FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 31 Jul 2015 21:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Sanders Overstates Unemployment Rate http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-overstates-unemployment-rate/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-overstates-unemployment-rate/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:28:21 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97743 Bernie Sanders has repeatedly said 51 percent of young black high school graduates are “unemployed.” That’s wrong. His figure comes from a think tank report on underemployment — which includes not just the unemployed, but also part-time workers who want full time work.

The Vermont senator, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has made youth unemployment a key part of his populist campaign, frequently citing statistics from a June report by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

In a recent Vox interview, Sanders referred to the EPI report when asked a question about immigration and whether he supports an open border policy. (Vox interviewed Sanders on July 16, but didn’t publish the interview until July 28.)

Sanders, July 16: You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

He made a similar statement about “unemployed” black high school graduates in an interview on The Ed Show on MSNBC (at the 3:19 mark).

Sanders, July 22: And obviously the other thing that we have to do, Ed, is that when 51 percent of young African-American kids that graduated high school are unemployed, we need a jobs program to put those young people to work.

Sanders also cited the statistic the same way twice in a candidate forum sponsored by Netroots Nation on July 18 and on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on July 12. At the Netroots event, he said the 51 percent of “unemployed” black youths are “in the streets.”

In every case, Sanders misrepresented the data from the EPI report.

The EPI indeed sounds a warning about what it calls a “historical fact:” the job market is traditionally weaker for young adults.

And in a blog post about the report, EPI warns about “astonishing underemployment” rates among minority youths.

EPI, June 8: 51.3 percent of young black high school graduates are underemployed, compared with 36.1 percent of young Hispanic high school grads and 33.8 percent of white high school grads. This means a significant share of young high school graduates in all racial groups either want a job or have a job that does not provide the hours they need.

EPI based its calculations on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ alternative measure of labor underutilization known as the U-6, which is the broadest measure of underemployment. “Our measure of underemployment is the U-6 measure from the BLS, which includes not only unemployed workers but also those who are part-time for economic reasons and those who are marginally attached to the labor force,” the report says.

Specifically, EPI says in a footnote that it used BLS data for high school graduates ages 17 to 20 who are not enrolled in further schooling.

We asked EPI for the unemployment rates for this same class of workers and we were directed to Figure C in a May report called “The Class of 2015.” That chart lists these figures as the unemployment rates for high school graduates age 17 to 20 who are not enrolled in further schooling: black, 29.7 percent; Hispanic, 19.5 percent; white, 17.2 percent. That was as of March 2015.

The unemployment rates, as calculated by EPI, are still high — but not nearly as high as Sanders claims.

We could not verify EPI’s figures. BLS spokesman Gary Steinberg told us the agency does not publish data for the 17 to 20 age group. He referred us to a BLS economist, who provided us links to BLS data for high school graduates ages 16 to 24 years old who are not enrolled in further schooling. In June, the unemployment rate for this age group was 24.8 percent for black people, 16.8 percent for Hispanic people, and 12.6 percent for white people.

The BLS economist also provided us with unpublished data for 16 to 19 year old high school graduates who are no longer in school. The unemployment rate in the second quarter of 2015 stood at 17.2 percent for white people (page 7), 30 percent for black people (page 13), and 17.8 percent for Hispanic people (page 25).

We have no reason to doubt EPI’s figures. It stands to reason that unemployment rates for high school graduates not enrolled in further schooling would be higher for the 17 to 20 year age group than it would be for the 16 to 24 year old group. In a May 2010 report on unemployment among young workers, the Joint Economic Committee said the “unemployment rate of young workers decreases with age and educational attainment.”

But even by EPI’s data, the Vermont senator is wrong.

On occasion, Sanders properly cites the EPI report, as he did at July 6 rally in Maine, where he explained that he was talking about the “real unemployment rate for young people.” (His remarks come at the 21:41 mark.) Earlier in that speech, he defined the “real unemployment rate” as a combination of people who are unemployed, working part-time for economic reasons, and those who have given up looking for work.

Without that caveat, however, Sanders is misrepresenting the data and misleading his audience.

— Eugene Kiely


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Wisconsin’s Trumped Up Deficit http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/wisconsins-trumped-up-deficit/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/wisconsins-trumped-up-deficit/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:56:58 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97614 Donald Trump says that Wisconsin has a $2.2 billion budget deficit. It doesn’t.

Actually, the state finished its most recent two-year budget cycle with a small surplus. And the new cycle that began July 1 is covered by a bill providing for another balanced budget, which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law.

It’s true that state fiscal officials had earlier projected that revenues would fall about $2.2 billion short of what agencies were requesting for the new cycle. But agencies don’t always get what they want. The current budget cuts $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system, for example.

Trump, a Republican presidential contender, called into CNN’s “State of the Union” on July 26 and had this to say about Wisconsin and Walker, who is also seeking the GOP nomination:

Trump, July 26: They have budget deficits. He was going to have a lot of big surplus. Well, they have got a $2.2 billion deficit.

Actually, they don’t.

Wisconsin, by state law, is required to have a balanced budget. That means it is prohibited from running a deficit, which happens when a government spends more money than it has.

Trump is referring to a previously projected budget shortfall. That is how much state agencies request in spending minus what the state is projected to make in revenue.

In November, Wisconsin’s Department of Administration, based on revenue projections and state agency budget requests for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, said the state faced a shortfall of $2.2 billion for that two-year cycle (see table 4).

That was after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected in January 2014 that the state’s general fund would have about a $1 billion surplus for the biennium that ended June 30. Much of that projected surplus was used to provide additional property and income tax cuts for families and businesses, leaving the state with a surplus of $254,000 when fiscal 2015 ended last month, according to bureau documents.

But to Trump’s claim, the important thing to know is that agency spending requests aren’t automatically granted, as the administration noted in its November projections.

Department of Administration, Nov. 14: For the coming biennium, agency budget requests exceed expected revenues by $1,096 million in fiscal year 2015-16 and by $1,118 million in fiscal year 2016-17, for a total of $2,214 million over the biennium.

While this represents the traditional method for such calculations, such figures are derived under the assumption that ALL agency budget requests will be funded in their entireties. This is a flawed assumption.

The state legislature ended up passing a balanced two-year budget that Walker signed into law on July 12 — more than two weeks before Trump claimed that the state had a deficit.

— D’Angelo Gore

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Mistaken Tax Facts http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/mistaken-tax-facts/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/mistaken-tax-facts/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 18:27:33 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97603 In a TV ad attacking GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the League of Conservation Voters claims the average Wisconsin family pays $7,500 a year in federal income tax. Not so. For the family pictured in the ad with the income specified by the league, the tax would be $724.

Dragging Anchor

We offer this as an example of how political groups sometimes lose their anchor in reality as they strain for partisan effect. The league could have made a respectable argument by citing accurate information. But instead, the very first words in this ad are wildly inaccurate and based on a gross misunderstanding of tax law.

The ad was announced July 27.  It is one of the earliest to appear in the 2016 Wisconsin Senate race, which is shaping up as a rematch between Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold, the Democrat whom Johnson defeated in 2010. The league is spending $98,000 and running the ads only on satellite television, league spokesman Seth Stein told us.

The ad begins with an attention-grabbing claim that the “average Wisconsin family” pays as much each year in taxes as oil companies get “per minute” in so-called tax subsidies, which are special provisions that allow oil companies to reduce their federal corporate tax payments.

But the ad errs by starting with a dramatic claim that is far off the mark.

The narrator says, “This is the average Wisconsin family. They pay over $7,000 in federal taxes every year.” Pictured on screen is a couple with two young children, along with the words “$7,500 in federal income tax.” Actually, such a family would pay far less than the league claims.

The league says in its backup for the ad that median household income in Wisconsin was $52,413, citing Census Bureau figures for 2013. So far, so good. But the backup document goes on to claim that IRS tax tables “indicate” such a family would pay $7,519 in federal income tax. Actually, the tax tables indicate no such thing.

The $7,519 figure would be the total owed by a single person with taxable income in 2014 of between $52,400 and $52,450, if this person filed as “head of household.” The league’s fundamental error is to mistake total income for taxable income — after all exemptions and deductions. The league also failed to allow for tax credits. These mistakes have a huge effect on the resulting tax bill.

Another, lesser error was to assume that a married couple would file as “head of household.” That filing status is available only to unmarried persons supporting one or more children or other relatives. A family such as that shown in the ad typically would file as married filing jointly. This doesn’t make a big difference in the outcome, but we note it as further evidence of careless research by the league.

Reality: A $734 Tax Bill

Our own calculations assume — we think quite reasonably — that the family shown in the ad would benefit from the per-child tax credit, since both of the children shown appear to be under age 17. We also assume the family simply claims the standard exemptions and deductions available to all taxpayers who choose not to itemize deductions.

Under those assumptions, their tax bill for 2014 would be $734, not the 10-times-larger figure featured in the ad. (We used the Bankrate.com tax calculator, but other tax calculators give similar results.)

That bill could of course be even less if the family pictured had a very large mortgage or other big deductions that could make it advantageous for them to itemize.

Who’s ‘Average?’

To be sure, the league’s assumption of the “average” Wisconsin family’s income might be too low. “Household” income includes both families and single individuals, such as widows and widowers living alone. “Family” income tends to be higher than “household” income, especially when both husband and wife are employed.

For 2013, the Census Bureau puts the median family income in Wisconsin at $65,618, and when the family includes two earners, the median income rises to $82,272.

But even if the “average” Wisconsin family pictured in the ad is assumed to be a two-earner couple with $82,272 in total income, their tax bill in 2014 would have been $5,203 — still short of what the league claims the “average” family would pay.

Tax Breaks for Oil

There’s a valid argument to be made here. The tax breaks enjoyed by oil companies are substantial. And Johnson voted against consideration of a Democratic measure to repeal breaks for large oil companies, a bill that the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated would produce nearly $24 billion in additional revenue for the government over 10 years.

The ad claims that oil-company tax subsidies cost $7,610 a minute, which is based on a White House estimate that eliminating all oil and gas subsidies would raise more than $4 billion per year. That’s for all companies, not just the big ones featured in the ad and covered by the bill the JCT analyzed.

But even here the ad strains the facts. The announcer states that subsides to “big oil” are “tax dollars coming from us, going to them.” That’s not strictly accurate. The tax breaks reduce the income taxes paid by oil companies, allowing them to keep more of their own profits. They are not dollars paid by the government to the companies.

In fact, the 2012 bill that Johnson (and most other Republicans) opposed would have had little if any effect on the “average” family’s personal income taxes. More than half the $24 billion would have been devoted simply to reducing the federal deficit. The rest would have gone mainly to pay for extending a variety of expiring green-energy tax credits, including those for producing electricity from renewable fuels, building wind power projects, producing biodiesel fuel, building new energy-efficient homes, and buying plug-in electric vehicles.

Our advice: Before taking on anyone’s stance on federal taxes, the league would do well to get its own tax facts straight.

— Brooks Jackson

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Huckabee’s Hot Air on Volcanoes http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/huckabees-hot-air-on-volcanoes/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/huckabees-hot-air-on-volcanoes/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 16:11:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97609 Mike Huckabee claimed that a single volcanic eruption “will contribute more than 100 years of human activity” toward global warming. This is far from accurate. Humans actually pump upward of 100 times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than all the world’s volcanoes combined.

In an interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo News (beginning at the 5:14 mark), the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate said he thinks “the climate’s been changing over the entire history of the earth.” Couric asked him if he believes that man contributes to global warming. He responded:

Huckabee, July 28: He probably does, but a volcano, in one blast, will contribute more than 100 years of human activity. So when people are worried about it — you know?

Huckabee gives volcanoes far too much credit.

According to a summary of evidence by the U.S. Geological Survey, the entire collection of volcanoes around the world emits an average of 0.26 gigatons of CO2 per year. (A gigaton is equal to one billion metric tons.) Humans today, on the other hand, emit over 30 gigatons every year, from power plants and factories, cars and airplanes, agriculture, and other activities. According to the Energy Information Administration, humans worldwide emitted 32.3 gigatons of CO2 in 2012, the most recent year for which complete data is available.

SciCHECKinsertSo that means, humans collectively are responsible for nearly 125 times as much CO2 entering the atmosphere every year as volcanoes.

Among several published studies that yielded the 0.26 gigaton average, the absolute highest possible value was 0.44 gigatons per year, according to the USGS. Even at that extreme end of the range, humans emit more than 73 times as much as volcanoes.

But Huckabee said “in one blast,” so what about when there is a single, large eruption?

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, was one of the largest in modern history. According to the USGS, this eruption released 0.05 gigatons of CO2, or about 50 million metric tons. Again, humans emit more than 30 billion tons of CO2 every year, let alone every 100 years.

Another famously large eruption, the 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens in Washington, released even less CO2 than Pinatubo, in spite of its fearsome and deadly local impacts. That eruption released only about 0.01 gigatons of CO2, according to the USGS.

As the USGS says (using 2010 CO2 emissions), you would need 700 Pinatubo’s or 3,500 Mount St. Helens’ eruptions, to match a single year of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. To get to 100 years of human emissions, as Huckabee said? That would take 70,000 Pinatubo or 350,000 Mount St. Helens eruptions.

We asked Huckabee’s campaign if he could provide evidence for his claim; we will update this post if we receive a response.

Though the volcanoes of the world do contribute a reasonable amount to the CO2 in the atmosphere — about the equivalent of New Zealand’s contribution or about half that of the Philippines (its people, not its volcanoes) — their more important contribution in terms of global climate is sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This molecule acts as an aerosol and reflects sunlight away from the earth, helping cool it down.

In other words, Huckabee has it backward: volcanoes actually act to tamp down human-caused warming, not to exacerbate it.

The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 released an enormous cloud of SO2 — about 20 million tons. This caused the world to cool, not warm, by about half a degree Celsius. Still, though, this can’t match human emissions of SO2, which also comes from smokestacks and other sources. Though emissions have been declining in recent decades, humans still annually emit about 100 million tons of SO2, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Volcanic eruptions can be powerful events. They certainly can change the world’s climate — in the cooling direction — in extreme cases. But Huckabee’s claim about their contribution to global warming is little more than hot air.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

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Sanders’ PTSD Statistic http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-ptsd-statistic/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-ptsd-statistic/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 19:23:09 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97576 Sometimes politicians are right, but their campaigns can’t prove it. And we do.

That’s what happened when we decided to take a look at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ talking point that 500,000 veterans came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries. His campaign pointed us to a 2013 Senate hearing as its source — a hearing in which a Veterans Affairs official told Sanders that the number was less than half that.

But it wasn’t a case of Sanders exaggerating. We discovered more recent VA reports that put the number with PTSD at about 390,000, and that would only include veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan that sought care at VA facilities. Not all veterans use VA care. Other estimates suggest the total number could be around the 500,000 figure Sanders has been using for the past year.

Sanders, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, repeated his claim at a July 2 town hall event in Rochester, Minnesota, (5:30 mark) when he said: “In Iraq and Afghanistan, and I will tell you that I voted against the war in Iraq … it was not just the 6,700 men and women who died in the war. 500,000 — 500,000 came home with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.”

He has used the statistic several times in the past. On Twitter last summer, he said: “Some 500,000 men and women have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD or TBI.” And he made the claim on CNN in October, while mentioning that he was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

In fact, when we inquired about the claim, the Sanders’ campaign sent us a transcript for a March 20, 2013, Senate committee hearing on VA mental health, in which the then-VA under secretary for health, Dr. Robert Petzel, told Sanders that “about 119,000 people from the present conflicts” had been diagnosed with PTSD. Petzel said that all told, including veterans from any conflict, the VA had 500,000 under its care with PTSD. He even corrected Sanders, when the senator mistakenly thought the 500,000 figure pertained only to Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s the exchange:

Chairman Sanders, March 20, 2013: I mentioned in my opening remarks that as we end 10 years of war in Iraq and 11 in Afghanistan or so, the cost of war, I think, is a lot heavier and more tragic than many people realize. So, let me start off with a very simple question. I do not know if you have the answer in front of you. When we are talking about posttraumatic stress disorder and when we are talking about traumatic brain injury, how many human beings are we talking about who are suffering from these illnesses?

Dr. Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Right now, the VA is taking care of slightly over 500,000 people with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Sanders: Let us stop right there. 500,000 returning soldiers.

Petzel: Correct. Not just returning. This is our whole population, Mr. Chairman.

Sanders: This is not just Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petzel: I was about to get to Iraq.

Sanders: Okay.

Petzel: We have about 119,000 people from the present conflicts that carry the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Sanders then asked about traumatic brain injuries, and Petzel said that the VA had been screening everyone who comes back from a combat situation for the past several years. He said that of the 395,000 people who have been screened, 54,000 had screened positive for possible traumatic brain injury, and 35,000 of those individual had mild to moderate TBI, as determined with “quite sophisticated testing.”

Petzel said the “vast majority” of those 35,000 had been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, though some were injured in training accidents.

Sanders has claimed that 500,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan had PTSD or TBI, but Petzel’s numbers are less than half of that. That’s the case even if we use the higher 54,000 for “possible” TBI,  along with Petzel’s estimate of 119,000 with PTSD.

We don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of PTSD or its increasing occurrence. A year ago, the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academies, released a report that said PTSD was “one of the signature injuries of the U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It found that the number of veterans with PTSD who sought care in the VA system had more than doubled from 2003 to 2012.

It reiterated the same numbers Petzel used for servicemembers with PTSD using VA services in 2012 (see Table 2-4).

However, when we dug further into this issue, we did find support for Sanders’ now year-old talking point.

When we asked for more recent numbers from the VA, the press office pointed us to a Senate resolution designating June 2015 “National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.” The preamble, for which the VA says it provided information, says: “[S]ince October 2001, more than 390,000 of the approximately 1,160,000 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn who have received health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs have been diagnosed with PTSD.”

That 390,000 figure wouldn’t include veterans with traumatic brain injury, which was part of Sanders’ claim, nor would it include veterans with PTSD who were not seeking care through the VA. The IOM 2014 report noted that its numbers likely underestimated the prevalence of PTSD, because not all veterans seek treatment at VA facilities.

On its website, the VA gives a ballpark estimate of the prevalence of PTSD. It says that about 11 percent to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD in a given year. If we apply the high-end estimate, 20 percent, to the total number who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan — about 2.5 million — that gets us to Sanders’ 500,000.

That’s not what the senator was told at the 2013 committee hearing, which his campaign cites as his source. But we were able to uncover some data that proved him right after all.

— Lori Robertson

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Mailbag: Bernie Sanders on the Rich http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/mailbag-bernie-sanders-on-the-rich/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/mailbag-bernie-sanders-on-the-rich/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 17:03:55 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97573 This week, readers sent us letters about a claim made by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, about income inequality in the United States.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the email we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


The Wealth of  ‘the Few’

In your article [“Sanders Stretches State of the Rich,” July 23], you arbitrarily define “the few” as 0.1 percent, or one out of 1,000 people. Then you generously say that Mr. Sanders may consider it 1 percent, or one out of 100. Myself, I would consider the few, in this context, as maybe 5 percent, or five out of 100. If I had a large group of people, and I selected 5 percent, yes, that would be a few. And yes, if just 5 percent of the population holds over 50 percent of the wealth, that is a great cause of concern. I believe it is the highest concentration since the late [19]20s. In my book anyway.

Randy Stemen  
Cincinnati, Ohio


It took an incredible degree of verbal jiu jitsu, but you turned the (undefined) “few” into the 0.1 percent, then turned that into “the rich.” I think that most of us would consider the top 1 percent, or even the top 10 percent, to be “few” (at least relatively). While on the other hand, most of us in the bottom four quintiles would consider the top 20 percentile to be rich.

To focus your criticism of Senator Sanders’ statement almost entirely on an assumption that he means the top 0.1 percent, and only briefly considering that he might mean a larger share of the population than that (and even then only the top 1 percent), is an incredibly elitist reading of his statement. You do not even consider that the substantial share of national wealth held by the wealthiest 0.1 percent in this country is an indicator of the share of the wealth held by the top 5 percent or 10 percent. Your headline writer then takes the opposite tack and turns your critique, which focuses on an extremely narrow interpretation of “the few,” and generalizes it into “the rich.”

Your team does some great work, but you’ve let us all down on this one.

Ray Wells
Ellensburg, Washington


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Obama-Rouhani Photo Is Not Real http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/obama-rouhani-photo-is-not-real/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/obama-rouhani-photo-is-not-real/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:03:30 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97525 A word of caution to ad makers: Don’t believe everything you see online, even images “in circulation widely on the internet.”

Restoration PAC learned that lesson the hard way when it used an image of President Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a TV ad airing in Wisconsin. The ad, which promotes incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson for his opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, pans across an image of a smiling Obama and Rouhani as the narrator accuses Obama of signing a “toothless agreement that makes us less safe.” The problem: Obama has never met Rouhani.

BuzzFeed News called out Restoration PAC in a July 23 post under the headline, “Anti-Iran Deal TV Ad Uses Fake Image Of Obama Meeting Iranian President.” The article said the original, authentic image was of Obama meeting with former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011. In the image used in the ad, BuzzFeed said, Rouhani was Photoshopped in.

Here’s the image used in the Restoration PAC ad:


And here’s the original photo it came from, according to BuzzFeed:


When we reached out to Restoration PAC by email, spokesman Dan Curry asked whether BuzzFeed “had any proof the photo was fake.”

We sent Curry links to several articles noting that a potentially historic handshake photo-op between the two leaders at the United Nations in 2013 never materialized. And the White House later confirmed to us that Obama and Rouhani have never met.

Curry responded with an official “Statement to FactCheck regarding liberal Buzzfeed post.” Here’s the part that addresses the photo:

Curry, July 23: BuzzFeed was not able to provide any proof that the photo was fake and it indeed is in circulation widely on the internet. There also are no articles claiming the image is fake. However, out of an abundance of caution, we are replacing the image with side-by-side Obama and Rouhani photos that make exactly the same point. The composition of the original image was not central to the ad’s point. The revised ad will be in circulation Friday morning.

Katherine Miller, the political editor for BuzzFeed News, told us via email that her only comment was, “The image is fake.”

As promised, Restoration PAC updated the ad with a new image, of Obama and Rouhani side-by-side but clearly not together.


The defense for the manipulated image — that “it indeed is in circulation widely on the internet” — is, in fact, no defense at all. We’ve got a whole section of our website devoted to bogus information circulating widely on the Internet.

We’ll leave it up to readers to determine whether or not the image is “central to the ad’s point.” But we note that images, in general, can be powerful and persuasive in political ads. And if Obama had shaken hands with Rouhani, it would have been news.

As Time’s Michael Crowley wrote in the days leading up to Rouhani’s visit to the United Nations in 2013: “An encounter between Obama and Iran’s new president at the United Nations on Tuesday would be the most important—or at least the most analyzed—handshake since the historic grip between Rabin and Arafat (or, if you prefer, Nixon and Elvis). It would only be a symbolic act, to be sure. But when it comes to international diplomacy, symbolism can go a long way.”

The ad — which praises Sen. Johnson for “understand[ing] that preventing Iran from getting the bomb is essential to our safety” — is running in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay. A press release for the ad notes that it was produced by Rick Reed, a Republican strategist involved in the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign in 2004 that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s military service. Restoration PAC is a conservative group that seeks to elect conservative Republicans to the Senate. According to its website, the PAC advocates for and against candidates based on their adherence to the “Blueprint for the Restoration of America,” an agenda that includes conservative principles such as reducing the size of government and the debt, cutting taxes, and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Johnson is set to square off for a second time against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in what Roll Call called “one of the country’s most closely watched races.”

Update, July 31: The Iranian flag pictured in the fake Obama-Rouhani handshake photo is incorrect, as you can see here (h/t our international fact-checking colleagues at Rouhani Meter).

— Robert Farley

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Sanders Stretches State of the Rich http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-stretches-state-of-the-rich/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/sanders-stretches-state-of-the-rich/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 17:10:28 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97490 Sen. Bernie Sanders claims that in the United States, “almost all of the wealth rests in the hands of the few.” He exaggerates. At most, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. families own 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, and Federal Reserve Board economists put the figure at 14 percent.

Either way, that’s a high concentration, and it has been growing in recent years. But neither 22 percent nor 14 percent is anywhere close to “almost all.”

Even if Sanders’ idea of “the few” includes the top 1 percent (about 1.6 million families), one study he has referenced puts their wealth at 42 percent of the total, and the Fed puts it at 36 percent. That’s not even most of the wealth, let alone “almost all” of it.

22 Percent?

Sanders, a presidential candidate, made the comment during his keynote address at the Iowa state Democratic Party Hall of Fame dinner on July 17 (at about the 5-minute mark).

Sanders, July 17: Today, in our great country, we are the wealthiest country in the history of the world, today, in the history of the world. But most Americans don’t know that because almost all of the wealth rests in the hands of the few.

America now has more wealth and income inequality than any major country on earth, and it is worse today than at any time since 1928.

Some of Sanders’ claims on income and wealth come from a widely quoted October 2014 study by economists Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics and Political Science. It garnered lots of headlines with its finding that wealth was more concentrated now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

But the Saez-Zucman study estimated that the top 0.1 percent (about 160,000 families) held 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, not “almost all.” And while it estimated that the top 10 percent owned 77.2 percent of the wealth, that would be well over 31 million people, which hardly qualifies as “the few.”

Furthermore, the Saez-Zucman study is an estimate that other economists say is inflated. The authors couldn’t actually measure anyone’s wealth directly, of course, because an individual’s net worth is generally confidential information not usually shared with the public or even with the Internal Revenue Service, which requires reporting of taxable income but not of the value of a house or of stocks or bonds or bank accounts.

Instead, the authors infer wealth from 2012 income as reported to the IRS, the most recent year for which they had income tax data.

(As for Sanders’ claim about wealth and income inequality, we covered that previously. Nations including Russia, Turkey and Brazil have greater inequality than the U.S.)

Or 14 Percent?

Saez and Zucman’s work has been criticized by economists at the Federal Reserve Board, which has conducted its own studies of the wealth held by U.S. households since the 1960s. The Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances is based on extensive surveys conducted every three years. The most recent covered 2013 (one year more recent than the Saez-Zucman paper’s coverage) and was based on a sample of about 6,500 families who agreed to share detailed information about their net worth.

The Fed’s survey data put the share of wealth held by the top 0.1 percent at 14 percent.

What accounts for the difference? Saez and Zucman argue that the Fed’s survey misses some of the richest families — those featured in the Forbes magazine list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. But that alone can’t account for the gap. The combined net worth of the entire Forbes 400 for 2013 was $2.021 trillion, accounting for just about 3 percent of total wealth, according to a paper published in June by Fed economist Jesse Bricker and three colleagues, Alice M. Henriques, Jake A. Krimmel and John E. Sabelhaus.

The Fed economists offer a detailed critique of the Saez-Zucman methodology, arguing that it has an “upward bias.” For example, the tax return data used by Saez and Zucman measure only taxable income, and can’t account for a lot of untaxed benefits, such as employer-paid health care and employer contributions to Social Security and Medicare, which benefit those in the middle more than those at the top.

They also defend their own methodology, noting that the Fed survey deliberately over-samples wealthy families and makes other adjustments to compensate for the fact that the very rich are relatively scarce and thus often missed by random surveys.

We won’t attempt to resolve this academic dispute. It may be that the correct figure for the top 0.1 percent lies somewhere between 14 percent and 22 percent of all wealth. We’ll just note that neither set of figures supports the overheated claim made by Sanders.

— Brooks Jackson

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Trump’s McCain Attack http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/trumps-mccain-attack/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/trumps-mccain-attack/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:33:46 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97461 Donald Trump distorts the facts in a recent op-ed in which he says Sen. John McCain has “abandoned our veterans” and “failed the state of Arizona and the country.”

  • Trump says McCain authored legislation “to cover up the VA scandal,” claiming the bill “made sure no one has been punished” at the Department of Veterans Affairs for falsifying data to mask long delays for care at VA hospitals. But VA officials have been punished, and the bill expanded the VA secretary’s power to discipline employees for misconduct.
  • Trump claims “1,000+ veterans died waiting for medical care” in the “VA scandal.” But an independent government report said it was “unable to conclusively assert” that delays caused veterans’ deaths. The 1,000 figure comes from a news report on the number of wrongful death payments involving veterans who received inadequate VA care.
  • He says McCain has made the U.S. “less safe,” citing as evidence the fact that McCain “even voted for the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015,” which gave Congress the right to vote on the Iran nuclear deal. Trump doesn’t mention that the bill passed the Senate 98-1.

The New York real estate mogul, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, has been rising in the polls. The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows that 24 percent of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support him for president. That gives him a double-digit lead over his nearest competition, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (13 percent) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (12 percent).

Trump came under heavy criticism for saying at a July 18 event in Iowa that McCain is “not a war hero.” McCain, who was the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, served in Vietnam and was held captive for more than five years.

In response to the criticism of his comments on McCain, Trump wrote a July 19 op-ed for USA Today that carried the headline “Trump: I don’t need to be lectured.” The op-ed lists the ways that Trump believes McCain has “failed the state of Arizona and the country.”

Trump has every right to express that opinion, but he twists the facts when providing his supporting evidence.

The ‘VA Scandal’

In his op-ed, Trump writes about the wait-list controversy that cost VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job.

The controversy originated at the Phoenix VA Health Care System in McCain’s home state of Arizona. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs revealed on April 9, 2014, that the Phoenix VA was keeping two sets of records to hide long waits for health care appointments and that “as many as 40 veterans” may have died because of the delayed care, the Arizona Republic reported.

An internal audit conducted by the VA in May and June 2014 found the problem of fraudulent scheduling was widespread, as USA Today reported at the time.

Congress responded with legislation — sponsored in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for president, and cosponsored by McCain — called the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

Trump, July 19: Thanks to McCain and his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, their legislation to cover up the VA scandal, in which 1,000+ veterans died waiting for medical care, made sure no one has been punished, charged, jailed, fined or held responsible. McCain has abandoned our veterans. I will fight for them.

There are multiple issues with this excerpt, but let’s first consider the claim that the legislation was “to cover up the VA scandal” and that it “made sure no one has been punished.”

The fact is that eight VA employees have been punished, although that’s not as many as some in Congress — including McCain — would like.

New York Times, April 22: The documents given this month to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which provided them to The New York Times, show that the department punished a total of eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal. One was fired, one retired in lieu of termination, one’s termination is pending, and five were reprimanded or suspended for up to two months.

In addition, the legislation that Trump criticizes provided the VA secretary with greater authority to discipline senior employees. A summary of the conference report drafted by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee listed the ways that the bill provided “real accountability” for misconduct:

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 2014: To provide real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers, the bill would:
— Authorize VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and Title 38 SES equivalent employees for poor performance or misconduct.
— Provide an expedited and limited appeal process for employees disciplined under this authority. Appeals would go to a Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judge, who would have 21 days to decide on the appeal. If a decision is not reached within that 21-day period, then VA’s decision to remove or demote the executive is final.
— Prohibit SES employees from receiving pay, bonuses and benefits during the appeal process.

As for his claim that “1,000+ veterans died waiting for medical care,” Trump is conflating two issues: the wait-list controversy and the number of wrongful death settlements at VA hospitals.

Trump’s op-ed links to a news article about a June 2014 report released by Sen. Tom Coburn’s office that said: “Over the past decade, more than 1,000 veterans may have died as a result of VA malfeasance.” A footnote in Coburn’s report explains that the 1,000 figure comes from a Center for Investigative Reporting project on wrongful death settlements at VA hospitals.

Coburn’s report links to a CIR story that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer that says “nearly 1,000″ payments were made over a 10-year period for a variety of reasons to the families of veterans who received inadequate care at the VA.

Center for Investigative Reporting, April 3, 2014: In that time, CIR found the agency made wrongful death payments to nearly 1,000 grieving families, including 36 in Pennsylvania, ranging from decorated Iraq War veterans who shot or hanged themselves after being turned away from mental health treatment, to Vietnam veterans whose cancerous tumors were identified but allowed to grow, to missed diagnoses, botched surgeries and fatal neglect of elderly veterans.

The full CIR report, which can be found on the group’s website, and the Inquirer article both quote VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon as saying “any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many,” but the wrongful deaths over that 10-year period represented a small percentage of VA patients. The article said there are “more than 6 million veterans who seek care from the agency every year.”

As for the number of deaths caused by the wait-time scandal, the Office of Inspector General within the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a final report in August 2014 on patient deaths at the Phoenix VA. The report said: “While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.”

On Sept. 17, 2014, Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin testified before a House committee that his office could not prove causality.

“As I cautioned in my May 15, 2014, testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, it is one thing to be on a waiting list and it is another thing to conclude that being on a waiting list caused death,” Griffin said in his testimony.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Trump also criticizes McCain for voting for the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, citing it as evidence that McCain “has made America less safe.”

Trump, July 19: He even voted for the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, which allows Obama, who McCain lost to in a record defeat, to push his dangerous Iran nuclear agreement through the Senate without a supermajority of votes.

Again, Trump is entitled to his opinion. But he leaves out some important context — beginning with the fact that the bill passed the Senate 98-1 and the House 400-25. Trump fails to mention that when singling out McCain for capitulating to President Obama.

The bill — which is actually called the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 — was a compromise between Congress and the White House that allowed Congress to review and possibly vote to reject the deal. It also imposed some requirements on the administration.

As the New York Times reported, it would “require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it was completed. It also would halt any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review and culminate in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor during the vote on May 7 called the bill “the best chance for our constituents, through the Congress they elect, to weigh in on the White House’s negotiations with Iran.” The president signed it on May 22.

Congress could block the nuclear agreement, if it musters the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto that the president has promised if Congress voted to reject the deal.

Trump is free to criticize the legislation and McCain for voting for it, just as he is free to criticize McCain for cosponsoring the VA legislation. But in both cases he goes too far when he distorts and obscures the facts to fit his narrative.

— Eugene Kiely

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Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/unspinning-the-planned-parenthood-video/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/unspinning-the-planned-parenthood-video/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 16:46:18 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97353 Several Republican presidential candidates have claimed that Planned Parenthood is “profiting” from abortions. But the full, unedited video they cite as evidence shows a Planned Parenthood executive repeatedly saying its clinics want to cover their costs, not make money, when donating fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research.

Four experts in the field of human tissue procurement told us the price range discussed in the video — $30 to $100 per patient — represents a reasonable fee. “There’s no way there’s a profit at that price,” said Sherilyn J. Sawyer, the director of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s “biorepository.”

Republicans made their claims following the release of a secretly recorded video showing Deborah Nucatola, the senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, discussing the procurement of fetal tissues when conducting abortions. The edited video, released July 14 by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress, leaves the impression that Nucatola is talking about Planned Parenthood affiliates making money from fetal tissue. But the edited video ignores other things Nucatola said that contradict that idea.

The Videos, Edited and Unedited

At one point in the unedited video (which was also released by the group), Nucatola says: “Affiliates are not looking to make money by doing this. They’re looking to serve their patients and just make it not impact their bottom line.”

Nucatola also says, “No one’s going to see this as a money making thing.” And at another point, she says, “Our goal, like I said, is to give patients the option without impacting our bottom line. The messaging is this should not be seen as a new revenue stream, because that’s not what it is.”

The footage was recorded secretly during a lunch meeting on July 25, 2014, between Nucatola and two people posing as employees of a company looking to procure fetal tissue for research purposes.

While eating a salad and drinking red wine, she casually discusses which tissues are valued by researchers and how to preserve those tissues while conducting abortions. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has apologized for Nucatola’s “tone” and manner of speaking, which House Speaker John Boehner condemned as “cavalier” in calling for a congressional investigation.

In the edited video, Nucatola says the cost for fetal tissue specimens was between $30 and $100, “depending on the facility and what’s involved.” She defined “specimen” as, “one case. One patient.”

Republicans have focused on those comments, characterizing the practice as a way to profit off abortion:

Rick Perry, July 14: The video showing a Planned Parenthood employee selling the body parts of aborted children is a disturbing reminder of the organization’s penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life.

Rand Paul, July 14: … a video showing [Planned Parenthood]’s top doctor describing how she performs late-term abortions to sell body parts for profit!

Carly Fiorina, July 14: This latest news is tragic and outrageous. This isn’t about “choice.” It’s about profiting on the death of the unborn while telling women it’s about empowerment.

Nucatola’s comment, though, isn’t evidence that Planned Parenthood or its affiliates are selling “body parts” or fetal tissue for profit. The full video shows that after Nucatola mentions the $30 to $100, she describes how those amounts would be reimbursement for expenses related to handling and transportation of the tissues. Nucatola talks about “space issues” and whether shipping would be involved.

We asked all three candidates listed above whether they believed the $30 to $100 per specimen amount constitutes making a “profit” from fetal tissue, and we did not receive specific answers to that question. The chief political strategist for Rand Paul’s campaign, Doug Stafford, sent us the following statement in an email:

Stafford, July 15: Planned Parenthood and their supporters in the media are willing to say anything to defend their taxpayer funded abortions and profiteering from selling aborted fetuses. They want to argue about what week they kill a child or how much they do or do not profit? What’s blatantly obvious is that Planned Parenthood is trying to distract from their extremist positions and immoral “business.”

We also asked experts in the use of human tissue for research about the potential for profit. Sherilyn J. Sawyer, the director of Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s “biorepository,” told us that “there’s no way there’s a profit at that price.” She continued in an email:

Sawyer, July 20: In reality, $30-100 probably constitutes a loss for [Planned Parenthood]. The costs associated with collection, processing, storage, and inventory and records management for specimens are very high. Most hospitals will provide tissue blocks from surgical procedures (ones no longer needed for clinical purposes, and without identity) for research, and cost recover for their time and effort in the range of $100-500 per case/block. In the realm of tissues for research $30-100 is completely reasonable and normal fee.

Jim Vaught, president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories and formerly the deputy director of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research, told us in an email that “$30 to $100 per sample is a reasonable charge for clinical operations to recover their costs for providing tissue.” In fact, he said, the costs to a clinic are often much higher, but most operations that provide this kind of tissue have “no intention of fully recovering [their] costs, much less making a profit.”

Carolyn Compton, the chief medical and science officer of Arizona State University’s National Biomarkers Development Alliance and a former director of biorepositories and biospecimen research at the National Cancer Institute, agreed that this was “a modest price tag for cost recovery.” Compton told us in an email: ” ‘Profit’ is out of the question, in my mind. I would say that whoever opined about ‘profit’ knows very little about the effort and expense involved in providing human biospecimens for research purposes.”

Nucatola does make one statement in the unedited video that suggests to critics that some clinics would be comfortable with a payment that was slightly more than their expenses for providing the tissue. “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a nonprofit, they just don’t want to — they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that,” Nucatola says.

But immediately after this statement, Nucatola goes on to say: “Really their bottom line is, they want to break even. Every penny they save is just pennies they give to another patient. To provide a service the patient wouldn’t get.” Planned Parenthood told us that she may have been referring to more general operations of the clinics.

SciCHECKinsertNucatola repeatedly talks about affiliates only wanting to provide a service to their patients, who elect to donate the tissue for medical research, and not having that service impact their bottom lines. She says that it’s “not a new revenue stream the affiliates are looking at” and that “nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.” She says some affiliates might donate the tissue for free.

Nucatola also discusses Planned Parenthood clinics’ interactions with a tissue procurement company called StemExpress. The company’s website says that partnering with StemExpress can be “financially profitable” for a clinic — a point that some conservative websites have singled out. But this also does not constitute evidence that Planned Parenthood is profiting in such a way.

StemExpress, which provides other types of tissue aside from fetal tissue, did not respond to our request for clarification on profitability. It did release a statement on its website expressing pride in its work to advance research and saying it complies “with all laws.”

According to another tissue procurement company called Advanced Bioscience Resources, which has provided fetal tissues to researchers in a number of federally funded studies, the costs mentioned in the video are reasonable. Linda Tracy, ABR’s president, told us in an email that “[i]t is difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of tissue acquisition due to the many variables involved,” such as the location of the facility, the specific requests from researchers and any special handling that is required. She said, however, that “$30 to $100 is within a comparable range of what ABR pays for reimbursement of costs.”

At one point in the video, Nucatola tells the “buyers” (the actors purporting to represent a fetal tissue procurement company are described as “buyers” in a transcript provided by the Center for Medical Progress) that affiliates wouldn’t make decisions about whether to work with a tissue research organization based on money. “You could call them up and say, ‘I’ll pay you double the money,’ and they’re almost more inclined to say no, because it’s going to look bad. … To them, this is not a service they should be making money from, it’s something they should be able to offer this to their patients, in a way that doesn’t impact them.”

She then suggests that these “buyers” might be able to compete with other companies by offering extra services, such as taking tissue the clinics would otherwise have to dispose of themselves.

In a statement on its website, Planned Parenthood defended its affiliates’ practice of fetal tissue donation as “standard across the medical field”:

Planned Parenthood, July 14: At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does — with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.

Richards, the Planned Parenthood president, said in a video response to the controversy: “The allegation that Planned Parenthood profits in any way from tissue donation is not true.”

On July 21, the Center for Medical Progress released a second, similar video, again featuring a discussion with a Planned Parenthood official in a restaurant. The numbers mentioned in the edited video are similar to what Nucatola said. The official, Mary Gatter, quotes a rate of $75 per specimen, and says she was thinking of saying $50. The discussion only reaches $100 because the “buyers” in the video mention higher prices. At one point, Gatter says that “we’re not in this for the money,” and later she reiterates that “money is not the important thing.”

Though few studies of costs associated with fetal tissue acquisition are available, existing evidence does suggest the prices named in the video are in line with general practices. The National Institutes of Health conducts research with fetal tissue, and in the late 1990s, the Government Accountability Office (then known as the General Accounting Office) looked into the acquisition of such tissue, finding that the direct cost to researchers was “low.” GAO said payments primarily went to “central tissue suppliers,” as opposed to health clinics. In most cases, GAO found that clinics did not charge researchers, but when they did, the cost ranged from $2 to $75. The report did not address how much clinics might have received from central tissue suppliers, which is more analogous to the situation presented in the video.

What Does the Law Say?

In a statement made to CNN, another presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, called the practice discussed in the video a “clear violation of federal law.” The “sale” of organs, both adult and fetal, for transplantation is indeed illegal, but donation of tissue — both from aborted fetuses and from adults — is not. And payment for “reasonable” costs is also allowed under the law.

The video itself highlights a portion of title 42 of the U.S. code, which reads: “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation if the transfer affects interstate commerce.” The law does include fetal tissue in its definitions. It says that the term “valuable consideration” doesn’t include “reasonable payments” for removal, transportation, preservation and other associated costs.

In 1993, a law pertaining to federally funded NIH research was enacted that allows donation of fetal tissue from induced abortions if certain criteria are met. These include that the woman donating is not aware of the recipients of the tissue, and that the abortion timing, procedures or method itself would not be altered for the sole purpose of obtaining the tissue.

The 1993 law also says that it is unlawful “for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.” The law again excludes the types of costs Nucatola discussed in the video: “The term ‘valuable consideration’ does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

The American Medical Association echoes this in its ethical guidelines on the issue: “Fetal tissue is not provided in exchange for financial remuneration above that which is necessary to cover reasonable expenses.”

Why Is Fetal Tissue Scientifically Useful?

Historically, the use of fetal tissue has produced some groundbreaking scientific discoveries. According to the American Society for Cell Biology, a nonprofit representing a large and varied group of scientists, “Fetal cells hold unique promise for biomedical research due to their ability to rapidly divide, grow, and adapt to new environments. This makes fetal tissue research relevant to a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit focused on sexual and reproductive health, tissue from fetuses has been used since the 1930s for a variety of purposes. Perhaps most famously, the 1954 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to researchers who managed to grow polio vaccine in fetal kidney cell cultures.

In another example, Leonard Hayflick created a cell line from an aborted fetus in the early 1960s that has been used to create vaccines against measles, rubella, shingles and other diseases. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the journal Nature in 2013 that “[t]hese cells from one fetus have no doubt saved the lives of millions of people.”

In more recent years, however, the use of stem cells for therapeutic and research purposes has taken a more central role than fetal tissue. As Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University, told Buzzfeed News, “fetal cells are not a big deal in science anymore.”

In spite of the waning interest, it remains legal to donate tissue from a legally aborted fetus, and for that tissue to be used for research purposes.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan and Lori Robertson

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