FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:37:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 South Carolina Ad ‘Hides’ Key Fact http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/south-carolina-ad-hides-key-fact/ Tue, 26 Aug 2014 21:35:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87861 An ad from the Democratic challenger in the South Carolina governor’s race says that when hackers stole 3.6 million Social Security numbers from state computers, Gov. Nikki Haley “hid it from us for over two weeks” — but the ad fails to mention that Haley’s silence was at the direction of state and federal investigators.

“She did what we asked her to do,” State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel told FactCheck.org.

Haley’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, has repeatedly criticized Haley for her handling of a security breach at the Department of Revenue that led to a hacker obtaining the personal data of millions of South Carolina taxpayers. Haley initially said the state had done nothing wrong, though she later acknowledged that the state could have done more to protect sensitive data.

The ad takes particular issue with Haley failing to notify state residents about the security breach for just over two weeks.

According to the ad’s narrator, “When our credit card company saw suspicious activity on our card, they called us right away. We can’t say the same for Nikki Haley. When hackers stole the Social Security numbers of 3.6 million South Carolinians, Haley hid it from us for over two weeks. The biggest security breach of any state agency in history. Putting our personal information at risk. And not even a warning from Haley for weeks. When it comes to protecting us, we just can’t trust Nikki Haley.”

The Sheheen ad is airing statewide and is part of a six-figure media buy, the Sheheen campaign told South Carolina newspaper The State. Polls show a tight race between Sheheen and Haley, with three other candidates, independent Tom Ervin, Libertarian Steve French and United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves, trailing much further behind. The election is on Nov. 4.

A Historic Cyberattack

On Oct. 26, 2012, Haley’s office announced that someone had hacked into the state Department of Revenue’s computer system and had stolen 3.6 million Social Security numbers and nearly 400,000 credit and debit card numbers. Investigators later said hackers gained access to information from electronically filed tax returns after a state employee opened an email that downloaded malware onto the computer.

At the time, The State reported that it took state officials 10 days to close the hacker’s access, and that the public was informed six days after that. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said that affected taxpayers were not notified sooner to allow law enforcement time to gather evidence and reach “certain benchmarks in their investigation.”

Keel has maintained that position. He told FactCheck.org that Haley was specifically instructed by him and federal law enforcement officials not to publicly disclose the cyberattack to give investigators time to make some headway.

“Both myself and the special agent in charge at the Secret Service, we asked that [Haley] not go public until we reached certain benchmarks in our investigation,” Keel told FactCheck.org in a phone interview. “She did what we asked her to do.”

That key detail is left out of Sheheen’s attack ad.

Keel said he could not be more specific about what the investigative benchmarks were, since the investigation is still ongoing. No arrests have been made, but some media outlets have reported that it is believed the scheme originated in Russia.

“Once this gets completed, everyone will understand why we did what we did,” Keel said.

“We were doing what we felt was in the best interest of the citizens of our state,” Keel said, adding that the delay was deemed the “best [way] to protect our citizens.”

“I’d like to think that whoever was governor of our state and had all the facts would have done what [Haley] did,” Keel said. “When we accomplished what we set out to accomplish, we told her we’re ready to go public. It wasn’t like she wasn’t wanting to go public every day, but she listened to us.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did” had Haley made the breach public, he said.

The state offered a year of free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to those whose information was stolen, although there have been no reports yet of anyone losing money due to the hacking.

In her initial response to the cyberattack, Haley said there wasn’t anything the state government “could have done … to avoid it.” A month later, after the release of a report from a computer security firm hired to find out how the breach occurred, Haley acknowledged that “we should have done more than we did” to protect the data, including encryption of all data. Haley also announced that the director of the Department of Revenue, Jim Etter, would resign at the end of the year, after the two agreed, she said, that “we need a new set of eyes at the Department of Revenue.”

A portion of the report prepared by Mandiant, the cybersecurity firm hired in the wake of the hacking revelation, was made public, but a more detailed report prepared for the state’s constitutional officers still has not been released. Sheheen has called for the report to be fully released publicly, a move that both the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Secret Service oppose.

Sheheen has been critical of the Haley administration’s actions both before and after the cyberattack, and that’s certainly ripe for political debate. But the ad focuses on the 16-day delay in informing the public, and the delay was at the behest of law enforcement.

Haley campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said in an email to FactCheck.org that disregarding law enforcement’s request would have amounted to “obstruct[ing] a criminal investigation.”

Godfrey, Aug. 22: Even a politically desperate trial lawyer like Vince Sheheen should know better than to obstruct a criminal investigation. It’s shocking that Vince, as governor, would disregard the request of SLED and the Secret Service and compromise the effort to arrest the criminal hacker.

Kristin Sosanie, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Democratic Party, said in a phone interview with us that “law enforcement is always going to err on the side of wanting to keep things more private.” But Sheheen argues that the public’s right to know was more important in this case, she said. “It’s the job of the governor to weigh the public right to know and law enforcement’s tendency to want to keep things private as long as they can,” Sosanie said.

Ultimately, whether Haley should have disregarded law enforcement’s request is a matter of opinion. But that request is a critical piece of information for voters to know when weighing Haley’s decision to delay going public with the security breach.

– Robert Farley

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More Senior Scare in Arkansas http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/more-senior-scare-in-arkansas/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 19:57:33 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87811 A conservative group’s ad attacking Sen. Mark Pryor shows an image of a senior man while saying Pryor “suggested raising the retirement age” for Social Security. He did — but not for the gentleman pictured. Pryor’s suggestion pertained to those who are now teenagers.

The Arkansas Senate race has featured plenty of political messages aimed at scaring seniors. Back in February, Pryor ads made misleading claims about Medicare costs and benefits under a plan that his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, had supported. A few months later, the liberal Senate Majority PAC also ran ads attacking Cotton on Medicare. And now, the conservative Crossroads GPS is criticizing the Democratic senator with an ad that falsely implies he wanted to raise the Social Security retirement age for those who are already retired or close to it.

The ad begins with the image of an elderly woman, while the narrator says, “Arkansas seniors depend on Social Security and Medicare. It’s troubling that Senator Mark Pryor said we should overhaul Social Security and Medicare.”

The reference is to a Jan. 5, 2011, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story that said Pryor was vague on what exactly he supported doing to control spending on these programs. The “overhaul” word was used by the reporter, in the lead of the article: “Despite calling it ‘political dynamite,’ Arkansas’ senior senator Mark Pryor said Tuesday that the country’s deep deficits and sputtering economy require overhauling Social Security and Medicare.”

The newspaper reported that Pryor “avoided saying what concrete steps he favored to rein in entitlement spending. He repeatedly said he liked many of the recommendations released by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. That presidentially appointed panel has urged raising the retirement age and lowering cost-of-living increases for retirees.” The commission, which released its report in December 2010, also recommended gradually increasing the maximum amount of wages subject to Social Security payroll taxes, and gradually changing the benefit formula to be more progressive.

So, we have no specifics on what Pryor wanted to do to “overhaul” Social Security and Medicare. We’d note that many politicians from both parties have proposed ways to control the growth of spending on these programs, particularly Medicare, which has major financial challenges. Whether it’s “troubling” that Pryor wanted to do something about the spending growth is a matter of opinion.

The ad continues: “On Social Security, Pryor suggested raising the retirement age,” while an image of an older man is shown on screen. A video is then shown of Pryor saying, “say that they couldn’t get social security until they turn 68 or 69.”

Who are they? The ad doesn’t say, but the images leave the impression that Pryor proposed upping the retirement age now, affecting those who are very close to, or already in, retirement. It’s a technique we’ve seen in political ads many times, when the images on screen leave the false impression that a politician had made proposals that would impact those who are seniors today.

But Pryor was talking about raising the retirement age for people who are teenagers. Here’s the fuller quote from a June 6, 2011, interview with Hope, Arkansas’ KTSS-TV, with the relevant passage in bold.

Pryor, June 6, 2011: Yeah, Social Security is another thing that’s not in any of the budgets right now, but it is very, very fixable. And again if people get serious about this in Washington, we could fix Social Security next week, if we wanted to. It’s not that hard to do. Especially if we start right now, because Social Security is solvent until, you know, for about 25 years, so if you make small changes now you have 25 years those little changes to accumulate over time and really help. But you could pretty easily make Social Security solvent in perpetuity. Probably the biggest change would be is that you would take my kids’ generation, teenagers today, and life expectancy is longer et cetera, and probably say that they couldn’t get Social Security until they turn 68 or 69. If you just did that one change you would fix about 80% of it right there.

Seniors in high school may be affected by such a proposal, but the senior pictured in the ad clearly would not.

Finally, the ad says that the Affordable Care Act, which Pryor supported, will “cut Medicare Advantage benefits for our seniors.” Fair enough. While the ACA specifically says no guaranteed benefits under Medicare would be cut, the law does gradually reduce extra payments to Medicare Advantage plans to bring them in line with payments for traditional Medicare. MA plans, which receive higher payments on average than traditional Medicare, often offer extra benefits as a result, such as eyeglasses or gym memberships. We’ve long said those extras will likely go away as the extra payments do as well. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have MA plans, a share that has increased since the ACA was enacted.

It’s worth noting, however, that the ACA also added new benefits for seniors, such as free preventive care, including cancer screenings and flu shots, and increased prescription drug coverage for those who are in the “doughnut hole” gap in Part D coverage.

– Lori Robertson

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Father Doesn’t Always Know Best http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/father-doesnt-always-know-best/ Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:14:47 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87807 A super PAC formed by the father of Rep. Ted Yoho’s primary challenger claims Yoho is “first in line” at “feeding at the special interest trough,” but offers up two misleading examples:

  • The ad accuses Yoho of taking “a nearly $20,000 junket paid for by a special interest group.” But the ad doesn’t mention that the “junket” was a trip to Israel or that Yoho is a member of the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittees on the Middle East and terrorism.
  • It also says, “Yoho takes an Obamacare subsidy for himself.” The “subsidy,” as we have said before, is nothing new. The government, like most large employers, has long paid part of health care premiums for its employees, including members of Congress.

The ad is the work of Florida Conservatives United — a group formed in July by Robert Rush, who is the father of Yoho’s challenger, Jake Rush, in the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Robert Rush and his sister, Marian Rush, each donated $100,000 to the super PAC. As of Aug. 6, the PAC had no other donors. Marian Rush works at her brother’s law firm.

‘Junket’ … to Israel

Yoho won election to Florida’s 3rd Congressional District in 2012 with the support of tea party groups. He barely upset 12-term congressman Cliff Stearns in the Republican primary and then coasted to victory in the general election.

The last-minute attack ad from the Rush family PAC accuses Yoho of being a hypocrite. The ad — complete with snorting pigs, stacks of dollar bills and floating dollar signs — quotes him as saying during the 2012 campaign: “Career politicians are like pigs feeding at the trough.”

The ad goes on to say, “Now, he’s first in line at the trough, accepting a nearly $20,000 junket paid for by a special interest group.” A jet plane, stacks of dollar bills and a globe are shown to illustrate the excess.

But the ad leaves out key details, notably the location of the trip and the reason for it.

The trip was to Tel Aviv, Israel, and cost $19,186 for Yoho and his wife, according to Legistorm, a nonpartisan website that tracks congressional travel. It was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, an arm of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Yoho is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and sits on two subcommittees: Middle East and North Africa, and Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.

Legistorm describes the trip this way, based on travel documents that it compiled from public records: “Republican members of Congress educational trip including meetings with top Israeli officials, seminars on history and foreign policy, and tours of multiple strategic and historical sites, including Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.”

The Gaza Strip, of course, is now the site of a war between Israel and Hamas, and Yoho sits on a key House subcommittee that deals with trouble in the Middle East. During the visit, the 29-member congressional delegation met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Of course, these trips mix business and pleasure, and Yoho told the Gainesville paper that it was “awesome” to visit the historic and religious sites. But to suggest it was a pleasure “junket” with no educational or diplomatic value is misleading.

‘Obamacare Subsidy’ Yet Again

The ad also raps Yoho, an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, for being a hypocrite on Obamacare. It says, “Candidate Yoho opposed Obamacare, but while families suffer under Obamacare, Congressman Yoho takes an Obamacare subsidy for himself.” It shows a doctored image of Yoho wearing an “I like Obamacare” button.

But there is no “Obamacare subsidy.” Members of Congress get the same employer contribution from the federal government to buy health insurance on the exchange created by the ACA as they did when they were buying health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.

We have debunked this line of attack so many times that we will just repeat what we said only last week about this gross distortions of the facts:

FactCheck.org, Aug. 20: The Office of Personnel Management pays an average of 72 percent (but no more than 75 percent) of the private health insurance premiums for federal workers under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which until this year also covered members of Congress and their staffs.

But to avoid another bogus criticism — that the Democrats’ 2010 health care bill would somehow have “exempted” members of Congress — the health care law requires House and Senate members and employees to purchase their health insurance through the ACA’s new insurance exchanges, rather than through the FEHB. The Office of Personnel Management proposed to continue the same employer payments when congressional members and aides moved from the FEHB to the new exchanges. “The amount of the employer contribution toward their Exchange premiums is no more than would otherwise be made toward coverage under the FEHB Program,” OPM stated.

Some voters in the 3rd Congressional District may still view the trip to Israel as a “junket” or the employer-contribution for health care as an “Obamacare subsidy” even after learning the details that we lay out here. They are entitled to their opinions. But opinions should be based on facts, and the super PAC ad conveniently leaves them out of this ad.

– Eugene Kiely

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Measuring Merkley’s Record http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/measuring-merkleys-record/ Thu, 21 Aug 2014 15:06:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87750 An ad from a Koch-backed group labels Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley an ineffective leader because he “wrote only one bill that became law” in six years. This kind of claim is an attack ad staple, but it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the ways of Congress.

First-term senators, like Merkley, typically get their names on very few bills that stand a chance of becoming law, and even then, the bills usually are relatively minor.

By the ad’s measuring stick, virtually every senator who came into office at the same time as Merkley has been a slacker. Two senators have had two sponsored bills each that became law. Merkley was one of four who had one. Four of the senators — including the only two Republicans who took office that year — have had none.

The claim also ignores proposed bills that Merkley sponsored that didn’t pass as stand-alone legislation but were incorporated into larger bills. And it overlooks a number of amendments that Merkley proposed that ended up being part of bills that ultimately passed.

Freedom Partners, a conservative group that has current and former Koch Industries officials on its board, has invested heavily in the Oregon Senate race, which pits the incumbent, Merkley, against the Republican challenger, pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby. The ad is part of a reported $3.6 million ad campaign from Freedom Partners in Oregon. The election is on Nov. 4.

 ’Just One’

“We work hard,” the narrator in the Freedom Partners ad begins. “We deserve leaders who work just as hard for us. But Sen. Jeff Merkley? In six years, Merkley wrote only one bill that became law. Just one.”

That one bill was the relatively obscure S. 1448. Introduced by Merkley in July 2009, it sought to authorize a handful of Oregon Indian tribes to obtain a 99-year lease for trust land. The bill was described by tribal attorney Brett Kenney as a noncontroversial proposal that didn’t appear to have any legislative detractors. It passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by President Obama in late 2010.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein warned, however, that measuring a first-term senator’s record based solely on a count of sponsored legislation that became law is fundamentally flawed.

Most bills that pass are sponsored by committee chairs or the committee’s ranking member of the minority party, Ornstein explained, or sometimes subcommittee chairs. Those positions are largely based on seniority. Merkley currently chairs two subcommittees, the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Policy and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee. But he wasn’t appointed to either position until February 2013.

Unless you are a committee chairman or the committee’s ranking member of the minority party (currently Republicans in the Senate), Ornstein told us, you are unlikely to have your name attached to a bill, unless it is a minor bill. The statistics back him up. Of the 37 Senate bills that have been signed into law in 2013 and 2014, 23 were sponsored by either a committee chair or ranking member of the committee. The rest were sponsored by subcommittee chairs or ranking members of subcommittees, or by the Senate majority or minority leaders.

In the backup material Freedom Partners supplied to us for the ad, the group noted that when Merkley came into office, Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, and had a supermajority in the Senate. They also noted that Oregon’s senior senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, authored and passed six bills during Merkley’s tenure. That’s true, but it only serves to reinforce Ornstein’s point. Wyden has been in the Senate since 1996 and has much more seniority than Merkley. Wyden currently chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

We looked at the legislative record of all 10 senators who, like Merkley, came into office in January 2009. Two of them, Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Warner of Virginia, have had two sponsored bills become law. Four, including Merkley, had one. And four others — including the only two Republicans to take office at that time — have had none.

Since taking office, Merkley has sponsored 227 bills, amendments and resolutions. That ranks him fourth among the 10 senators who took office in January 2009, based on our analysis. Merkley ranks in the middle of the pack with regard to the number of pieces of sponsored legislation that got committee consideration, floor consideration or passed one chamber of government.

But Ornstein warns that those types of quantitative measures can be misleading.

“This is in no way an effective way to measure the effectiveness of a senator,” Ornstein said. Having only a small number of laws with your name on them “doesn’t mean you are not having an impact on legislation or the legislative process.”

For example, he said, Sen. Al Franken’s name isn’t on the Affordable Care Act, but Franken introduced an important amendment on medical loss ratios, requiring insurers to spend 80 percent to 85 percent of premiums on medical care (rather than administrative costs). When former President Bill Clinton touted the Affordable Care Act in his speech at the Democratic Convention in 2012, he highlighted the fact that “individuals and businesses have already gotten more than a billion dollars in refunds from insurance companies because the new law requires 80 to 85 percent of your premium to go to your health care, not profits or promotion.”

Franken, who came into office six months after Merkley in 2009, hasn’t written any stand-alone bills that have become law.

Some bills don’t pass as stand-alone legislation, but later get folded into larger bills. For example, in July 2009 Merkley proposed the Small Business Jump Start Act of 2009, a bill that sought to increase a tax deduction for start-up businesses. As a stand-alone bill, it was referred to a committee and died. But Merkley later added it as an amendment to the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, which was sponsored by former House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank and became law.

Similarly, Merkley’s bill, the Bank On Our Communities Act of 2009  — which sought to create a $30 billion fund to provide capital to community banks for small-business loans — also stalled as stand-alone legislation. But it was folded into the Small Business Jobs Act as an amendment.

Other examples include Merkley’s Crowdfund Act — a bill that sought to limit how much small investors could put into crowd-funding sites — which was added as an amendment to the JOBS Act in 2012, and Merkley’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013 — a bill that sought to provide loans for communities to repair their water systems — which was added to the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

Merkley’s campaign provided a number of other examples, but you get the idea.

Merkley also authored the so-called Volcker rule, a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — a bill that President Obama called “the toughest financial reform” since the Great Depression. Named after Paul Volcker, a former Fed chairman and Obama economic adviser who proposed it, the rule places restrictions on certain banks and financial firms on proprietary trading — that is, it limits the ability of financial institutions to invest their own money in stocks, bonds and other products for their own profit. Politico called Sens. Carl Levin and Merkley “the two top advocates of strengthening the ‘Volcker rule’ throughout the Wall Street reform debate.” And while the Volcker rule amendment didn’t pass, a compromise was forged in conference committee that Merkley and Levin called “a victory.” Merkley touted the controversial rule as one of his top achievements in Congress in an interview with the Huffington Post in January.

Merkley was also part of a small group of Democratic senators who spearheaded important changes to the filibuster rule, to help expedite executive- and judicial-branch nominations.

Ornstein said that if you talked to committee and subcommittee leaders, “they’d tell you that Merkley is a very effective lawmaker.” We at FactCheck.org take no position on that, of course, but we caution readers not to put much stock into a claim about the effectiveness of a first-term lawmaker based on the number of sponsored stand-alone bills that have become law.

Obamacare and Higher Premiums

The narrator in the Freedom Partners ad also attacks Merkley for his support of the Affordable Care Act, which it refers to as Obamacare.

“He promised to fix Obamacare,” the narrator says, “but last year, our premium increases were the highest on the West Coast. This year, they’re going even higher.”

On screen, the ad shows a graphic claiming rates have gone up 55 percent for people aged 27, 24 percent for people aged 40, and 31 percent for people aged 64. The ad cites a Forbes article about a study of insurance premiums by the conservative Manhattan Institute.

Although the ad, without qualifiers, seems to suggest that rates have gone up by these amounts for all Oregonians, the Manhattan Institute study looked at the changes in insurance rates in the individual market after passage of the Affordable Care Act. The individual market is for those who buy insurance on their own as opposed to through an employer. About 267,000 Oregonians, 7 percent of the state’s population, purchased their own insurance in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

We have written previously about other qualifiers people ought to consider when weighing the Manhattan Institute analysis. For example, the analysis looked at the five least expensive plans before and after enactment of the ACA, but did not adjust for the fact that the ACA requires certain minimum benefits, which many individual market plans didn’t meet. By and large, the post-ACA plans are more robust (whether purchasers like or want that or not).

The Manhattan Institute analysis also didn’t include premiums for catastrophic plans, which could offer a cheaper option to those 27-year-olds. Nor did it account for subsidies, which the Manhattan Institute estimates will be available to 45 percent of uninsured Oregonians, or 303,690 people.

As for the claim that “this year” insurance premiums are “going even higher,” Freedom Partners points to an Associated Press story that reported that Moda, the insurance company with the largest share of the individual market in Oregon, will increase rates by 10.6 percent on average in 2015. That’s accurate, according to an Aug. 1 report from the state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services, but the report also noted that a number of other companies will be reducing rates in 2015.

Although the rate changes vary by insurer, as well as age, location, number of family members and plan choice,  Oregon’s Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali stated in a press release that “the approved rates are lower on average than in 2014, reflecting the effect of competition and Oregonians’ expanded access to health coverage.” We caution, however, that that’s not a weighted average, meaning the rates of smaller insurers were counted equally with those of larger insurers. A spokesman for the department said a weighted average was not calculated because people can select any plan they wish in the market exchange.

A table showing sample rate changes in 2015 by company and plan can be viewed here.

 – Robert Farley

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Headed for the Hall of Shame http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/headed-for-the-hall-of-shame/ Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:04:54 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87762 A Republican ad attacking Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas says he “voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants.” Actually, what Pryor voted for wouldn’t have paid a penny to any immigrant while here illegally.

The ad also claims he voted to “give members of Congress special benefits” to buy health insurance. Actually, the benefits are no more “special” than those of all other federal employees. And Pryor didn’t vote to “give” them; he voted against a partisan proposal to take them away.

The ad is the work of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which started airing it Aug. 19.

‘Benefits to Illegal Immigrants’

The claim about giving benefits to those illegally living in the United States is an old distortion that we debunked back in October 2006, when the NRSC and others were using it to attack Democrats who had supported that year’s immigration bill, which passed the Senate with wide bipartisan support but died in the House. We later put the claim on our list of the “Whoppers of 2006.”

The vote the NRSC cited — then and now — wasn’t a vote to give immigrants who are in the country illegally anything they would not be entitled to under current law. Rather, it was a vote to kill a Republican amendment that would have stripped those gaining legal status under the proposed immigration bill of a right they already had. That is, the right of anyone gaining citizenship or legal status to get credit toward future Social Security benefits based on taxes paid while working in the U.S. without legal permission.

At the time, proponents of the amendment argued that it would prevent those gaining legal status under the immigration bill from being rewarded for illegal activity. The amendment’s author, Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, said during debate: “People who broke the law to come here and broke the law to work here can benefit from their conduct to collect Social Security.”

On the other hand, opponents called Ensign’s amendment punitive. “[E]veryone this amendment would affect will be legal residents under the terms of the bill,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. “Those are the hard-working men and women this amendment seeks to penalize.”

That’s a fair debate. And in the end, the Senate voted 50-49 to kill Ensign’s amendment. But to twist a vote to kill Ensign’s measure into a vote to pay benefits to people while they are here illegally is a gross distortion of the facts.

Worth noting, we think, is that one of those voting against Ensign on this issue was Arizona Sen. John McCain, who went on to became the Republican nominee for president in 2008. McCain, too, was falsely attacked in the 2010 Senate primary for “rewarding illegal aliens with Social Security” benefits. We debunked that attack on the same grounds.

‘Special Benefits Under Obamacare’

Another gross distortion is the ad’s claim that Pryor voted “to give members of Congress special benefits to purchase Obamacare.” That’s absurd. Pryor supported continuing the same employer payments for health insurance that members of Congress have had for many years, and which are the same as those paid for millions of other federal employees, retirees and their families.

The vote in question came during the final hours of the partisan maneuvering that resulted in last year’s 16-day government shutdown. In a straight party-line vote, Pryor joined 51 other Democrats (and two independents) to reject a House-passed bill that would have delayed implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for a full year in return for providing funding to keep the federal government open through Dec. 15. It also contained a provision that would strip lawmakers and aides of their long-standing health care benefits.

But there’s nothing “special” about those benefits, as we pointed out a few weeks prior to the vote when some Republicans started claiming it was a “special subsidy.” The Office of Personnel Management pays an average of 72 percent (but no more than 75 percent) of the private health insurance premiums for federal workers under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which until this year also covered members of Congress and their staffs.

But to avoid another bogus criticism — that the Democrats’ 2010 health care bill would somehow have “exempted” members of Congress — the health care law requires House and Senate members and employees to purchase their health insurance through the ACA’s new insurance exchanges, rather than through the FEHB. The Office of Personnel Management proposed to continue the same employer payments when congressional members and aides moved from the FEHB to the new exchanges. “The amount of the employer contribution toward their Exchange premiums is no more than would otherwise be made toward coverage under the FEHB Program,” OPM stated.

One Out of Three

The final claim in the ad is that Pryor “voted against a balanced budget amendment.” That’s true; he did, on March 2, 2011.

For the record, what Pryor voted against was a nonbinding measure that said simply: “It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should pass and the States should agree to an amendment to the Constitution requiring a Federal balanced budget.” And the measure failed, even though it received 58 votes, because that fell short of the 60 required for passage. Pryor was among the 40 senators, all Democrats except for two independents, who voted against.

So of the three claims made by this ad, only one is factually accurate. And while batting .333 may get a baseball player into the Hall of Fame, we think it qualifies a political ad-maker for another hall entirely.

– Brooks Jackson

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A Narrow View of Barrow’s Record http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/a-narrow-view-of-barrows-record/ Tue, 19 Aug 2014 18:20:42 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87645 A Republican campaign group uses selective evidence to support a Georgia mother’s claim in a TV ad that Rep. John Barrow “votes with Barack Obama on every issue that’s important to us here in Georgia.”

Immediately after that claim is made, a graphic in the ad says Barrow “voted with Obama 85% of the time.” That was the case in 2009, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly. However, that simply ignores the fact that Barrow’s support of President Obama’s position has significantly decreased since then.

According to CQ, Barrow supported Obama’s position just 35 percent of the time in 2013, and his support of Obama’s position was as low as 29.5 percent in 2012.

The TV ad, called “Barrow’s Record,” began airing in Augusta and Savannah on Aug. 15. It’s being paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In the ad, Amy Parris of Augusta says, “John Barrow votes with Barack Obama on every issue that’s important to us here in Georgia. He gets wrapped up in the politics of Washington and forgets about the constituents back home.” As she speaks a graphic on screen says, “John Barrow voted with Obama 85% of the time.”

That statistic was the case in 2009, according to a Congressional Quarterly analysis of congressional votes. And the ad dutifully notes that in the small print. But Barrow hasn’t been nearly as supportive of Obama since 2010.

Each year, CQ analyzes how members of Congress vote with the president when his position is clearly known. For example, in 2009, there were 991 House votes, but only 72 where Obama took a clear position, according to CQ’s study.

CQ found that Barrow, who has represented Georgia’s 12th Congressional District since 2005, voted in support of Obama’s position 85 percent of the time that year and 83 percent in 2010. Yet Barrow’s support of Obama has dropped sharply since.

barrow_obama_support

In 2011, Barrow’s support of Obama fell to 59.5 percent. Then, in 2012, Barrow supported Obama’s position just 29.5 percent of the time. Only two other House Democrats opposed Obama more in 2012 than Barrow. And in 2013, Barrow voted with the president 35 percent of the time, again placing him third among House Democrats who supported Obama least often. In fact, Barrow, according to CQ, was more supportive of President George W. Bush in 2005 and 2006 than he was of Obama in 2012 and 2013.

The NRCC says its ad highlights Barrow’s “consistent votes with President Obama to increase government spending and cause Georgia families to pay the price.” The ad doesn’t cite any specific votes. But when asked for examples of Barrow votes to increase spending, an NRCC spokeswoman pointed us to only one, a vote he cast in 2009 in favor of the $830 billion economic stimulus bill, otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Barrow, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of “fiscally conservative” House Democrats, is being challenged by Republican businessman Rick Allen in the general election.

– D’Angelo Gore

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Florida Surrogates Go Nuclear http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/florida-surrogates-go-nuclear/ Mon, 18 Aug 2014 16:36:28 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87629 Two well-heeled surrogates of Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist continue to pollute the Florida airwaves with misleading claims. This time they distort the facts of a state settlement last year with Duke Energy that will cost ratepayers $2.9 billion over 20 years.

The $2.9 billion is actually two pots of money: nearly $1.5 billion that will be charged to ratepayers for costs related to Duke’s decision last year to close the Crystal River nuclear plant, and $1.4 billion in so-called advance fees that were charged to ratepayers to build a new nuclear plant in Levy County (that was later canceled) and upgrade the existing Crystal River plant.

But NextGen Climate Action, a liberal group backing Crist for governor, and the Republican Party of Florida, which backs Scott, inaccurately conflate the costs of the two projects and blame the entire amount on other guy:

  • NextGen says in its TV ad that Florida was “fleeced” by Duke Energy, blaming Scott for “letting Duke keep collecting billions” because the governor’s appointees to the Public Service Commission approved the settlement. But it was Crist who approved the ill-fated Levy County plant in 2009 when he was governor, and it was former Gov. Jeb Bush who signed a law that the utility used to charge ratepayers advance fees for the never-built nuclear plant.
  • The state Republican Party responded with an ad that starts by replaying the first 10 seconds of the NextGen ad, and then says “Charlie Crist let it happen.” Crist did approve the Levy County plant, but as we already said the advance fees charged by Duke were made possible by a law signed by Bush.
  • The Republican ad also says that “Crist signed a law helping Duke get billions.” But the law Crist signed had very little impact on the cost Duke was allowed to recover for the two failed projects referenced in the ad.

NextGen’s ‘Shocking’ Claims

NextGen, the group financed by billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer, has jumped into the Florida governor’s race in a big way. And the Republican Party of Florida has leaped to Scott’s defense. We recently wrote about a back-and-forth between the two groups over oil drilling near the Everglades.

This time, NextGen attacks the Republican governor for the state Public Service Commission’s decision on Oct. 17, 2013 to approve a $5 billion settlement with Duke Energy.

The ad starts with a TV news reporter saying, “We Floridians are paying billions of dollars to the nation’s largest power company and getting nothing in return.” The ad’s narrator then says, “One defective power plant. Another never built. Florida Fleeced by Duke Energy. Rick Scott knew but he’s letting Duke keep collecting billions anyway.”

The ad then shows on the screen an excerpt from a Tampa Bay Times news story on the settlement: “Duke’s customers on the hook for up to $3.2 billion.” (The $3.2 billion estimate proved to be too high, as we’ll explain later.)

We asked NextGen for information to support the claims in the ad. “It was the Tampa Bay Times that said ‘Duke’s customers on the hook for up to $3.2 billion,’ and it was Rick Scott’s appointed Public Service Commission commissioners that voted for the settlement,” NextGen told us in a statement.

But it is not that simple. The facts show that decisions made by the last three administrations — including Crist’s — were responsible for a portion of the settlement, but no administration is responsible for all of it.

As we previously mentioned, there are two components of the settlement. Let’s first take the $1.4 billion in advance fees that Duke Energy (and its predecessor, Progress Energy) were allowed to charge its ratepayers for two simultaneous projects: construction of a new nuclear power plant in Levy County and repairs to the Crystal River plant.

Duke Energy this year canceled the Levy plant project and closed Crystal River after repairs failed — so the wasted money on these projects is a sore point with ratepayers, including the group “Stop Duke Rip Off.”

It was then-Gov. Jeb Bush who signed an energy bill in 2006 that changed state policy to allow utility companies to charge advance fees to help finance nuclear projects (known as the nuclear cost recovery clause). Bush issued a press release on June 19, 2006, to announce he signed the bill, but it made no mention of this major change in financing nuclear plants or even nuclear energy for that matter.

Tampa Bay Times business columnist Robert Trigaux on Aug. 9, 2013, wrote a column about the law headlined, “Who gets credit for nuclear advance fee law, one of worst in state history?” Trigaux said the Legislature passed the law in a “deceptive process,” quoting a state senator as saying “[there] was no mention of prepay costs recovery on the Senate floor.” He spread the blame around. “It’s tragic that in seven years, no Florida legislator, governor or member of the state Cabinet has summoned the public service spirit to repeal or even seriously amend this loser measure,” he wrote. (Both Crist and Scott amended the law, as we will discuss later, but neither repealed it.)

It was under this law that Progress Energy went to the Crist administration and proposed building a nuclear power plant in Levy County. Crist was governor of Florida from Jan. 2, 2007, to Jan. 4, 2011.

On Aug. 11, 2009, Crist and his Cabinet, in their roles as members of the Department of Environmental Protection’s siting board, approved the project. The siting certificate, signed by Crist, was issued Aug. 26, 2009. Crist was well aware that the law would allow Duke to charge ratepayers advance fees to pay for the plant. In a story on the day Crist approved the plant, the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota noted that Progress was seeking approval from the PSC to charge ratepayers for the Levy plant and quoted Crist as saying, “I would encourage the company to keep the rates as low as possible.”

Progress Energy (and later Duke Energy after a 2012 merger) was able to go to the Public Service Commission to get approval for the advance fees as permitted under law — a process that started under the Crist administration and continued under the Scott administration, according to Charles Rehwinkel, a deputy counsel at the Office of Public Counsel, which represents ratepayers in utility cases before the Public Service Commission.

“That amount did NOT emanate from the settlement,” Rehwinkel, referring to the $1.4 billion in advance fees, told us in an email. “As part of the settlement, we took dollars that the Commission had already approved under the advanced recovery law and addressed how they would be recovered (over what timeframe and at what price point).”

In other words, the $1.4 billion in advance fees was already approved by the PSC under Crist and Scott for projects Crist and his administration approved. For NextGen to say Scott allowed Duke to “keep collecting billions” ignores the arguably more important roles played by Bush and Crist in these failed projects.

(Rehwinkel told us the original $3.2 billion estimate included $1.8 billion in advance fees, but the company has provided updated information that puts the cost of the advance fees at $1.4 billion, reducing the total cost to ratepayers to $2.9 billion — not $3.2 billion. He said the $1.4 billion in advance fees included $1 billion for the now-canceled Levy plant and $350 million for repairs to close the Crystal River plant.)

As for the cost of closing the Crystal River plant, Rehwinkel told us that state regulators were merely following standard regulatory procedures when charging ratepayers $1.466 billion (see page 3 of the settlement) that allow utilities to recover expenses for plants that close but still have ongoing costs, such as debt payments and storage of spent nuclear fuel. He said the expected life of the plant was 40 years, but it was closed after 33 years.

So, although it happened on Scott’s watch, no governor is to blame for those costs.

One last thing about the NextGen ad. It implies that state regulators approved the settlement in exchange for $500,000 in campaign contributions that Scott received from Duke Energy and Progress Energy. We did find that the Progress Energy PAC gave $500,000 in two contributions to Scott’s political action committee Let’s Get to Work on Nov. 18, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2013. But NextGen provides no evidence that those contributions influenced the decision-making process.

When we asked for evidence, NextGen’s statement merely noted that the contributions came weeks after the PSC approved the settlement, saying “it’s up to Scott to answer for his campaign contributions.” That’s not how it works. The onus is on NextGen to back up a claim that, if true, would be a violation of law.

Republican Party of Florida Response

The state Republican Party responded with its own misleading ad.

The ad, called “Crist’s Giveaway,” replays the first 10 seconds of the NextGen ad. It, too, opens with a TV news reporter saying, “We Floridians are paying billions of dollars to the nation’s largest power company and getting nothing in return.” The ad’s narrator then says, “One defective power plant. Another never built.”

It then interrupts the NextGen narrative with these words: “Charlie Crist let it happen when he was governor. Crist made it easier for Duke Energy to take your money. Crist signed a law helping Duke get billions, while Rick Scott put a stop to the Crist giveaway.”

The Republican Party says in its backup documents that Crist approved the Levy project — which is absolutely correct, as we noted earlier. That much is accurate. But, as we also noted, Progress and Duke charged ratepayers advance fees based on a law signed by Bush.

So, how did Duke Energy make it easier to “take your money” and what law did he sign that helped Duke “get billions” of dollars? The only support for that is a bill that Crist signed — HB 7135 — that amended the 2006 law signed by Bush. HB 7135 allowed related transmission costs to be included in the advance fees charged to ratepayers.

The only problem: The bill Crist signed had very little impact on the $2.9 billion settlement with Duke. The amount is in the tens of millions, not at all in the billions, Rehwinkel told us in an email. “I can unequivocally say that the HB 7135 transmission amendment did not impose billions of dollars of costs on customers in the form of advanced recovery as it turned out,” he said.

When we asked for an accounting of the billions of dollars mentioned in the ad, RPOF spokeswoman Susan Hepworth responded with an email that said: “Our ad makes ZERO reference to the settlement. We only refer to the law which Charlie Crist expanded that put taxpayers on the hook for the failed power plants.”

It’s just not accurate to say the Republican ad makes “zero reference” to the settlement. The ad clearly makes a reference to the settlement by showing a full third of the NextGen ad, which was all about the settlement. The narrator in the Republican ad even reads from the same script when she says, “One defective power plant. Another never built.” That’s a clear reference to Duke Energy’s two failed nuclear projects — the defective Crystal River plant that was closed and the Levy plant that was never built.

Secondly, the Republicans still did not provide any evidence that the law Crist signed helped Duke “get billions.”

The ad also says that “Rick Scott put a stop to the Crist giveaway.” It is true that Scott last year signed into law SB 1472, which amended the 2006 law signed by Bush. The law Scott signed requires utilities to begin construction within 10 years of obtaining a license in order to continuing charging the advance fee. Rehwinkel said the bill Scott signed forced Duke to cancel the Levy project and “stopped the bleeding.”

But Scott did not repeal the advance fee, which critics of the law wanted. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board called the changes to the law “tepid.” It said the bill didn’t go far enough and the law should have been repealed. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called the new law an “important step” but a “modest bill.”

There is plenty of blame to go around in this saga of the Progress Energy/Duke Energy nuclear plants. But the ads by both sides are simplistic and misleading when they point the finger in only one direction.

– Eugene Kiely

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A Fight Over Birth Control in Colorado http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/a-fight-over-birth-control-in-colorado/ Fri, 15 Aug 2014 22:24:06 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87583 A major issue in the Colorado Senate race has been a state ballot initiative on “personhood” and what it could mean for common forms of birth control, including the pill. Neither side is quite telling the whole story.

  • Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s latest ad says that his challenger, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, embarked on an “eight-year crusade that would ban birth control.” That lacks some context. Gardner supported anti-abortion measures that don’t explicitly call for a ban on birth control but could lead to some forms of birth control being illegal.
  • Gardner says he has changed his mind and no longer supports the Colorado initiative, precisely because it could ban common forms of birth control. But he still backs a federal personhood bill, which contains the same language that would make a ban of some contraception a possibility.

Gardner is on record since 2006 supporting so-called personhood measures at the state and federal level. These bills and ballot initiatives generally said the rights afforded to a person would begin at the moment a human egg is fertilized. The federal bill would impact the definition of a person under the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, while the state measure would obviously affect only Colorado law.

Gardner’s campaign says he backed the proposals as a means to ban abortion, not contraception. But, as we’ll explain, the wording of these measures could be interpreted to mean hormonal forms of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, would be outlawed. Other non-hormonal forms, such as condoms, wouldn’t be affected, but oral contraception (the pill) is the most popular form of birth control among U.S. women.

Some — even many — voters who see Udall’s ads in Colorado will understand the reference, as this is the third time a personhood measure has been on the ballot in the state. It was defeated in 2008 and 2010. But some may not be aware of it and the Udall ad doesn’t specifically mention the ballot measure. Without the context, those voters may well be led to think that Gardner’s position was that he wanted to completely ban birth control.

Udall has been highlighting the issue for months, dating back to April when an ad from the Democratic lawmaker said Gardner “championed an eight-year crusade to outlaw birth control here in Colorado.” Another ad in June featured Udall speaking directly to camera, saying, “Because this really matters, it’s important you hear this directly from me: My opponent, Congressman Gardner, led a crusade that would make birth control illegal.” The latest spot making a similar claim launched in August. The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, also ran an attack ad against Gardner in May, saying the congressman “led the charge for a constitutional amendment that would outlaw common forms of birth control.”

‘Personhood’ and Birth Control

Personhood measures have been on the ballot in other states in the past, but none has been approved by voters. Federal bills also have been introduced, dating back to the early 1980s, to say that life — and the rights afforded to a person — would begin at the moment of fertilization.

Such a measure is again on the ballot in Colorado this November. The latest ballot initiative in the state says that the term “person” in the state criminal code must apply to unborn human beings, whereas earlier versions of the initiative defined a person, in any context, as “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” or the “beginning of the biological development.” Gardner supported the previous measures, and also said on a 2006 questionnaire for Colorado Right to Life that he would support a federal personhood bill.

These measures don’t say that common birth control methods would be banned, nor do they even say that abortion would be banned, though proponents have said that ending abortion, along with curtailing stem cell research and limiting how in vitro fertilization is practiced, are the main goals. Groups against abortion often point to the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade, which said that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” They say establishing “personhood” for a fetus would reverse the Supreme Court ruling.

Opponents of these measures argue that they also could well lead to a ban on hormonal forms of birth control, such as the pill and intrauterine devices, or IUDs. And some anti-abortion rights groups also oppose these contraception methods.

In a 2012 statement opposing personhood amendments, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said “oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other forms of FDA-approved hormonal contraceptives could be banned in states that adopt ‘personhood’ measures.” The Colorado Gynecological-Obstetrical Society also opposed the 2008 state measure, saying it was “deeply concerned about the unintended consequences of this amendment which could widely impact clinical practice,” including reproductive technology and “routine contraception.”

Why? Because while the pill and IUDs mainly prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation, they also can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall. Since the personhood measures define a fertilized, but not yet implanted, egg as having the full rights bestowed upon a person, it would be questionable whether these hormonal forms of birth control would be legal.

Medically — and in terms of federal regulations — a pregnancy has been defined as beginning at implantation, not fertilization. Implantation in the uterus occurs several days after an egg is fertilized. In fact, many fertilized eggs don’t end up implanting in the uterus and resulting in a detectable pregnancy. The Colorado Gynecological-Obstetrical Society said that anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of fertilized eggs “spontaneously” fail to implant.

Personhood measures also raise questions about what they would mean for in vitro fertilization, which often involves creating more than one embryo in an effort to help a woman conceive — the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has been against personhood initiatives — and the “morning-after pill,” which is essentially a high dose of birth control pills that delays ovulation. The FDA labeling on the drug says it can also prevent implantation — but that’s not even a settled scientific fact, as a June 5, 2012, New York Times article detailed.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research on reproductive health issues, told us these are short, vaguely worded measures — none of which has been passed — that could affect several laws. “You can’t know the impact immediately and presumably there would be a court case to ferret out exactly what it means” in terms of abortion and contraception.

So, the ads would be more accurate to use the word “could” instead of “would,” since we can’t predict exactly what impact these measures would have, if any were ever passed. We asked Nash about other state regulations that define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization or conception — language that exists in some state fetal homicide laws. She said there haven’t been any legal challenges or efforts to apply such language to birth control thus far. “People haven’t really taken it a step further.”

Some proponents of the personhood measures also have said the end result could be to outlaw some forms of birth control. In 2010, when Republican Ken Buck was also being criticized for this issue in a Colorado Senate race, a representative for the state Right to Life chapter told 9News in Denver that “[m]any of the oral ‘contraceptives’ have an action that makes the womb inhospitable to a developing embryo and hence, the new living, growing baby is prevented from residing where his or her Creator intended until birth.”

Gardner’s Position

In March, Gardner himself acknowledged that the personhood initiative could lead to a ban or restriction on some forms of birth control. “The past four years as I’ve learned more about it, I’ve come to the conclusion it can ban common forms of contraception,” Gardner said, according to the Associated Press.

Here’s more on Gardner’s switch from the Denver Post:

Denver Post, March 21: “This was a bad idea driven by good intentions,” he told The Denver Post. “I was not right. I can’t support personhood now. I can’t support personhood going forward. To do it again would be a mistake.”

Gardner, a Yuma Republican who has represented the conservative 4th Congressional District since 2011, late last month jumped in the U.S. Senate race to try to unseat Democrat Mark Udall.

He did not say when he changed his mind on personhood, but said he began examining it more closely after voters rejected it by a 3-to-1 margin in 2010.

“The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position,” Gardner said. “I’ve learned to listen. I don’t get everything right the first time. There are far too many politicians out there who take the wrong position and stick with it and never admit that they should do something different.”

Gardner announced his change of position eight months after he had signed on as a co-sponsor to the federal “Life at Conception Act,” which would extend “equal protection for the right to life” under the 14th amendment to the “preborn” from the “moment of fertilization.” That language — giving the rights of a person to the fertilized egg — is exactly what raises the question of what such a measure would mean for some forms of birth control. Yet Gardner’s campaign told us he was not withdrawing his support for the federal legislation. Spokesman Alex Siciliano told us by email: “The federal proposal in question simply states that life begins at conception, as most pro-life Americans believe, with no change to contraception laws.”

We don’t see how the Colorado initiative and the federal bill, which supporters in Congress describe as a “personhood” measure, are different on this point. And neither does one of the groups supporting the state initiative. Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for the Yes on Amendment 67 Campaign, which supports the ballot measure, told Colorado public radio station KUNC: “Obviously [Gardner's] a victim of some bad political advice, there’s no reason for him to pull local support while he’s still 100 percent behind the federal amendment. It doesn’t make any sense.”

We agree. And we didn’t receive any further explanation from the Gardner campaign on the contradiction. We asked Nash at the Guttmacher Institute if there was something in the federal bill that would preclude the concerns over birth control, but Nash agreed that the “moment of fertilization” language was the reason these types of proposals had the potential to prohibit access to hormonal forms of birth control.

In a response Web ad to the Udall and Senate Majority PAC ads, Gardner says that he was being attacked for “changing my mind about personhood after I learned more, and listened to more of you.” Actually, he isn’t being attacked for changing his mind in Colorado, but rather for supporting the personhood initiatives in the first place.

The Democratic ads say he “led the charge” or conducted an “eight-year crusade” that would “ban birth control.” The word “crusade” may be overstating it, but Gardner did support state ballot initiatives and co-sponsored federal personhood legislation in 2012 and 2013. The Gardner campaign says he had supported the measures as a means of banning abortion. And concern over birth control is the reason he says he changed his mind — at least partially — this year. He even wrote an op-ed for the Denver Post in June, calling for birth control pills to be sold as over-the-counter drugs, without a prescription.

Even though this is the third attempt to pass a personhood ballot initiative in Colorado, we can’t say whether voters will understand what the ads are talking about. It would be clearer to say that Gardner supports efforts to ban abortion that could also ban some forms of birth control. As for his change of position, voters in Colorado should know Gardner still supports a federal bill that would prompt the same concerns over birth control as the state measure he says he rejects on the same grounds.

– Lori Robertson

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Aug. 15: Employer Mandate, Personhood, Fracking http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/aug-15-employer-mandate-personhood-fracking/ Fri, 15 Aug 2014 11:46:28 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87805
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Florida Fracking Fracas http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/florida-fracking-fracas/ Thu, 14 Aug 2014 18:44:34 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87564 A Florida ad attacking Republican Gov. Rick Scott has touched off claims of lying and illegality. We find both sides are bending the facts.

  • An ad from billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer’s group claims that Scott got $200,000 from “the company that profited off pollution” while drilling for oil near the Everglades. Actually, no pollution has been documented, and it was Scott’s administration that ordered the drilling halted before any oil (or profit) was produced.
  • A response ad from the Republican Party of Florida calls the Steyer ad “total fiction,” claiming “Scott never took a nickel.” Actually, a Scott committee took $200,000 from members of the landholding Collier family, which owns the drilling site.
  • The GOP also says Scott’s leading Democratic rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist, is responsible for the Steyer group’s ad, which he isn’t. Steyer’s group can’t legally coordinate its ads with candidates.

NextGen’s Attack

Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action started the fracas with an ad that first aired Aug. 11. It claims Scott received a “fountain” of campaign cash from “the company that profited off pollution” by using a “dangerous” type of oil drilling near the Everglades.

Actually, Scott’s administration isn’t doing the driller any favors as the ad implies. Quite the contrary.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says it denied permission for the company drilling the well to use the so-called “acid fracking” procedure last December, and when the driller used the procedure anyway it fined the company $25,000. The agency later revoked the company’s drilling permits, and has taken it to court seeking additional penalties in excess of $100,000. The company shut down the well as of July 15.

According to the court papers filed by the state, environmental officials last December notified the company verbally that it would not approve use of an “enhanced acid stimulation” method (which has been called a “fracking-like” procedure) to stimulate oil flow from the well, a method not previously used in Florida. But the company conducted the operation anyway, starting last Dec. 30 and ending Jan. 1. The state filed a formal, written “cease and desist” order on Dec. 31, after the operation had started, but the company ignored the order and completed the operation, the DEP stated. The state then extracted a $25,000 fine, and got the company to sign a formal consent order on April 7 in which the company also agreed to monitor groundwater for possible pollution violations.

The state made no public announcement of all this until May 2, after it says the company failed to come up with an acceptable independent expert to conduct the groundwater monitoring, as it had agreed to do. The company’s relations with the Scott administration have only gone downhill since then, culminating in the state’s lawsuit alleging that the company wasn’t living up to the terms of the original $25,000 settlement.

No Pollution Found

So far state officials have not found that the “acid stimulation” procedure the ad refers to has resulted in any contamination of groundwater, however. Environmental officials even installed their own groundwater monitors, and said preliminary results showed no evidence of contamination. Calling somebody a “polluter” before there’s any sign of pollution is like calling somebody a “robber” before there’s evidence that anybody has been robbed.

And in any case, the driller is not even the source of the $200,000 that the ad says came from “oil interests.” Though one would never know this by simply watching the ad, the money actually came in last year from four members of the wealthy Collier family, whose interests include Collier Resources. The Collier company partnered with the driller — the Dan A. Hughes Co. — which was leasing the drilling site. The Collier family, we should note, has interests far beyond oil. It also owns shopping centers and office parks, and develops planned communities on its vast land holdings, where it also grows citrus and vegetables, and raises cattle, not to mention sod and palm trees sold for landscaping.

A Vanishing ‘Connection’

This ad even drags in an erroneous news report about a third company in its hodgepodge of citations. The opening clip is from a June 16 report by an Orlando TV station. An anchor is seen referring to “a significant financial connection between one of the drilling companies and Gov. Rick Scott.” But the connection has nothing to do with the $200,000 mentioned later, and it no longer existed at the time of the report.

The reporter refers to a personal investment by Scott in Schlumberger Ltd., the international oilfield technology supplier. The investment was valued at $135,000 in 2010 when Scott put it into a blind trust. But when Scott recently ended the trust and publicly listed all the assets he owned at the end of last year, there was no sign of the Schlumberger stock he once held.

The connection would have been a thin one even if it still existed. The station quoted a Schlumberger spokesman as saying the company’s role was assisting Hughes in getting permits for saltwater injection wells and providing information to a consultant who put the Hughes permit application together. It’s hard to imagine that this would have a significant impact on Schlumberger’s global profits, one way or the other, much less on the financial well-being of its stockholders, even if Scott were still among them.

In summary, NextGen cobbles together citations about three different companies, one of them incorrect, to support a claim that Scott somehow favored “the” company that “profited off pollution,” when no pollution or profits are in evidence, and when Scott’s administration actually took the lead in shutting down the Hughes well and revoking the company’s permits.

‘Violation of the Law’

Even before NextGen’s ad hit the air, the Scott campaign was threatening to sue any station that ran it. On Aug. 8, shortly after NextGen released the ad and announced its plans to run it, the Scott campaign’s communications director, Matt Moon, issued a news release accusing the ad of lying.

“The FALSE ad by Tom Steyer’s group in support of Charlie Crist blatantly lies by saying the Governor took ‘campaign cash’ from driller Dan A. Hughes,” Moon stated. “In fact, no political entity associated with Governor Scott has ever received contributions from the company — in this election or 2010.”

The problem with Moon’s statement is that the ad didn’t actually name Hughes as the source of the $200,000 it mentions, though it would be easy for a viewer to get that impression. Only by contacting NextGen were we able to learn that the “oil interests” the ad refers to are the landowners, not the lease holder. The ad could have made that point clear, but the fact is both parties stood to profit had the well not been shut down.

Moon also raised the Scott administration’s role in shutting down the well, which we’ve already mentioned. We find he’s on firm ground there.

But he also said, “[O]ur campaign is putting any station airing this ad on legal notice that it would be a violation of the law to air Charlie Crist’s allies’ latest work of fiction.” That implied threat of legal action has proven ineffectual. A total of 10 TV stations in Fort Myers and West Palm Beach later aired the ad anyway, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. And the Scott campaign has yet to announce it is actually filing a suit against any of them.

GOP Response

The response to the NextGen ad came in the form of another TV spot, from the Republican Party of Florida, saying, “There’s fiction on TV, thanks to Charlie Crist.”

We don’t dispute the description of the NextGen ad as “total fiction,” for reasons we’ve already stated. But there are glaring factual problems with the GOP response, too.

To start, the NextGen ad was not “thanks to Charlie Crist,” as the Republican Party response claims. It would be illegal for NextGen to even coordinate its ad with Crist, or any candidate it is supporting. And we’ve found no evidence that any such coordination took place. A NextGen spokesperson told us by email: “The Crist campaign staff did not have a hand in producing the ad.”

The GOP ad attributes the ad to “Crist’s team,” which is accurate only to the extent that NextGen is working to defeat Scott because the governor has said he has “not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change.” The NextGen ad didn’t mention Crist, who isn’t even officially the Democratic nominee. He faces Democrat Nan Rich, a former state senator, in the Aug. 26 primary.

The GOP ad also errs when it claims that “Scott didn’t take a nickel” from the “polluter.” In fact, as we’ve noted, Scott’s committee did accept $200,000 from members of the Collier family, who own the land and mineral rights, even though he got nothing from the company doing the drilling. NextGen is right about that. But there’s no evidence of pollution by either of them, as we’ve said. The Florida GOP is no better than NextGen when it misstates matters on that point.

Crist’s ‘Polluter’

The Florida GOP ad goes on to say that Crist is a hypocrite because he himself “campaigns on private jets owned by — you guessed it — polluters.” The ad features video footage of Crist taken by a Scott campaign “tracker” who recorded the tail number of a Cessna 560XL executive jet on which Crist flew to an environmentalist event on July 24. The Scott campaign traced ownership back to developer James Finch, whose Phoenix Construction was fined — both by the state of Florida in 2009 and by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 — for allowing “fill material” from construction sites to flow into wetlands.

We won’t dispute that Finch can accurately be called a “polluter.” But we do note — as the GOP ad does not — that the 2009 fine by the state of Florida was levied while Crist himself was serving as governor.

How serious was it? The pollution in question that time occurred at the site of a huge airport being constructed near Panama City. It was described this way by the Tampa Bay Times: “Since work began last year, though, on four occasions, rainstorms led to cloudy, mud-laden runoff washing into nearby waterways, the DEP has found. Construction contractors are not supposed to allow that to happen.”

A final note: The latest polls show Crist running neck and neck with Scott. And since Florida is a must-win state in the 2016 presidential contest, each party is keen to control the governor’s mansion. So based on the sorry record of factual accuracy we’ve seen so far from both sides, we’ll probably be writing about more fact-twisting political propaganda in the Sunshine State before November rolls around.

– Brooks Jackson

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