Idaho rep blames aide for biography inaccuracies
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A newly minted Idaho lawmaker has changed his Internet biography after being questioned about its accuracy.
Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, was elected Nov. 6 in southwestern Idaho's District 15 following a campaign where his Facebook site listed him as a University of Southern California student in 1996 and a petroleum engineer. Patterson never attended USC and isn't an engineer, though he once worked in Wyoming's oil fields.
The 60-year-old Republican says these details were posted without his knowledge by a former campaign staffer. Patterson said he rarely uses the Internet and wasn't aware of the mistakes until The Associated Press approached him.
"I don't do Facebook," said Patterson, who added that he had the errors removed within hours of learning of them. "Had I known that was there, I would have deleted it."
In at least one instance, his biography left an inaccurate impression with election observers before he beat Democrat Steve Berch on Election Day.
Project Vote Smart, a Montana-based nonpartisan research organization that distributes candidate information to voters via the Internet, relied on Patterson's website to list him as having a 1996 bachelor's degree from USC, a well-known, 132-year-old private university in Los Angeles.
Patterson, however, said he began but never completed a business course by mail through an obscure correspondence school called Southern California University for Professional Studies. That school changed its name to California Southern University in 2007 and is currently applying for accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Efforts by the AP to contact the school Monday were not immediately successful.
"We don't have the resources to fact-check every piece of information we get from candidates," said Project Vote Smart spokeswoman Rachel Hartman, whose group has since deleted his USC affiliation. "There are tens of thousands of candidates."
Patterson said a former campaign aide, GOP political operative Lucas Baumbach, set up his Facebook account and mixed up the initials of "USC" and "SCU," as well as awarding him the title of petroleum engineer, something the U.S. Department of Labor said requires a bachelor's degree.
Patterson said he once took a class in oil-drilling through a Texas-based community college — also by correspondence — while working for a Denver-based drilling company in the 1980s. "It wasn't a graduating type of thing. You went through and took courses, you filled out questions and sent the book back," he said.
Contacted last week, Baumbach said a misunderstanding is possible.
No longer a campaign employee, he did suggest Patterson should have proofread more diligently.
"You can blame the guy setting up your website," Baumbach said. "Or you can blame yourself for not reading it."
Patterson, who moved to Idaho from southern California a decade ago, sticks to claims he was a professional cyclist.
He owns Rock 'N' Roll Lubricants, which makes lubricants for bicycles, motorcycles and firearms, and on his www.pattersonforidaho.com campaign website indicates he "got the idea for his business, when he was a professional road-racing cyclist."
According to USA Cycling, however, he was licensed in its second-lowest amateur road division — Category 4 — between 1993 and 1998.
The difference is a technicality, said Patterson.
While he acknowledges he never held a professional racing license, Patterson maintains he was paid $1,000 per month plus expenses in 1994 and 1995 by another bike lubricant company, White Lightning, to market its product. His job included racing in amateur master-division events — against riders who, like him, were over 40 years old — to gain credibility and court potential customers.
"I was paid thousands of dollars to race races and promote products," Patterson said, who brought photos from his racing days to an interview with the AP. "I never said I was a professional licensed cyclist. But I was paid to race."
USA Cycling spokesman Bill Kellick said that likely falls short of his organization's description of what constitutes a professional.
"Our current definition requires a USPRO license, which requires a contract with a registered professional team," Kellick said.
Efforts to reach Paul D. Maples, White Lightning's inventor and the man Patterson said funded his racing, were not successful.
House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude said questions that emerge surrounding a politician's Internet biography highlight the importance of monitoring online profiles, not only for accuracy, but also for whether their descriptions of life experiences fits how members of the public would generally view them.
"This might be a prime example of how you word something," Vander Woude said. "The story is, be cautious."