Right-wing media's latest baseless vote-buying conspiracy: Dem reps traded health votes for water allocation

In their latest baseless claim that the Obama administration is "[b]uying votes" for its health care bill, right-wing media figures have alleged, citing no evidence, that a Department of the Interior announcement that California's Central Valley will receive greater water allocations was a “bribe” for two congressmen from the region. In fact, the allocation was reportedly increased because El Nino winter rains have “helped replenish the state's biggest reservoir.”

Right-wing media baselessly allege Obama admin “bribed” Dem reps with water allocation

Wall Street Journal calls water allocations “the price for Democrats Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa.” In a March 19 editorial, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on Tuesday that central California would get extra public water allocations.” The editorial claimed that the increased water allocations were “apparently the price for Democrats Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa to vote something other than their consciences” on health care reform.

Investor's Business Daily: “Buying Votes with Water.” In a March 18 editorial headlined “Buying votes with water,” Investor's Business Daily (IBD) said it was “a tad too coincidental” that the allocations were made “in the middle of a contentious health care debate marked by Cornhusker Kickbacks and Louisiana Purchases.” The editorial board claimed “Interior's announcement gives Costa and Cardoza something to assuage the wrath of angry constituents just in time for any vote. They chose what was behind door number one.”

National Review Online: “Interior Dept. Moves Up Water Allocation for Two 'Undecideds' on Health Care.” In a March 18 National Review blog post, Stephen Spruiell linked to a National Republican Congressional Committee report asking if the allocation is “another backroom deal” and then claimed it “certainly points to some shady timing.” The post acknowledged that both Costa and Cardoza “both voted yes on the House bill in November” but speculated that the allocation “might have been the kind of deal that was promised last year, but held hostage until the House closed in on a final vote, or maybe Cardoza and Costa threatened to defect, prompting the Department of the Interior to make an early announcement.”

Beck: Democrats are “so far past the line of evil,” they are “using water as a weapon” to get health care votes. On the March 19 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, Beck claimed both Cardoza and Costa “flipped their vote,” and then called the water allocation increase “using water as a weapon” and “one of the most hair-raising, terrifying pieces of information I've ever seen.” Beck claimed “there's a difference between the regular kind of fraud, I mean, we're used to that, we're now talking about -- we're now talking about using water, water, life-saving water to grow food, as a weapon. That's so far past the line of evil, I mean I don't even recognize a government that does that.”

Hannity: “I'm guessing” the health care vote and water allocation announcement “are closely linked.” On the the March 17 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity linked the water allocation to Costa and Cardoza's health care votes. Hannity claimed “the Department of the Interior announced that yesterday, that they were increasing the water supply to California's Central Valley, which is experiencing a severe drought...simultaneously, two previously undecided California Democrats Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa reportedly switched their votes from no to yes. So, I'm guessing that those events are closely linked.” Hannity aired the following on-screen graphic during this segment:

Right-wing allegations of bribery ignore reporting that the allocation increase is due to more winter rain

Secretary Salazar: “Winter rains have helped replenish the state's biggest reservoir.” In a March 17 article, the Wall Street Journal noted that California's Central Valley had been experiencing severe drought, and that, according to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “The increase is made possible in part because winter rains have helped replenish the state's biggest reservoir, Lake Shasta, which now stands at 81% of capacity, compared with 55% a year ago.” Secretary Salazar also “said he moved up the announcement by a week or so 'because people on the ground and farming need to have certainty.'” The Journal reported that Salazar's announcement “further eas[ed] drought concerns in a state where El Niño rains have raised the mountain snowpack after three severely dry years.”

AP: “Storms mean CA farmers, cities will get more water.” In a March 17 article, the Associated Press wrote that “A series of drenching storms have replenished many of California's reservoirs, freeing up more water for parched farms and cities throughout the state, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday.”

Right-wing media ignores statements by both Representatives denying allegations of bribery

Cardoza: “Not satisfied with the water allocation” and “has not yet taken a position on the health reform bill.” Cardoza released a statement, making clear that he did not approve of the water allocation because it was “not enough,” and stating he has not taken a position on health care reform. From Cardoza's news release:

“Congressman Cardoza has been working on the water crisis for as long as there has been a water crisis.

The allegation that he has somehow traded a vote on health care reform for more water is absolutely false and nothing more than an election-year smear tactic.

As he has said, Congressman Cardoza is awaiting the release of the final language of the health care bill and will make a decision after he reads it. He is on record as stating that the water allocation announced earlier this month is not enough for our Valley farmers.

Given that he is not satisfied with the water allocation and he has not yet taken a position on the health care reform bill, this accusation has no basis in facts and in fact makes absolutely no sense at all!”

Costa: Allegations of a deal are “laughable, and certainly false.” When asked in an interview with Fresno radio station KMJ if he would vote yes on health care even if it was the only way to secure water for his district, Rep. Costa said, “No, I think the suggestion that I made some sort of deal with the White House is laughable, and certainly completely false. You know, Ray that I have been working on water issues for the people of our valley for 30 years.”

Allegation latest in long line of baseless, conspiratorial claims

The right-wing media's claim that the water allocation announcement was a “bribe” for Costa and Cardoza follows numerous prior allegations that the Obama administration was "[b]uying votes" on health care reform, which similarly lacked evidence. Examples include: Dick Morris' baseless conspiracy theory that Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) is facing an ethics investigation because he voted against health care reform; the completely baseless accusation by The Weekly Standard's John McCormack that President Obama is buying Rep. Jim Matheson's (D-UT) vote on health care reform by appointing his brother, Scott Matheson, to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which was recently conclusively debunked by a former Bush-appointed judge; and Weekly Standard writer Michael Goldfarb's bizarre, ever-shifting claim that the White House was “threatening to close” Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base “to extort” Sen. Ben Nelson's vote.