WASHINGTON – National Republicans have spent more than $4 million on ads portraying Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson as a veteran House member who has taken full advantage of the perks of office, including getting federal reimbursements for flying his private plane around, leasing a couple of cars and taking junkets.
On Tuesday state DFL leaders fought back, pointing out that Peterson’s Republican challenger, state Sen. Torrey Westrom, has also availed himself of perks and reimbursements while serving in the Legislature. Records for 2013 show that Westrom more than doubled his annual salary in per diems, mileage, housing and travel expenses, and filed the seventh-highest amount in expenses in the Senate last year.
“If Sen. Westrom is going to remain silent while out-of-state groups smear Rep. Peterson, it’s time to hold him accountable for his record of profiting from the taxpayers,” said DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin, in a statement.
From 2002 to 2014, Westrom received $98,477 in per diem payments, according to state House and Senate records compiled by Democrats. During that period he also collected $54,000 in district travel expenses, $119,000 for lodging and $47,000 for mileage. That adds up to more than $318,000 during his time in office, or an average of $26,500 per year. State senators are paid a little over $31,000 per year in salary.
The National Republican Congressional Committee said that from 2005 to 2013, Peterson, who is running for his 13th term, spent $73,976 to lease two vehicles. In that same time period, Peterson was reimbursed $139,481 in private auto mileage and gasoline, including $21,535 in reimbursements for his plane.
Polls have been up and down in this race, but most show Westrom and Peterson, who are running in the Seventh Congressional District, within a few points of each other. Fifty percent of voters surveyed by KSTP Oct. 3-Oct. 6 said they supported Peterson, 41 percent said they supported Westrom, and 10 percent were still undecided. A GOP poll out last week put Westrom ahead 44-43, with 13 percent still undecided.
“This is more evidence that Democrats are worried about keeping 12-term incumbent Collin Peterson’s seat,” said Caitlin Carroll, Westrom spokeswoman, in an e-mailed statement. “The facts are Congressman Peterson no longer represents western Minnesota’s values and has lost touch with this district.”
Peterson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.