasting the “false and defamatory” political advertisements centered on the Tucson company from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. (The “false and defamatory” ads from Defend Arizona PAC were still airing on Sunday).

The Arizona Daily Star reported, World View wants TV stations to stop running latest attack ad against Mark Kelly:

World View CEO Ryan Hartman said cease-and-desist letters were sent Thursday to any Arizona stations that aired the new ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which accuses Senate candidate Mark Kelly and World View of keeping $15 million in taxpayer money while failing to live up to a promise to create jobs.

According to the letter from the Cooley law firm, the ad is filled with misleading statements and factual errors about World View and its 2016 economic development deal with Pima County.

“Your station must cease airing this advertisement immediately to prevent any further harm to this company and its reputation,” the letter states.

Hartman said the action has nothing to do with politics.

“It is not OK for uninformed people to make false and defamatory claims about this company,” he said. “It’s damaging, and we’re always going to speak up.”

It was unclear Thursday which specific stations received letters or how they planned to respond. (TV stations ignored it).

“The only answer that we’re looking for is for the ads to be taken down,” Hartman said.

Under its 20-year lease, the high-altitude balloon company agreed to gradually increase its workforce from 100 employees in the first four years of operation to at least 400 by the final five years of the contract.

“To call a promise that World View has 10 more years to fulfill ‘just hot air,’ or ‘empty talk,’ as Merriam-Webster defines it, is not only false, it is defamation,” Cooley attorney Alex Kassai writes in the letter.

“World View takes its contractual obligations to the county incredibly seriously, and the NRSC has no foundation to make any claim to the contrary.”

The cease-and-desist letter also notes that Kelly left the company in 2019, six years after he co-founded it, and has no current role there.

Evil GOP bastard Mitch McConnell was having none of it, and sneered an evil grin. “Lie some more!

The NRSC responded late Thursday afternoon with another accusation, that Kelly himself put World View up to drafting the letter.

“Clearly Mark Kelly feels his failed promises as a businessman are coming back to haunt his campaign, so he’s now asked the company he co-founded to make legally baseless and illogical claims to try and discredit legitimate criticism of his actions,” NRSC spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a written statement, without offering any proof.

“Kelly has hypocritically decried corporate money in politics despite personally becoming a multimillionaire through different corporate relationships, and now he’s potentially benefiting directly from corporate interference in Arizona’s Senate race.”

The McSally campaign and others have been circulating TV spots with similar claims about Kelly and World View for weeks.

Asked if his company plans to take action against those ads or try to get such messages scrubbed from social media sites, Hartman said, “We’re going to be consistent with our response.”

County officials also have begun to push back against attacks on the deal with the aerospace company.

Last week, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry issued a scathing seven-page letter — with more than 80 pages of exhibits — blasting what he called a “coordinated campaign” to damage World View by county supervisor Ally Miller, a right-wing political blog [Arizona Daily Independent] and the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative think tank that unsuccessfully sued the county over the development deal.

World View was founded in 2013 to carry tourists on high-priced flights into the stratosphere. It has since shifted focus and is now marketing its Stratollite balloon vehicles as unmanned research platforms that can stay aloft for months at a time, allowing for things like Earth imaging and atmospheric monitoring at a fraction of the cost of orbital satellites.

The company operates out of a facility the county built for it south of Tucson International Airport. Hartman was named chief executive in March 2019.

As of his most recent financial disclosure, Kelly still owned at least $100,000 in World View corporate securities.

The Star’s Tim Steller in his Sunday column writes, World View doesn’t deserve misleading Senate-campaign criticism:

It’s not so surprising that political campaigns are talking about Pima County’s 2016 deal to build a headquarters for a near-space balloon company.

The proposal to build a headquarters for World View Enterprises was a justifiably controversial incentive deal at the time, and the company has been sporadic in meeting its promised levels of employment. Naturally, some people in Pima County still talk about it with consternation.

What’s strange is that the debate has emerged in the campaign for U.S. senator rather than, say, Pima County supervisor.

The deal seemed questionable, intriguing and inevitable from the day it was first announced. I remember sitting in our office on Jan. 14, 2016, talking it over with colleagues, wondering how the public and board of supervisors were supposed to analyze the incentive package, digest it and take a position in the five days between the announcement and the vote.

One thing that never came up, though, was the idea that it amounted to Mark Kelly stealing from the taxpayers. One of four founders, Kelly stood to benefit if the deal passed, which it did by a 4-1 vote, but he would benefit mainly if the company thrived, not directly from the county’s incentive package.

The idea he individually took taxpayer money, though, has become central to one of the country’s most closely watched U.S. Senate races. Sen. Martha McSally and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have focused their attacks against Kelly on the idea that he took $15 million in money from Pima County taxpayers.

It’s an absurd claim, a lie in fact, but it helps build their preferred narrative about him, encapsulated in their slogan “He’ll do anything for a buck, say anything for a vote.”

One thing he didn’t do is “pocket” $15 million of taxpayer money. Chris King, a local Republican activist, is unnamed in one of the McSally ads, but is presented as an everyman upset about the deal.

“I was disgusted to learn that Mark Kelly pocketed $15 million of our money for his business, then laid off workers instead of creating new jobs,” King says in the ad.

That sentence combines a lie with a misleading statement. The lie is that he pocketed the money. The truth is that Pima County spent $15 million building a headquarters and spaceport for World View. The company is leasing the building back from Pima County and through March had paid the county $2,325,250. The county has suspended rent payments for its tenants, including World View, till the end of the year due to the economic crisis, but they are set to resume in January.

World View has the option to take ownership of the building once its 20-year lease is up, at which point it is scheduled to have paid more than $20 million in rent. In other words, if the deal goes according to plan, county taxpayers will make a decent profit.

Kelly, by the way, initially had an administrative role in the company at the outset but no longer does. He still has a stake in the company worth at least $100,000, according to a financial disclosure document.

The second part of McSally’s claim is that World View laid off workers. It’s true that they laid off 10 people in February 2019 out of a workforce of about 100 in what they called a restructuring. That brought the company’s workforce down below the threshold it is supposed to maintain through the first five years — 100.

The contract lays out minimum employment and wage numbers the company is supposed to maintain over the 20-year lease, rising to 200 employees for the second five years, 300 the third five years, and 400 the fourth five years. If it fails to do so, the county can pull out of the deal.

Even with the February layoffs, by October last year, World View said in an affidavit that it had 107 employees, and in March this year it had 112, making an average of about $92,000 per year, before the pandemic shutdown occurred. It was planning the deployment of a fleet of its high-altitude balloons, called, stratollites, across the North and Central America.

So, the company has not fulfilled the hopes raised by Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who said in 2017 he expected the company to have 400 employees by now. But it was fulfilling its employment requirements for the first five years of its lease, of maintaining 100 employees at an average of greater than $50,000 per year till COVID-19 hit.

CEO Ryan Hartman says the company is down to about 90 employees now but is planning to launch the fleet that it had planned to deploy this year, next year instead.

Hartman launched a counter-attack on the claims about the company Thursday, sending a cease-and-desist letter through attorneys to television stations, asking that they stop running the NRSC ad.

“It is not OK for uninformed people to make false and defamatory claims about this company,” Hartman told my colleague Henry Brean. “It’s damaging, and we’re always going to speak up.”

The attacks by McSally and the NRSC are perhaps best understood as extensions of criticisms the company and the deal have received since that day in 2016 when it was announced.

Supervisor Ally Miller was the only one of five board members to vote “no,” describing the incentive package as an example of “crony capitalism” involving political insiders like Kelly. She and her allies have tried to paint the deal in the worst possible light ever since.

Miller also supported a 2016 Goldwater Institute lawsuit against the deal, which claimed that the procurement practices and lease contract were illegal, and that the whole project violated the Arizona constitution’s gift clause.

Goldwater has lost on the first two claims, about procurement and the lease, after appealing to the state supreme court, and the Gift Clause litigation is still pending. In other words, at this stage, we can consider the deal legal, barring a surprise in the final stage of the lawsuit.

That doesn’t mean we can’t maintain our concerns about how the deal came about. It still bothers me that the county government worked on the project for months only to bring it to the public five days before the vote, when the votes necessary to support the deal had apparently been secured.

And it bothers me that, even if we put “clawback” provisions in the contract, demanding minimum employment and pay levels, there is little likelihood the county will ever exercise its right to pull out. Once we were in for the dime, we were in for a dollar.

But I shake my head at the misinformation being peddled in a U.S. Senate race, of all places, and I think we all ought to root for World View’s success.

Although the ads would have you believe the company’s story is over, it’s actually in its early years and could still work out well for all of us.

The Arizona Daily Star previously reported Fact-checkers find inaccuracies in McSally attack ads against opponent Kelly and World View.

4 thoughts on “Fact Check: Martha McSally And Mitch McConnell Are Lying About Mark Kelly”

  1. Back to the subject matter of the post, The Arizona Republic fact checks the the National Republican Senatorial Committee ad, “Fact check: Are GOP claims about Mark Kelly’s balloon company just hot air?”, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/fact-check/2020/09/22/world-view-balloon-company-founded-mark-kelly-martha-mcsally-ad/3492980001/

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee and incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally have run similar attack ads about Kelly’s involvement with World View, a space technology company.

    NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: “In Tucson, Mark Kelly’s company promised 400 jobs to get $15 million bucks from taxpayers. That promise? Just hot air.”

    THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of a deal that Pima County government officials struck with World View, which makes and uses high-altitude balloons that collect data from above the Earth’s surface.

    Rather than hand over money to the company from taxpayers, Pima County offered to build a new headquarters, manufacturing facility and launch pad in order to entice the company to stay, when it was considering relocating from Tucson, Arizona, in 2016.

    The county agreed to spend up to $15 million — plus $5 million in interest over time — on the new facilities. World View didn’t get the new digs for free. It pays rent to the county.

    Four years into the deal, World View has so far paid over $2.3 million to Pima County, according to John Moffatt, the county’s economic development director. By the time World View’s 20-year lease is up, it is scheduled to have paid the county more than $23 million for rent, according to county documents reviewed by the Associated Press.

    World View, however, hasn’t met the rosy job projections the company initially made when the county offered to build its headquarters.

    County documents and other statements show World View predicted it would have as many as 448 people employed by 2020. Instead it has 78 full-time employees and an additional 33 who were furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company said in an email.

    The county’s deal with World View requires that the company have 100 full-time employees making an average salary of $50,000 by next year, Moffatt said. The average World View employee currently makes $103,555, according to the company’s latest filing with the county in June.

    Moffatt said the launch pad the county paid for is considered a public facility, with one other company having already used it for a promotional campaign. The county hopes that nearby aeronautical universities, defense companies and government agencies will also use the launch pad.

    “It’s constant,” Moffatt said of TV ads running about World View in the Senate race. “And they continue to misrepresent. Pima County gets painted black with this too.”

    Kelly was part of a team of founders who started the company in 2012; he ran its flight crew operations. He has since left. Kelly maintains a “minimal financial stake,” the company said in a statement.

  2. Does this mean that Mark Kelly didn’t lie on the form 4473 trying to buy an AR15..Saying it was for his own use but told others on his Facebook page he’s getting it to give away? That form says lying on it is a felony and punishable with prison time and a fine. He was turned down by the dealer because he lied. The Obama ATF did nothing to him for his lie. WHY NOT??

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