A spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Merkley complained Friday that a new television ad accusing the Oregon Democrat of being an unproductive legislator is “blatantly lying” about Merkley’s legislative history.
Lindsey O’Brien, Merkley’s press secretary, reached out to the Washington Examiner after reading a write-up of the ad, which was funded by Freedom Partners, a group backed by conservative donors Charles and David Koch.
The Freedom Partners ad says that in his six years as a senator, just one bill introduced by Merkley became law. O'Brien said the ad "willfully ignored" Merkley's legislative accomplishments.
“The oil billionaire Koch brothers are blatantly lying about Jeff's record of fighting to get things done for our middle class in order to distract voters from [Merkley’s opponent] Monica Wehby's reckless pro-billionaire, anti-middle class agenda,” O’Brien said in a press release emailed shortly after the ad was released. “While Jeff has a robust record of fighting for Oregon’s middle class and putting Oregon's priorities first, Monica Wehby shares the same reckless agenda as Washington D.C. Republicans and the Koch brothers.”
O’Brien directed reporters to a statement by American Enterprise Institute Scholar Norman J. Ornstein, who told Boston’s NPR affiliate in 2013 that using the number of bills passed into law as a measure of effectiveness is “at best, a shady attack.”
Ornstein was talking about then-Senate candidate Ed Markey, but the standard still applies.
Ornstein also told NPR that legislators can influence bills even if they aren’t listed as sponsors of the legislation.
That would seem to be the case regarding former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who is widely considered to be an influential politician despite never introducing a Senate bill that became law.
O’Brien also provided a list of legislation Merkley sponsored that became law, but oddly enough the list did not include S.1448, a bill Merkley introduced in 2009 that would allow certain Indian tribes to “obtain 99-year lease authority for trust land,” according to the bill’s summary.
Topping the list of bills introduced by Merkley that became law was the controversial Volcker Rule, which Merkley and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act that eventually became law. The Volcker Rule requires financial institutions to separate their investment banking and hedge fund operations from their consumer lending arms.
O’Brien also highlighted a bipartisan bill introduced by Merkley and six other senators that, although it did not become law, did result in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative filing a report listing more than 200 undisclosed subsidies from the Chinese government.
Merkley’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act was not itself signed into law, but it was adopted in the Water Resources Development Act of 2013. Merkley touted its passage on his Senate website.
O’Brien also included a long list of bills that Merkley co-sponsored that became law and amendments he attached to broader legislation. For example, Merkley was able to obtain funding for Oregon’s Klamath Basin into a must-pass bill that funded a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.
An amendment introduced by Merkley was included in the bill that become the Jumpstart our Business Startups Act that was signed into law in April 2012.
O’Brien included 14 other bills and amendments Merkley helped sponsor that eventually became law.
When asked where it obtained the information about Merkley’s low success rate in legislating, Freedom Partners spokesman Bill Riggs directed the Examiner to the senator’s GovTrack.us page, which doesn't include amendments in its listings. (Note: Using this same website for Sen. Jim DeMint finds that he introduced only one bill that ever became law — the naming of a post office, which he introduced when he was a member of the House of Representatives.)
Another congressional tracking site, OpenCongress.org, does not credit Merkley with introducing any bills that became law.
Asked about these discrepancies, O’Brien said, “The truth is [Merkley] has authored numerous pieces of legislation that became law and he has a strong record of legislative accomplishments on issues that are important to Oregonians and middle-class families.”
Whether one agrees with the legislation Merkley helped pass, it's hard to argue that he was an ineffective senator.