Political Notebook

They’re the subsidies that just won’t go away.

Since Rep. Bill Shuster’s campaign revealed in January that Republican challenger Art Halvorson had received government farm subsidies – subsidies he opposes on principle – the two camps have sparred over the veracity of Shuster’s allegations. A heavily played TV ad, featuring a cartoonish Halvorson cashing in on farm payments, has carried the story to a far wider audience in the past several days.

With thousands viewing the commercial and accompanying “Hypocrite Halvorson” website, it’s important to look more closely at a few of the Shuster campaign’s claims and Halvorson’s response to them.

– The commercial’s narrator says “[Halvorson’s] farm in Iowa got half a million dollars.” The website expands on the theme, noting: “Halvorson brags about how he has ‘personally benefited’ from subsidies on his farm in Iowa, to the tune of almost $500,000.”

A casual viewer might assume Halvorson has pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies, which the government distributes to control commodities and encourage certain land uses. But the money went to John Jacobson, a farmer who rents Halvorson’s land – the commercial is worded to accurately (if subtly) state that the farm, not its owner, got the subsidies.

How has Halvorson “personally benefited,” then? Thanks to the subsidies, Halvorson said, his land has gained value. While that would be a boon if he sells his farm or hikes its rent, he doesn’t receive subsidies himself, and viewers should keep in mind that he hasn’t personally gained “half a million” in the arrangement.

– The Shuster campaign’s website includes documented subsidies for David Earnie Halvorson, Art Halvorson’s cousin. In an email, Shuster Campaign Manager Sean Joyce said those subsidies were paid on the congressional candidate’s land.

Art Halvorson insisted that’s incorrect: His cousin owns neighboring land, but the two share no business or rental relationship, he said.

– “[Halvorson’s] farm in Bedford got thousands more” in subsidies, the commercial states. This claim is accurate: When Halvorson bought his Bedford County farm in 2009, he filled out paperwork to complete a pair of 10-year contracts the previous owner had signed with the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers by the acre to maintain nonfarmed plots.

When the contract ended, Halvorson didn’t renew it, he noted. The roughly $2,500 he made in taxpayer money was given to charity, he said.

Regardless of his reasons or their charitable outcome, the commercial is correct when it says Halvorson “signed up for the subsidies himself.”

In all, the commercial and website appear to be mostly factually correct, though viewers might take care to parse out each statement. A few points – like the references to Halvorson’s cousin – might call for closer scrutiny.

Obamacare questions

Halvorson hasn’t been without his own carefully worded, but arguably misleading, statements in recent weeks.

In a series of tweets this month, he repeatedly lambasted Shuster for his “10 votes for Obamacare” – a stinging criticism during a Republican primary in a conservative district.

Halvorson was referencing Shuster’s routine votes to keep funding the government, which includes the system established by the Affordable Care Act. A vote that allows Obamacare to function, in Halvorson’s eyes, is a vote in favor of that system.

Shuster’s campaign has challenged that claim, citing the congressman’s dozens of votes to repeal Obamacare.

There’s little question Shuster, like most Republicans, isn’t an Obamacare fan. Whether a vote to fund the federal government constitutes a vote “for” Obamacare is a matter of personal opinion.

In other news:

– The Blair County Republican Committee has released more details on its April 10 visit by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. A reception is set for 4:30 p.m. and a dinner at 5:45 p.m. at the Blair County Convention Center, with tickets ranging in price from $75 to $1,000.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.