Politifact Rates Begich Ad “Pants on Fire”

The fallout continues after U.S. Sen. Mark Begich aired a campaign ad blaming his opponent for a sentencing error that freed a sex offender now charged in a 2013 double homicide. The independent website Politifact gave the ad a rating of “Pants on Fire” – its lowest score.

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The website, sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times, sided with Republican Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general. Sullivan says the mistake leading to the sex offender’s short sentence occurred before he was appointed to be the state’s top lawyer.

The Begich campaign pulled the ad after the victims’ family complained, and Sullivan also took down his rebuttal ad.

A Begich spokesman alleged Sullivan is responsible because a prosecutor working under him signed a plea deal in 2010 for an inappropriately short sentence.

A later Department of Law review of the case said the state lawyers, the judge and the Corrections Department all failed to see the suspect had a prior felony from 2007, which would have increased the presumptive sentence in 2010 to at least eight years. Instead, the man was freed and, in 2013, accused of killing an elderly couple in Anchorage and sexually assaulting a toddler.

Politifact called it highly unlikely that Sullivan was personally involved in the plea agreement. It also concluded he was not responsible because the sentence was based on an inaccurate state record created before Sullivan became attorney general.

Though the ad is no longer on air, national pundits and Republican political operatives continue to draw attention to it, calling it a blunder that could damage Begich’s re-election bid.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz