Ad attacks Curt Clawson for “ignoring” calls prior to employee death

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In the latest attack ad against GOP candidate Curt Clawson, his company allegedly “ignored safety hazards” that caused an explosion resulting in the death of an employee, suggesting he knew of the problem and did nothing about it.

That is the claim of a new ad – called “He Didn’t Call Back” — paid for by the political action committee called the Liberty and Leadership Fund, coming from the same Tallahassee address as other PACs associated with State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Benacquisto faces Clawson in the April 22 GOP primary for Florida’s 19th Congressional District, vacated by disgraced U.S. Rep. Trey Radel.

The ad continues by saying Clawson “ignored” calls from the employee’s family “like he had nothing to do with it.” Clawson was CEO of automobile-wheel manufacturer Hayes Lemmerz at the time.  

Although the ad was not from a specific candidate, Federal Election Commission records show the Liberty and Leadership Fund, founded in January 2014, has a mailing address of 115 E. Park Ave, Suite 1 in Tallahassee. The PACs treasurer is William S. Jones, a figure involved with many conservative groups, many with ties to the Florida Senate.

For example, another electioneering communication organization headed by Jones, Liberty Foundation of Florida, is a regular cash recipient from the Florida Conservative Majority Committee — a group spearheaded by Republican Senate President Don Gaetz, Sens. Andy Gardner and Joe Negron.

Benacquisto currently serves as GOP Senate Majority Leader.

Clawson’s campaign responded by calling the ad “cheap political gain” that uses “liberal, Obama-style tactics” to punish his success.

Hayes Lemmerz recruited Clawson to save the failing company that was $2.2 billion in debt and with a poor safety record, according to Clawson spokesperson David James. The candidate was able to turn things around, making safety performance a “key measure for all employee bonuses.”

“How low must Benacquisto go,” James said in a statement. “The loss of life that occurred while Curt was trying to save a company from ruin haunts him, as it would anyone, to this day.” 

Clawson immediately came back with a 30-second digital ad of their own, reinforcing the assertion that Hayes Lemmerz brought in the future-GOP candidate to save the struggling company.

“Safety” counters the claims by Clawson “did the right thing” by meeting the family when the accident happened, prayed for the loss, and continued to push for tougher safety standards. As CEO, the ad continues, Clawson’s actions reduced injuries by 90 percent.

Here is the original ad:

And Clawson’s response ad:

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.