IA-03: NRCC tv ad attacks Staci Appel on spending votes (updated)

Yesterday the National Republican Congressional Committee launched its first television commercial in Iowa this year. After the jump I’ve posted the video and transcript of the 30-second spot attacking Democratic candidate Staci Appel over spending votes she cast in the Iowa Senate. Bleeding Heartland provided background here on one of the points, which was a staple of Iowa Republican campaign rhetoric in 2010. Short version: money was never spent on those “decorative flowerpots,” because Governor Chet Culver line-item vetoed the allocation. But in any case, they were not intended purely for decoration around the State Capitol grounds. Rather, they were similar to heavy planters commonly seen around federal government buildings, as much a security measure as a decorative one.

I’ve also enclosed below background on the historic musical instrument for which Appel and other state lawmakers allocated restoration funds. UPDATE: It turns out that GOP candidate David Young’s boss, Senator Chuck Grassley, went to bat for federal funding to restore the same organ. Scroll down for details.

NRCC ad Off Key, launched September 4:

My transcript:

Female voice-over: When your family makes its budget, what are your priorities? [footage of a young man and woman sitting at a table, looking stressed out considering bills and a family budget. Words on screen: What are your priorities?]

The mortgage? Groceries? [graphic draws dotted lines from the young couple’s budget to images of a house and bags of groceries]

When Staci Appel voted to spend your tax dollars, she had different ideas. [footage of Appel speaking into hand-held microphone appears toward left of screen. Words on screen “When Staci Appel voted to spend your tax dollars, she had different ideas.”]

On the eve of the Great Recession, Appel voted to spend $120,000 dollars on decorative flowerpots at the State Capitol. [Viewer sees image of State Capitol building, then animation of some flowers growing out of terra cotta pots. Words on screen: Staci Appel: Voted to spend $120,000 dollars on decorative flowerpots HF 911, Iowa Senate Journal, 4/28/07]

And Appel voted to spend $80,000 to repair an organ. [Image of Appel again toward left of screen, next to words Staci Appel: voted to spend $80,000 to repair…. then view shifts to hands playing on an organ keyboard, as listener hears organ music in the background. Source given is HF 911, Iowa Senate Journal, 4/28/07]

Staci Appel’s spending priorities? Uh, they’re a little off key. [Photo of Staci Appel next to words “Staci Appel’s Spending Priorities” shifts to footage of Appel shrugging her shoulders next to words “Off-Key”]

The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Again, the appropriation for the flowerpots was never spent, and it wasn’t supposed to just pay for attractive houseplants, as illustrated in this ad. The appropriation was for significant landscaping on the Capitol grounds, with heavy, fixed planters.

I wasn’t familiar with the organ repair appropriation, but fortunately, the Iowa legislature’s website includes archived versions of legislation from previous sessions. As you can read in House File 911 from 2007, the $80,000 appropriation was for “repairs to the historic Kimball organ located in Clermont, Iowa” (Fayette County). That’s up in the northeast part of the state, far from the third Congressional district. Here’s a picture of the “Historic Union Sunday School Kimball Organ” . It was originally ordered by a 19th century Iowa governor.

The Union Sunday School was originally built as a Presbyterian Church in 1858. In the 1870s it became non-denominational and renamed the Union Sunday School. In 1896, Gov. and Mrs. Wm. Larrabee ordered a magnificent organ from the Kimball Company in Chicago for the Union Sunday School. Now completely restored and completely operational, it remains a showpiece of the town. The pressed-tin ceiling is original to the building. The drop lights were added after electricity was installed in 1910.Walls and windows are very plain, typical of a New England church. The divided sanctuary was used to separate the male and the female congregation. The building is now the property of the Iowa State Historical Society and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It is currently used for organ recitals and Christmas Vesper Services. See our calendar of events for scheduled organ recitals and Vesper Services.

The decorative pipes are original in color and size.

The walnut case of the Kimball Pipe Organ measures 20 feet long, 11 feet deep and 7 1/2 feet high. The pipes extend up to make a height of more than 16 feet. Encased in a massive walnut cabinet the organ consists of two keyboards with 61 notes each and a flat pedal board of 30 notes and 27 sets of pipes. The instrument had to be hand-pumped until 1910, when an electri blower was installed. The organ can still be operated manually. The organ action is tubular pneumatic. Far Right: Close up of a free-standing altar. Before the organ came, the choir was in the space where the altar is now. The choir loft was then moved to the back of the church.

Organ enthusiasts will note that the pedals are not curved as they are in today’s modern organs, thus making the playing of this organ difficult due to the wide stretch.

Most people who see the NRCC’s ad would probably think $80,000 is too much to spend on a musical instrument, but if they knew the context, they might agree that this organ’s a piece of Iowa history well worth preserving.  

UPDATE: Oops! Senator Chuck Grassley also sought restoration funding for the historic organ in Clermont.

Brandon Lorenz, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says funding for both the organ in Clermont and the Statehouse flower pots was vetoed by Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat. In addition, Lorenz says U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ultimately helped get federal money for the organ while Young was Grassley’s chief of staff, so he finds it ironic that Republicans are criticizing Appel.

December 11, 2007 press release from Grassley’s official website:

Senator Chuck Grassley today said the Department of the Interior, National Park Services has awarded a $50,000 grant to the State Historical Society of Iowa. The funds are through the Save America’s Treasures grant program and will help preserve an 1896 Kimball Pipe Organ in Clermont

           The Kimball Pipe Organ, located in the 1858 Union Sunday School, is the oldest and largest of its kind. The organ and the Union Sunday School were placed on the National Historic Register in 1974.

           Grassley wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior on behalf of the Organ Preservation Ad Hoc Committee of the Clermont Historical Preservation Commission, a group representing the organ.

When the restored organ was rededicated in Clermont in 2010, a statement from the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs thanked Grassley for his assistance with funding the project. Republican IA-03 candidate David Young was Grassley’s chief of staff at the time.

SECOND UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party released this statement on Friday afternoon.

Oops, NRCC Attack Ad Misfires, Attacks Chuck Grassley

Des Moines – On Tuesday, the National Republican Campaign Committee released an attack ad intended for 3rd Congressional District candidate, Staci Appel (D-Ackworth) but instead attacked U.S. Senator Charles Grassley’s involvement in securing funding for the restoration of the historic Kimball pipe organ in Clermont while David Young served as his Chief of Staff in Washington.

“Iowans are not interested in DC double speak by David’s Young’s insider buddies who are trying to tarnish Staci Appel’s vote to restore an Iowa landmark when a key grant for the restoration was made possible by the support of Senator Grassley- and presumably his Chief of Staff, David Young,” said IDP spokesperson Christina Freundlich. “The NRCC is clearly worried about Young’s failure to gain traction with voters, when they are reaching for attacks that ultimately boomerang into a critique of Senator Grassley’s work for Iowans.”

Funding for the restoration was supported by Senator Grassley and the organ was restored in 2010.  In a press release announcing the restoration, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said, “We are grateful to the Save America’s Treasures program and Senator Charles Grassley and State Representative Andrew Wenthe for their assistance in funding the restoration of this historic organ.”

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