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Congressional candidates try to reinvent their opponents

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If television commercials and direct mailers are to be believed, the north country’s congressional race is a contest between Gordon Gekko, R-Cayman Islands, and the third member of the Barack Obama-Nancy Pelosi Democratic troika.

But those spots often resort to what Mark Twain might call “stretchers” — factual inaccuracies, misleading claims or outright falsehoods. Such claims have abounded in the race between Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny.

For example, fliers from the state Democratic Party claim that Mr. Doheny supports keeping tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

That is unequivocally false.

Rich Horner, the state Democratic Party’s executive director, did not respond to messages requesting comment. But a footnote on the mailer shows that the claim is based on the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. Mr. Doheny is one of many Republicans who has pledged not to support increases to the marginal tax rate for the income tax. But signers can support ending tax breaks. Here’s how: When a tax break ends, the government will ostensibly take in more money. But instead of using that extra money that’s a result of the tax break closure for more spending, the candidate has to support using the added revenue to drive down tax rates.

And that’s exactly Mr. Doheny’s position. Specifically, Mr. Doheny said he supports eliminating a company’s ability to deduct from its taxes the cost of moving people or machinery overseas, and reducing the corporate tax rate.

“That’s how we’re going to make America competitive again,” Mr. Doheny said.

So without violating the pledge, Mr. Doheny supports eliminating tax loopholes for companies that ship their jobs overseas, just like his opponent, Mr. Owens.

The fliers also question Mr. Doheny’s business dealings. The two claims: He bought an island, and he worked for a tax-dodging finance firm, Fintech.

Each of the claims takes a shred of fact and distorts it.

In one case, the facts are literally distorted, or at least the image is. “He bought this island and ran for Congress,” the flier claims above a photograph of a bird shaded a tropical pink.

The animal appears to be a great blue heron, a north country native, that has been digitally altered. The distortion leaves readers with the impression that Mr. Doheny bought a slice of tropical heaven. But the island actually is part of the Thousand Islands, a region that gets quite cold in the winter.

“I own a place in Goose Bay, on the St. Lawrence River, in my hometown of Alexandria Bay,” Mr. Doheny said. “This is part of my opponent’s tactics, to distort the truth, to lie and to hide his own record.”

The claim that Fintech was based in the Caymans, and therefore could avoid United States corporate taxes, requires some context, too, Mr. Doheny said. A legal entity that was part of Fintech was based in the Caymans. But he wasn’t involved in the decision to base it there; he also didn’t benefit from it, he said, because he didn’t have an ownership stake in the company. And he paid at or near 35 percent effective tax rate on his federal income taxes in each of the past five years, he has said.

He was based in New York state, including working out of an office on Washington Street in Watertown.

But Robert S. McIntyre, of the Citizens for Tax Justice, said he may have benefitted.

“If the company was avoiding taxes and regulations, they might have been able to pay him more,” Mr. McIntyre said. “If he wasn’t running the company — at some point, you might not want to work for a company that’s based in the Cayman Islands.”

But Mr. Doheny argued that it’s a dicey proposition to criticize companies that are based overseas at a time when officials — like Mr. Owens — are trying to get overseas companies to set up shop here.

The criticism of companies that are based overseas, and the people who work for them, “is flat-out wrong, and it would hurt our district,” Mr. Doheny said, citing Bombardier, a Canadian company that is expanding in Plattsburgh, as an example.

Mr. Owens said he saw a difference between basing a company in the Cayman Islands and recruiting companies from Canada.

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