In a Senate contest already marked by allegations of dishonesty, video footage surfaced in Connecticut this week in which surging GOP hopeful Linda McMahon incorrectly described her connection to Congressional lobbyists.
At a meeting of tea party enthusiasts held in Waterbury last April, McMahon was asked about her company's support of "special interests" in Washington. The exchange was captured on video:
"First of all, I'd like to ask you to clarify something for me. I'm not sure about what money has been paid for special interests. Could you clarify that for me?" asked McMahon, co-founder and until last year the chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment.
The audience member responded: "Haven't you made over $1 million in contributions and lobbying efforts to the Congress? Haven't you contributed to various Republican and Democratic campaigns to get your point of view supported?"
McMahon then acknowledged having made campaign contributions to both parties. But "in terms of lobbying dollars in Washington, I have not spent lobbying dollars in Washington," she said. "I have worked with Congress on Smackdown Your Vote and other kinds of projects and programs there."
But lobbying disclosure records show that's not true.
Between 2001 and 2008, McMahon's company paid at least $680,000 to lobby Congress and federal agencies over such issues as the defense authorization bills of 2002 and 2003, which included taxpayer-funded advertising programs during wrestling programs. McMahon's company also sought lobbying help during a Congressional steroids investigation.
Democrats pounced on the statement as evidence that McMahon, who has never held public office and is running as an outsider, will say anything to harness the support and energy of the tea party movement.
The McMahon campaign dismissed the issue as a simple matter of imprecise language and defended the lobbying payments.
"Linda shares the position of the vast majority of Americans who are concerned about the undue influence of special interests in Washington on legislation, and that is the backdrop against which she answered the question, and she probably could have been more precise in explaining that," McMahon spokesman Ed Patru said.
While Patru did not comment on the bulk of the WWE's lobbying expenses, he praised a WWE effort to boost voter registration in the military, known as "Smackdown Your Vote."
"WWE obviously has a commitment to the troops, particularly when those troops are in combat, and it believes encouraging young men and women to vote is important," Patru said. "But it's important to note that WWE never sought to influence any particular piece of pending legislation, and I think that is the concern that 99.99 percent of Americans have with the way Washington works. The public generally believes it's a good thing when companies go out of their way to make positive contributions to democracy and make an effort to boost military morale in times of war."
But lobbying disclosures, which have been previously reported, show that McMahon's company did seek to influence legislation.
Specifically, the WWE in 2001 paid the lobbying firm APCO to help shape legislation introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) that would have bolstered the federal government's power to regulate the marketing of adult-rated materials to minors and would have launched a widespread study of the entertainment industry's marketing practices.
In 2007 and 2008, the WWE paid $340,000 to Washington lobbying firm K&L Gates to help the WWE navigate a Congressional investigation of steroid use in sports.
McMahon's Democratic opponent, Richard Blumenthal, blasted his opponent for the misstatement.
"Linda McMahon clearly covered up her extensive use of lobbyists when she spoke to the tea party," Blumenthal campaign manager Mindy Myers said. "The truth is Linda McMahon has spent a million dollars paying lobbyists to kill legislation that would have banned marketing sex and violence to kids and to help her with a Congressional investigation of steroid abuse in her business."
Blumenthal came under fire earlier in the cycle for misstating his war record. McMahon's website on Thursday prominently criticized her opponent for his error, recently featured on an Australian program dubbed, "Heroes, Frauds and Imposters."
"In case you missed it: Raging Richard Blumenthal's Fabricated War Claims Heard Around the World Tonight," the headline on McMahon's site says.
The dispute over the latest video erupted the same day that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee disclosed plans to buy television time to help defend the Connecticut seat, which was largely considered safely in Democratic hands until recently. It's now considered a tossup.