FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:04:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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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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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DCCC Deceptions http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/dccc-deceptions/ Thu, 14 Aug 2014 15:23:23 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87544 A graphic in a Democratic TV ad falsely states that New Jersey GOP House candidate Tom MacArthur was “accused of cheating disaster victims.” MacArthur was once the chairman and CEO of a claims and risk management company that was accused, but MacArthur was never personally cited for any wrongdoing.

In fact, the narrator of the 30-second ad, from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was more on target, saying, “MacArthur ran an insurance company accused of cheating hurricane and wildfire victims.” But the image on the screen accompanying the narrator’s words goes beyond those facts.

The ad also claims that “while people suffered, MacArthur walked away with $39 million.” That’s misleading. The ad cites a news story about the announced sale of MacArthur’s former company, York Risk Services Group, in 2005, but that was years before the company was sued for its handling of claims stemming from Hurricane Ike and a California wildfire in 2008.

Plus, the ad says that “in Congress, MacArthur wants to help insurance companies jack up rates and deny people coverage.” But the source for that claim is a newspaper article that mentions MacArthur wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has nothing to do with the issue of property insurance, the focus of the ad.

Cheating Accusations

The ad’s narrator says, “MacArthur ran an insurance company accused of cheating hurricane and wildfire victims,” while a graphic shown on screen reads, “Tom MacArthur ‘Accused Of Cheating Disaster Victims.’ ” The narrator is right. The graphic is wrong.

Tom MacArthur was the chairman and CEO of York Risk Services Group Inc. from 1999 to 2010. The ad describes MacArthur as an “insurance CEO,” but York is really a claims and risk management company that provides services, such as claims processing, for insurers and other companies.

It’s true that York, as a claims processing agent, was the subject of two lawsuits and a state complaint stemming from the company’s handling of insurance claims for victims of both Hurricane Ike and the Sayre Fire in Sylmar, California, in 2008.

Houston Baptist University filed a lawsuit against York and ACE American Insurance Company in 2010 seeking payment to repair damages caused by the hurricane to a campus administrative complex. The university’s president, Robert B. Sloan Jr., accused the insurance company of not paying “what they owe us under our coverage,” according to The Collegian, the university’s student publication. “They drug their feet” and “weren’t very responsive,” the paper quoted Sloan as saying.

Likewise, the Port of Galveston, Texas, sued York and the Lexington Insurance Company for $15 million in unpaid insurance claims for damages related to the same hurricane.

And the California Department of Insurance filed an enforcement action against York and the New Hampshire Insurance Company in 2012, regarding their handling of insurance claims tied to the 2008 wildfire in Sylmar, California. CDI, in response to complaints from policyholders whose homes were lost in the fire, said that it investigated York and the insurance company “for 125 violations of the California Insurance Code, with each violation representing an alleged unfair or deceptive act.”

All three cases involving York were later settled after MacArthur had left the company.

While the ad’s narrator can fairly say that “MacArthur ran an insurance company accused of cheating hurricane and wildfire victims,” it’s wrong to say, as the accompanying screen graphic does, that MacArthur himself was personally accused of cheating victims.

The fact that he wasn’t accused was a point made clear in the very Daily Mail article cited in the TV ad. “MacArthur, the New Jersey congressional candidate, is not named personally in any of the legal actions described in this report, but he was both a York officer and a major shareholder,” the report said.

Anyone watching the ad without audio, or even someone listening to the ad but not paying close attention to what is being said, could be misled by the ad’s visual. It’s a pattern of deception our sister website, FlackCheck.org, calls “Seeing What’s Not Heard.”

 Other Claims

The ad also claims that “while people suffered, MacArthur walked away with $39 million.” But that, too, leaves a false impression.

The ad isn’t referring to a payout MacArthur received after leaving the company in 2010. Instead, the ad cites a December 2005 story from The Deal, an online publication, about an agreement Odyssey Investment Partners LLC made to purchase York for around $105 million.

As part of the deal, MacArthur agreed to sell his half of the company to Odyssey for $39 million plus an additional dividend payment. The acquisition was finalized in May 2006, with MacArthur staying on as chairman and CEO of the company. So MacArthur received his money long before the natural disasters, and subsequent lawsuits, ever occurred.

In addition, the ad claims that “MacArthur wants to help insurance companies jack up rates and deny people coverage” if elected to Congress. Viewers might assume the ad is referring to him helping property or casualty insurance companies. It’s not.

The ad is actually referring to MacArthur’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Courier-Post article cited in the ad says that MacArthur and Steve Lonegan, whom MacArthur defeated in the GOP primary, “both want repeal of Obamacare.” But the federal health care law has nothing to do with the disaster relief insurance claims that are the subject of the ad.

The ad, one of the DCCC’s first two independent expenditure ads of the midterms, began airing on cable in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District on Aug. 12. MacArthur is running against Democrat Aimee Belgard.

– D’Angelo Gore

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Crossroads GPS’ Twisted Tale http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/crossroads-gps-twisted-tale/ Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:46:21 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87519 An ad from Crossroads GPS leaves the false impression that a Colorado woman “had to go back to work” to pay for health care insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. She told a local TV station that her decision to get a job had nothing to do with the health care law.

The Crossroads GPS ad is the latest in the anti-Obamacare genre that feature real people telling not-so-real stories. Richelle McKim of Castle Rock, Colorado, is featured in this ad, which attacks Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for supporting the Affordable Care Act.

McKim says Udall’s vote for the law in December 2009 “has hurt families in Colorado, for small-business owners that are trying to make it and support their families.” Just prior to attacking Udall’s vote, she talks about the risk her husband took to start a company, and the expense of buying health insurance.

“We knew that we needed to find health care,” she says to the soundtrack of slow, mournful piano chords and soft violins. “Because we were a single-income family, we couldn’t afford our plan.” As she speaks about being unable to afford a health plan, the text on the screen reads: “Richelle had to go back to work.”

She never says so, but the impression left by the ad’s deceptive framing is that she had to go back to work in order to afford a health care policy on Connect for Health Colorado, the state website created under the Affordable Care Act to purchase nongroup insurance policies. That’s not what happened.

The state exchange went into operation on Oct. 1, 2013. Under the federal law, all legal U.S. residents — with some exceptions — had to have insurance by the beginning of 2014 or pay a penalty. But she was not forced to buy insurance at unaffordable rates on the individual market, as implied in the ad.

An enterprising local TV station — KDVR, a Fox affiliate — reported that her LinkedIn page shows she worked for her husband’s company, Mission Basement, from July 2008 to May 2010. (Public records confirm that Bryan McKim formed the construction company in March 2008 at the family’s home in Castle Rock, Colorado.) Richelle McKim says on her LinkedIn page that she left Mission Basement to work at Anadarko Petroleum in May 2010 — more than three years before the ACA’s individual mandate took effect. She has worked outside the home continuously since May 2010, and now works for Noble Energy. (We created a PDF of her LinkedIn page, in the event that it is removed from the site, as it was after KDVR reported its story.)

Richelle McKim acknowledged in an interview with KDVR that the federal health care law had nothing to do with her decision to go back to work. “It wasn’t the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It was just a financial burden, having a single income for so long.”

She also said she got a job outside the home so she could buy health insurance through her employer, which is how most U.S. residents get coverage. Only 5 percent of U.S. residents obtain insurance on the individual market, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KDVR, Aug. 7: When she was working from home, McKim and her young children were covered under her health insurance plan and her husband went without insurance. Adding him to the plan would have cost the family an extra $800 a month because he’d been treated for high blood pressure.

“He had no insurance and that was a very good thing for us,” she said. “We were able to choose if we wanted health insurance or not.”…

McKim’s husband is now covered under her employee plan offered by Noble, which offers medical, dental and prescription insurance plans to its employees; Anadarko, her previous employer, also offers medical plans.

“I went back to work to get benefits,” she said.

McKim defended the ad, telling KDVR that it “captured the heart of my message, which is that entrepreneurship is a risk and when you’re imposing overreaching policies that mandate people have to buy things they can’t afford, it takes that away.”

Starting a business is a risk, but the Affordable Care Act does little to increase that risk. The law exempts companies with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) from the requirement that companies pay a penalty if they do not offer health care insurance to their workers. So, the employer mandate that McKim talks about in the interview does not apply to 96 percent of U.S. firms with paid employees, according to the 2010 Census data on the Small Business Administration’s website.

The ACA may actually help small businesses. It provides a temporary, two-year tax credit to companies with fewer than 25 FTEs to help provide insurance to their employees, and it seeks to permanently reduce the cost further by creating the Small Business Health Options Program, which allows companies with up to 50 FTEs to leverage their purchasing power to obtain cheaper rates. The Small Business Administration outlines these and other programs created by the law that are designed to help small companies.

Whether the law on balance is a boon or bust for small businesses is debatable. The National Federation of Independent Business, which says 60 percent of its members have five or fewer employees, opposes the law and went to court to try to stop it from being implemented.

But what is not debatable is that the Crossroads GPS ad misleads Colorado voters. Richelle McKim did not have to “go back to work” because her family “couldn’t afford” Obamacare — as even McKim acknowledges.

– Eugene Kiely

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Aug. 8: Immigration, Social Security, Southwest Border http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/aug-8-immigration-social-security-southwest-border/ Sat, 09 Aug 2014 02:45:11 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87679
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More Border Security Spin in Arkansas http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/more-border-security-spin-in-arkansas/ Fri, 08 Aug 2014 21:18:56 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87479 An ad from Sen. Mark Pryor inaccurately claims that Rep. Tom Cotton “voted to cut funding for the border protection.” The claim is based on Cotton’s support for an alternative House Republican budget that generally called for deep cuts to spending, but did not say whether those cuts should include border security.

Cotton, who is vying for Pryor’s Senate seat, has repeatedly called for additional border security and funding for additional fencing along the southwest border.

With immigration at the forefront of the national conversation due to a surge of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border illegally, both candidates have pivoted to ads accusing the other of being weak on border security. We recently wrote about a Cotton campaign ad that cherry-picked a quote and several votes to distort Pryor’s position on border security. And now comes Pryor’s response.

The Pryor ad begins by defending the Arkansas senator’s vote last year for the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, noting that it was supported by John McCain and other Republican senators. The ad argues  — and we agree — that it is not appropriate to label the comprehensive immigration bill as “amnesty.” In the ad, Pryor calls the bill “tough but fair.” Meanwhile, the ad’s narrator says, Cotton “voted to cut funding for the border protection, and played politics with our security.”

The ad’s claim is based on Cotton’s votes for the Republican Study Committee’s budget plans in 2013 and 2014. Those budgets, posed as more conservative alternatives to the mainstream Republican House budgets, called for deep cuts to discretionary spending in an effort to balance the federal budget in four years.

The 2014 plan, for example, called for a 22 percent cut in non-defense discretionary spending by fiscal year 2016. If those cuts were applied across-the-board, the Pryor campaign argues, it would mean cutting the border security budget by more than $800 million. A cut that large, the Pryor campaign extrapolates, could mean cutting more than 5,000 border security agents.

The key phrase in the Pryor analysis, though, is “if those cuts were applied across-the-board” — a caveat that is missing in the ad. There is no suggestion of that in the Republican Study Committee Budget. In fact, the RSC plan, a nonbinding budget resolution, is completely silent on the issue of border security funding.

“A budget resolution is a guide for Congress,” Martin Wattenbarger, a spokesman for the RSC told us in a phone interview. “It is aggressive in reducing spending. But it doesn’t do anything to address border security spending specifically.”

Pryor’s campaign notes that while the RSC budget specifically exempts cuts from veterans affairs, for example, no such explicit protection was given to border security. But the bottom line is that if the budget resolutions passed — and neither of them did — then it would be up to appropriations committees to decide how to prioritize spending to meet the overall budget goals.

And there is some evidence that funding border security has been a priority for Cotton.

For example, Cotton was a cosponsor of H.R. 2220, the SMART Act of 2013. The bill sought to beef up security along the southwest border, requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security to “achieve and maintain operational control of the U.S.-Mexico border (defined as a condition in which there is at least a 90 percent probability that all illegal border crossers are apprehended and narcotics and other contraband are seized).” The bill would have, among other things, added 1,500 border security agents; made available up to 10,000 members of the National Guard, as requested by border states; and required a biometric entry-exit system at all ports of entry within two years. The bill never got out of committee.

In an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal on July 10, 2013, Cotton argued for an “enforcement-first” approach to immigration, including “a border fence, a visa-tracking system to catch visa overstayers, and a workable employment-verification system,” all of which he argues the Senate bill supported by Pryor lacked. And in an interview with the Washington Examiner on July 19, 2013, Cotton argued that “there has to be security in place and actually effective. We have to see a fence in place actually stopping illegal immigration” before he would consider a bill dealing with those currently in the country illegally.

Increased fencing and other enhanced border security measures is actually an issue on which Cotton and Pryor largely agree, despite attack ads suggesting otherwise. In other words, both sides are playing politics with the immigration issue.

– Robert Farley

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Rick Perry Misuses ‘Criminal Alien’ Data http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/rick-perry-misuses-criminal-alien-data/ Thu, 07 Aug 2014 22:04:20 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87447 In discussing his decision to send the National Guard to the Mexico border, Texas Gov. Rick Perry repeatedly has misused data on “criminal aliens” arrested in Texas.

Perry says 203,000 “illegal aliens” arrested since September 2008 “are responsible for over 3,000 homicides and almost 8,000 sexual assaults.” He is relying on an analysis of federal data by the Texas Department of Public Safety. But a department spokesman told us the 203,000 people are actually foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. illegally and legally. They also have been charged with 3,000 homicides and 8,000 sexual assaults over their lifetimes, but not necessarily convicted.

The Public Safety Department said it did not have separate data on the number of “illegal aliens” who have been arrested in Texas since September 2008 or the number of their convictions.

Perry, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, was one of the first in the country to raise the alarm about the spike in the number of unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing the border. In May 2012, Perry wrote a letter to President Obama to urge him to take action to address what he called “an obvious humanitarian crisis.” Perry wrote, “Inaction encourages other minors to place themselves in extremely dangerous situations.”

He was right about that. As we have written before, the number of unaccompanied children placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement doubled from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012 and nearly doubled again in fiscal year 2013. As of July 31, Customs and Border Patrol had apprehended 62,998 unaccompanied children in the first 10 months of this fiscal year — more than double the 27,844 apprehended in all of fiscal 2013.

But it wasn’t until this year that the issue got the attention of the president, who in a June 30 speech in the Rose Garden called the situation “an actual humanitarian crisis” and urged Congress to work with the administration to address it. Obama met with Perry on July 9, urging the governor to pressure Congress to provide supplemental funding to deal with the problem, but no congressional action has been taken.

On July 21, Perry announced he would send 1,000 National Guard troops to guard the state’s border with Mexico, citing the federal government’s failure to act.

But Perry has misused federal and state statistics on “criminal aliens” when discussing what he calls a public safety threat posed by those crossing the border illegally. He did this in TV interviews on July 17 with Glenn Beck, July 23 with Sean Hannity and most recently Aug. 3 on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley.”

Perry, Aug. 3: Since September of ’08, we have seen 203,000 individuals who have illegally come into the United States, into Texas, booked into Texas county jails. And, Candy, these individuals are responsible for over 3,000 homicides and almost 8,000 sexual assaults.

Perry, July 23: Sean, there have been over the course of the last five years, since the fall of ’08, over 203,000 individuals who have come into Texas illegally that have been booked into our county jails. Those individuals have been accounted for over 3,000 homicides and over 8,000 sexual assaults.

Perry, July 17: The number of illegal activities, up to and including homicides, I think over 3,000 homicides by illegal aliens over the course of the last six years.

The source of the governor’s data is the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has a Web page titled “Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data” that at the time of Perry’s remarks provided data on “criminal aliens” arrested in Texas from October 2008 through July 1.

Texas Department of Public Safety: From October 2008 through July 1, 2014, Texas has identified a total of 203,685 unique criminal alien defendants booked into Texas county jails. Over their criminal careers, these defendants are responsible for at least 642,564 individual criminal charges in Texas, mostly consisting of Class B misdemeanors or higher, including 3,070 homicides and 7,964 sexual assaults as seen on the chart below.

(The Public Safety Department since has updated its Web page, so it now has data through Aug. 1 that shows there were “207,076 unique criminal alien defendants booked into Texas county jails” who “are responsible for at least 652,979 individual criminal charges in Texas … including 3,089 homicides and 8,070 sexual assaults.”)

First, we note that the state website says “criminal charges,” not convictions, so Perry is wrong when he says those here illegally were “responsible for” or “accounted for” 3,000 homicides and nearly 8,000 sexual assaults. (In one instance, Perry said these crimes occurred “over the course of the last six years,” which is clearly wrong since the state says the charges were filed “over their criminal careers.” But Perry did not repeat that error, so we assume it was a slipup.)

We asked the Department of Public Safety how many of the arrests resulted in actual convictions, but it did not know. It also doesn’t know how many of the “criminal aliens” are in the U.S. illegally.

We were told that the department got its data from a federal program called Secure Communities, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses to prioritize “the removal of criminal aliens, those who pose a threat to public safety, and repeat immigration violators.” Under the program, state and local police provide the FBI with the fingerprints of those arrested, and then the FBI sends the fingerprints to ICE “to check against its immigration databases,” as the Congressional Research Service explains in a recent report.

CRS, April 24, 2014: Specifically, the fingerprints of persons arrested by state and local officers are sent to the FBI’s Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which then sends them to ICE’s Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). This system automatically notifies ICE personnel whenever the fingerprints of persons arrested by state and local officers match those of a person previously encountered and fingerprinted by immigration officials.

ICE’s monthly report on Secure Communities shows that from Oct. 27, 2008, to May 31, 2014, there were 284,088 IDENT matches in Texas. As we said earlier, Texas identified 203,685 “unique criminal alien defendants” through July, which is lower than the 284,088 figure initially identified by ICE through May. Tom Vinger of the Texas Public Safety Department explained the discrepancy in an email: “We are only reporting ‘unique individuals.’ DHS reports total hits, which includes recidivists. We only count the individual once, and then additional charges are added to the total number of charges.”

We note that the IDENT matches include any “person previously encountered and fingerprinted by immigration officials,” and that includes U.S. naturalized citizens and others who are living in the U.S. legally as well as those who are living here illegally, according to the CRS report and Vinger. In fact, the CRS report said, “ICE personnel then review other databases to determine whether the person is here illegally.” But that information is not contained in ICE’s monthly reports.

Vinger referred us to ICE for information on how many of the “criminal aliens” are here illegally and the number of convictions they had. But ICE did not respond to our requests for information, and it has been equally unhelpful to others who have been seeking more information beyond the monthly statistics ICE publishes on its website.

The Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University is a resource for immigration data and information on immigration programs. TRAC said this about the Secure Communities program: “ICE does publish some useful monthly statistics. But these leave the public in the dark as to what happens after a match occurs.” TRAC has filed Freedom of Information requests for “detailed data on enforcement practices and the results achieved under this program,” but it says “ICE has ignored multiple FOIA requests.”

So, we do not know how many of the 203,000 individuals cited by Perry as “illegal aliens” are actually living here in the U.S. illegally. And neither does the Texas Department of Public Safety.

But we do know that most of the foreign-born population in the U.S. is here legally.

In 2011, there were about 40 million foreign-born residents living in the U.S., according to a May 2013 Congressional Budget Office report. That includes about 29 million who were living in the U.S. legally (18 million naturalized U.S. citizens and 11 million noncitizens who are authorized to live and work in the U.S.) and 11.5 million who are living here illegally.

The governor, of course, has every right to be concerned with the safety of his residents, but he is misusing the “criminal alien” data and, as a result, exaggerating the scope of the problem posed by those living in the U.S. illegally.

– Eugene Kiely

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