Reality Check: Johnson Counterattacks Feingold On Oil Ad

U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson and incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold released new campaign ads this week, firing at each other over whether oil drilling should be allowed in the Great Lakes.

In his most recent ad, Feingold starts by defending his own record.

“When I look at Lake Michigan, I see a resource that Wisconsin needs to protect for future generations. That’s why I stood up to the big oil interests in Washington who would put profits ahead of our Wisconsin lakes,” said Feingold in his most recent ad.

It’s true that Feingold did co-sponsor a bill in 2001 to temporarily ban drilling in the Great Lakes, but then the ad wades into murkier water, WISC-TV reported.

“I said no to drilling in our Great Lakes, but one opponent, Ron Johnson, disagrees. He’s willing to hand over the Great Lakes to the oil companies,” Feingold said in the ad.

This claim is based on an interview Johnson did with in June. Feingold’s TV ad attacks Johnson for wavering when a reporter asked him whether he would support drilling for oil in the Great Lakes.

“Would you support drilling in the Great Lakes, for example, if there was oil found there, or doing more exploration in Alaska, ANWR, those kinds of things?” asked the interviewer.

“(Unintelligible), the bottom line is we are an oil-based economy, and there’s nothing we’re going to do to get off that for many years, so I think we have to be realistic and recognize that fact, and we have to get the oil where it is but we need to do it responsibly,” said Johnson.

Feingold’s campaign claims Johnson said “yeah” at the beginning of that sentence, but it’s up to the listener to decide whether it is there.

The claims got Johnson riled enough that he’s now hitting back. Johnson launched his own ad Wednesday criticizing Feingold for mudslinging.

The ad said Feingold knows that Johnson opposes Great Lakes drilling. It also accuses Feingold of “play(ing) politics” with the issue.

“Ron Johnson opposes drilling in the Great Lakes and Russ Feingold knows it,” said the ad. “Great Lakes drilling is already illegal, and Feingold knows that too because he voted against the law that protected our lakes. That’s right, Feingold was the only Great Lakes senator to vote no.”

It’s true that Great Lakes drilling is illegal based on an energy bill passed in 2005. It’s also true that Feingold voted against it, but Johnson leaves out why. It was because Feingold didn’t think it protected the lakes enough.

Feingold said at the time that the bill cost too much, did not reduce dependence on foreign oil and rolled back environmental and consumer protections. He also wasn’t the only “Great Lakes state” senator to vote against it; both senators from the state of New York voted no as well, WISC-TV reported.

New York is a Great Lakes state, bordering Lakes Erie and Ontario. Johnson’s campaign responded Thursday by providing links to three government and academic websites that divide the country into general regions, and don’t include New York in their Great Lakes region. The eight Great Lakes states are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Feingold campaign said voters won’t be fooled because it’s a fact that Johnson supports drilling in the Great Lakes.

Johnson, Watertown businessman Dave Westlake and Milwaukee plumber Stephen M. Finn will square off in the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

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