BEMIDJI - U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson on Monday used a captive audience of Democrats at the Beltrami County DFL’s fundraising banquet to rail against Republican attack ads.

In his remarks to the crowd of DFL supporters at the Bemidji Eagles Club, Peterson took the chance to respond to a Republican ad that asserts he’s lost touch with his Minnesota roots.  

The TV spot, paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, takes Peterson to task for charging expenses on two leased cars and having high gas and mileage costs that are “more than double any other Minnesota congressman.”  

On Monday, Peterson called the ad “ridiculous,” adding he has “one of the biggest (congressional) districts in the country.”

“This is the first time that I’ve ever been criticized for doing my job,” Peterson said. “These two leased cars, I don’t drive, they’re not for me. They’re for my staff out of Detroit Lakes and out of Willmar. They put on thousands and thousands of miles, and it’s cheaper to lease a car and pay the gas than it is to pay mileage.”

Peterson acknowledged he gets reimbursed mileage for travel in his airplane, but said it’s same the rate any federal employee is reimbursed.

The anti-Peterson ad was deemed as factually accurate by Minnesota Public Radio News’ Poligraph fact-checking series, but MPR also noted the ad “needs some context: unlike most other members of the Minnesota delegation, Peterson has a lot of ground to cover to visit constituents.”

In an interview before he spoke to the crowd, Peterson offered a defense to criticism from his opponent, Torrey Westrom. While in Bemidji for a similar fundraising dinner by the Beltrami GOP on Thursday, Westrom tied Democrats, including Peterson, to a pending rule by the Environmental Protection Agency that may expand the definition of waters in the EPA’s jurisdiction. Westrom and other Republicans have cited the potential rule change as an example of government overreach.   

However, Peterson said he’s against the proposed rule, too.

“I’m on two bills to get rid of it,” Peterson said. “I sent a letter over to… the EPA telling them to withdraw the rule, and I voted to get rid of it just the other day.”

Although designed with good intentions, the possible rule will actually muddy the waters when it comes to conservation, Peterson said.

“It’s going to bring more confusion to the whole issue of wetlands than it’s going to bring clarity,” Peterson said. “The EPA, I think their heart is in the right place, but they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Republicans have also hammered Democrats for supporting Obamacare. Peterson said he did not vote for the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, but he opposes its repeal.

Peterson said he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the recent Hobby Lobby case that employers can deny health coverage of birth control to their employees if it conflicts with employers’ religious beliefs.  

While Thursday’s GOP dinner featured several federal and state candidates, Peterson was the only featured federal speaker Monday. The DFL fundraiser focused more on local speakers, including candidates Rep. John Persell of Bemidji and Rep. Roger Erickson of Baudette, as well as Red Lake Nation Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.