WASHINGTON - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills on Tuesday accused a prominent Twin Cities car dealer of appearing in a campaign ad for incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar as payback for the work Bills said Klobuchar did to save the dealership.
When General Motors Corp. was closing dealerships across the country in 2009 as part of its bankruptcy restructuring, Paul Walser was afraid that his Bloomington-based Buick GMC would be on the chopping block. When it was spared, Walser credited Klobuchar's tenacity, saying she demanded answers from GM executives on why they wanted to shut down some of the most profitable dealerships in Minnesota.
On Tuesday, Bills' campaign manager, Mike Osskopp, called it "crony capitalism ... the distribution of economic benefits to favored, politically connected businesses. That is what happened here. Klobuchar bestowed a benefit to Walser, and the favor is being returned." In the news release, Osskopp said, "Big guys win, little guys lose in crony capitalism. That is Amy Klobuchar's vision."
Walser called the accusation "absolutely preposterous" and said Bills "is obviously reaching because he's behind in the polls."
He said that Klobuchar's campaign staff did approach him about the ad but that it was not payback. "I guess that is the political landscape we find ourselves in," Walser said. "This lack of civility that exists out there right now is killing us," he said. "But Klobuchar is about solving problems. That's why I like her."
Walser, a longtime Republican, said he can't support Bills because he wants "level-headed leadership."
In the ad, Klobuchar says that she helped save 28 dealerships and 1,700 jobs.
"Senator Klobuchar is proud of the work she has done to make sure these businesses got a fair shake instead of being shut down without cause," said campaign spokesman Linden Zakula, responding to Bills' charges.
Osskopp did not identify any dealerships that Klobuchar declined to support.
According to Kobuchar's campaign, Walser donated $4,800 to the senator in 2010 and $200 in 2011. In the past, Walser has given heavily to a variety of Republican candidates in Minnesota.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau. Twitter: @CMitchellStrib