FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:33:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Still Spinning Wisconsin Voters http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/still-spinning-wisconsin-voters/ Thu, 30 Oct 2014 18:27:22 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90278 In Wisconsin’s pivotal race for governor, both sides are still spinning voters.

  • Republican Gov. Scott Walker is crowing about a gain of 8,400 jobs last month, when the actual gain in total jobs was only 300.
  • Walker is saying his state now ranks in the “top four” in the Midwest for job creation. But the state’s job gains still lag behind the national average.
  • A liberal group is attacking Walker for creating a tax deduction of up to $10,000 for “millionaires … to send their kids to private schools.” But the deduction is for parochial schools, too. And parents of any income level can benefit.
  • Ads even suggest Wisconsin voters may find arsenic in their drinking water because Walker approved an open-pit iron mine for a campaign donor. The mine is actually years away from final approval and would be subject to state and federal environmental regulation.
  • A business group’s ad attacking Democratic nominee Mary Burke suggests her performance as head of the state’s Department of Commerce was responsible for a loss of 130,000 jobs. In fact, the state gained nearly 50,000 jobs during her tenure.

Walker’s Jobs Record

Walker’s hopes for remaining on the national stage are riding on a lead in the polls so narrow that it’s within the statistical margin of error, and the race is rated as a toss-up. In September we found that both sides were playing “spin the voter” over Walker’s record on job creation, and that hasn’t changed in the final flurry of ads before Election Day.

In a TV spot released Oct. 22, and titled “Continuing Wisconsin’s Comeback,” Walker cobbles together some cherry-picked statistics to embellish his economic record.

  • Walker says that “just last month our reforms helped create 8,400 new jobs.” Not quite. As a graphic in the ad makes clear, Walker is only speaking of private-sector jobs. The state’s gain in total employment for September was actually a paltry 300 jobs. The governor is glossing over big drops in local government jobs.
  • Walker also says, “Wisconsin now ranks in the top four states in the Midwest for private-sector job growth.” It’s true that Wisconsin ranks fourth among the 10 Midwestern states he lists in his ad in job gains over the most recent 12 months, but it ranks fifth (in both private and total jobs) among the 12 states that make up the “Midwest” under the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition. Walker omits Missouri and Kansas.

Midwestern Job Gains Walker's Full TermThe fact is that over Walker’s full term in office, which began Jan. 3, 2011, the state’s job gains have been well below the national average, and rank (in percentage terms) only ninth among all 12 Midwestern states.

Our calculations are based on seasonally adjusted figures for total nonfarm employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Survey, which is the most timely and most commonly used measure of employment at the state and national levels. It is also the source cited by Walker’s ad to support his “top four” claim.

And what those figures show is that as of September, the most recent figures available and the last that will be released before Election Day, the state has gained 4.3 percent in total employment since Walker took office. Meanwhile, the United States as a whole has gained 6.6 percent during the same period.

We’ll note once again that elected officials have only limited influence over the broad economic forces that drive the economy, and frequently claim more credit or receive more blame than they really deserve.

But Walker made a campaign promise in 2010 that if elected he would create 250,000 jobs during his four-year term, and he repeated that pledge when he was inaugurated. So far the state has added less than half that many — 118,700.

Most Recent 12 Months

Recent Midwestern Job GainsTo be sure, the state’s economy has picked up steam in the most recent 12 months, as has the national economy as a whole. But even during this period, Wisconsin is still below the national average, and ranks fifth among all 12 Midwestern states.

Our calculations put the state’s gain in total employment at 1.5 percent since September of last year. During the same period, the U.S. as a whole gained 1.9 percent.

So Walker is correct when he says in his ad that the state is “not last” — but it’s only in the “top four” among the 10 states Walker uses for his comparison.

In Walker’s defense, the state’s unemployment rate improved in September to 5.5 percent, which is slightly better than the national average of 5.9 percent. Wisconsin is currently tied with Virginia for the 17th lowest jobless rate among all 50 states.

But it’s also true that despite the gains under Walker, nearly 23,000 fewer people were employed in September than at Wisconsin’s high point, which was June 2007. Unlike the country as a whole, the state has yet to regain all the jobs lost during and after the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

So the state’s economic performance under Walker is neither as good as he would have voters believe, or as bad as his Democratic critics were still claiming as recently as Oct. 13 in an ad saying Wisconsin job growth under Walker is “dead last in the Midwest.” As we’ve seen, it’s not.

Tax Break for ‘Millionaires’

On the other side, the liberal, pro-Democratic Greater Wisconsin PAC released an ad Oct. 24 claiming that Walker has given “millionaires a new, $10,000 tax deduction to send their kids to private schools.” (The narrator emphasizes the word “their.”) That’s true but misleading. The tax break is available to any parent with a child in private or parochial school, not just “millionaires.”

In 2013, Walker signed “Act 20″ (the massive state budget bill), which contained section 1304g, providing a deduction from state income taxes for private school tuition. Actually, the deduction is up to $4,000 (per pupil, per year) for elementary school tuition and $10,000 (per pupil, per year) only for secondary school tuition.

But, you don’t have to be a “millionaire” to claim the deduction. Wisconsin’s state income tax starts at 4 percent of taxable income up to $14,540 for married couples, and goes up in steps to a maximum of 7.65 percent on income over $320,250. So plenty of middle-income parents can take advantage.

The benefit also can be claimed for “religious-based” education, so thousands of parochial school parents will benefit. In the Diocese of Madison, which covers 11 of the state’s 72 counties, for example, there were 7,437 students enrolled in 44 Catholic schools during the 2012-2013 school year, and the average tuition for elementary school was $2,170 for the first student.

The tax break took effect for tuition paid in 2014. Walker’s Democratic opponent, Mary Burke, has said she would eliminate it.

Poisoned Water?

The same attack ad makes the claim that Walker’s friends got “a massive strip mine after they made secret donations to help him” totaling $700,000. “We could get arsenic in our drinking water,” the narrator says.

A second ad, from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, plays on the same theme. “Scott Walker risked contaminating our drinking water with arsenic and lead” after the mining company “secretly gave $700,000 to a group actively supporting Scott Walker.”

It remains to be seen how great a risk the mining project might present. And Walker states that he wasn’t aware of the $700,000 donation until it came to light in August of this year.

There’s no question that Walker benefited from the gift to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, whether he knew the source or not. The Club for Growth spent $9.1 million supporting Walker during recall elections in 2011 and 2012 that drew national attention.

It’s also no secret that in 2013 Walker supported and signed a bill sought by the mining company, Gogebic Taconite, that was the source of the recently disclosed gift. Gogebic Taconite wanted changes to state mining law to clear the way for a $1.5 billion open-pit iron mine, which Walker says he backed because of the jobs and economic benefits it would bring.

It’s also true that arsenic and lead are among the many “trace elements” that can be found in waste water from metal mining, according to the Montana-based Center for Science in Public Participation. However, at the moment the iron mine project is in the very early stages of permitting. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, granting a permit “can take several years” and would require an environmental impact statement. The project would be subject to both state and federal regulation, the latter under the federal Clean Water Act.

So we judge it to be premature to be accusing Walker of slipping arsenic into the state’s drinking water.

Burke ‘a Disaster’

A last-minute ad from a state business group attacks Burke, the Democratic candidate, for her record as head of the state’s Department of Commerce under Walker’s predecessor.

“She admitted her agency sat on the sidelines and failed to attract new businesses,” the ad says. It also quotes an email from Burke’s predecessor at the department as saying, “She’s a disaster.” And it goes on to say, “Maybe that’s why Wisconsin lost 130,000 jobs when [James] Doyle was governor.” It is sponsored by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council.

We find this ad to be misleading. Wisconsin actually gained jobs during Burke’s tenure as commerce secretary, which started Feb. 7, 2005, and ended in November 2007. The state gained 49,500 jobs during that time.

The big job losses came only later. The month after Burke left the Doyle administration marked the official start of the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression. It lasted from December 2007 until June 2009. The collapse of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis wreaked havoc nationwide, not just in Wisconsin.

It’s true that Burke criticized her own agency for sitting on the sidelines and failing to attract more businesses to the state — as she was leaving government, and after she had reorganized the agency.

But Burke was given little to work with while she was in office, as the very news story that the ad cites as its authority made clear. The story quoted business association executive Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, as saying both Burke and her predecessor “did well with the resources they had, but they have probably one of the weakest tool sets of any state commerce secretary in the country when it comes to incentives, tax breaks, flexible training dollars.”

It’s also true that Burke’s predecessor as commerce secretary told an aide to the governor that Burke was “a disaster.” The remark was in an email dated Sept. 3, 2006, and it only surfaced on Oct. 16. What the ad fails to mention is that the author, Cory Nettles, states that he has no memory of writing the email, and that the remark does not reflect his current view of her tenure as commerce secretary. “Let me be clear, I have a lot of respect for Mary Burke,” Nettles told a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

– Brooks Jackson and Alexander Nacht

NARAL’s ‘Edgy’ Condom Ad in Colorado http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/narals-edgy-condom-ad-in-colorado/ Wed, 29 Oct 2014 20:21:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90306 A TV ad in the Colorado Senate race says Republican Rep. Cory Gardner wants to “ban birth control,” so “you better stock up on condoms.” In fact, Gardner supports making birth control pills available over-the-counter, and nothing he supports or has proposed would ban the sale of condoms.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, the group behind a self-described “edgy” ad campaign, is referring to Gardner’s co-sponsorship of a federal bill, the Life at Conception Act, that could lead to a ban of some hormonal forms of birth control, including the pill and intrauterine devices, although that is a matter that would likely be settled in the courts. However, Gardner does not want to ban birth control, as the ad says, and the federal law would not lead to a ban on condoms, as the ad implies.

Doug Gordon, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, told us in an email: “We’re not saying he is banning condoms. We are saying if Gardner starts limiting other forms of birth control, you better stock up on condoms because there will be so much demand for them — since Gardner wants to ban other forms of birth control.”

A radio ad that’s part of the group’s ad campaign says exactly that. But that’s not what the group’s TV ad says or implies.

The ad campaign, which NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado says will cost $450,000 and run until Election Day, targets young voters, particularly young men. The TV ad attacks Gardner, who’s running against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, on two issues: climate change and birth control. There is a shorter Web version of the TV ad that is solely about birth control.

The TV ad shows a young man and woman in bed, with a few empty condom wrappers on the bedroom nightstand. The man reaches out from under the covers for a condom but can’t find one. The narrator says, “If Cory Gardner gets his way” — short pause — “you better stock up on condoms.” During the narrator’s pause, these words appear on the screen: “Gardner: Ban Birth Control.”

Gardner does not support and has not made any proposal that would “ban birth control.” He does, however, have a complicated and, frankly, confounding position on birth control — which we covered at length in an article called “A Fight Over Birth Control in Colorado” — and this ad campaign seeks to exploit that position.

The summary version: Gardner changed his position this year on the state “personhood” ballot initiative after years of supporting it in past elections. He said he changed his position precisely because he now understands that it could ban some common forms of birth control. “The fact that it restricts contraception, it was not the right position,” he told the Denver Post in March. He also has taken the position this election that birth control pills should be available over-the-counter.

However, Gardner is a co-sponsor of the federal Life at Conception Act, which supporters in Congress describe as a “personhood” measure. We don’t see that there is any practical difference between the state initiative and the federal bill in terms of the language that prompts concerns over a potential ban on some forms of birth control.

Medically — and in terms of federal regulations — a pregnancy has been defined as beginning at implantation, and both the state ballot measure and the federal bill would define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Opponents of these measures argue that they 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.

Gardner insists there is a difference between the state and federal efforts — going so far as to say that there is no such thing as a federal personhood bill, even though other sponsors have described it as such.

It is fair for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado to take issue with Gardner’s continued support of the federal bill, and the possible implications of it. But it’s simply inaccurate for the group’s TV ad to say Gardner would “ban birth control.” At best, the group could say that the federal bill, which he supports, could lead to a ban on some forms of birth control. It’s also inaccurate to imply that the “ban” would cover condoms — which would not be affected if the federal bill became law.

As for climate change, the TV ad says that Gardner “denies climate change.” That’s not exactly his position. Gardner has said he believes climate change is real, but he has expressed some doubt about how much of it is the result of human behavior.

In a Denver Post article on the Oct. 7 debate, Gardner was quoted as saying: “Yes, the climate is changing, I’ve said that all along. I disagree to the extent that man is causing it.” That was the second of back-to-back debates in the Colorado Senate race. Politico, which covered the Oct. 6 debate, wrote that Gardner expressed his support in that debate for “trying to reduce carbon emissions, but he said it cannot be done in a way that kills jobs.”

“There is no doubt that pollution contributes to the climate changing around us,” Gardner was quoted as saying in the Politico article.

– Eugene Kiely

2014 Campaign Whoppers http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/2014-campaign-whoppers/ Tue, 28 Oct 2014 20:26:22 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90109 Summary

By the time the last polling booth closes on Nov. 4, a staggering amount of money — $4 billion, by one estimate — will have been spent on the midterm elections. What did all that money buy? A lot of false and misleading TV ads.

Once again, we had no shortage of material for our annual Whoppers article. The candidates and their increasingly well-financed allies flooded the airwaves with ads accusing one another of dishonoring veterans, slashing Medicare benefits, threatening Social Security and lining their pockets with ill-gotten gains.

The facts too often did not support the over-the-top rhetoric used by both sides.

There were repeats from years past, including one that made our Whoppers list in 2006, as well as new twists on perennial topics, such as abortion and taxes. One Democrat claimed his opponent “proposed making women criminals for having an abortion,” even though the bill his opponent co-sponsored clearly stated a woman could not be prosecuted in “the death of her unborn child.” A Republican boasted that he “saved” 99 percent of taxpayers from “Obama’s tax increases,” even though he could only credibly claim to have “saved” at most 2 percent.

For these and other examples of this year’s most common and wackiest misstatements, please read on to the Analysis section.


Immigration Imagination

By now, it’s routine for opponents of an immigration overhaul to yell “amnesty” at any supporter of a bill that includes a path to citizenship. There were many examples of that in this campaign cycle, too. But some candidates got more imaginative this year when it came to using the immigration issue as a blunt political weapon.

For example, in the Republican primary in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District, David Rouzer claimed Woody White is “part of a group that is pushing for amnesty.” Really? The short answer is: No. The long answer is more entertaining: White belongs to a lawyer’s association that advocated for driver’s licenses to be issued to immigrants who are in the country illegally, so they can purchase car insurance. But that’s not amnesty and, even if it was, White doesn’t even share the group’s position on driver’s licenses.

david-perdue-not-the-real-thingWe also wrote about false “amnesty” claims in Republican Senate primaries in Georgia and Mississippi. But Republicans weren’t the only ones to get creative on the issue of “amnesty.”

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu claimed in a TV ad that she “voted nine times to block amnesty.” She didn’t, of course. No one proposed legislation that would have given blanket legal status to those living in the U.S. illegally, and no votes were taken. Her tortured logic: The immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” so her support for a comprehensive immigration bill that included a path to citizenship amounted to votes to “block amnesty.”

There were some immigration chestnuts, too.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee served up a vintage Whopper (circa 2006) in a TV ad saying Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor “voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants.” Nobody proposed paying benefits to those in the country illegally — not until and unless they gain legal status. Pryor voted in 2006 to kill a Republican amendment that would have changed current law to prevent legal immigrants from getting credit toward future Social Security benefits based on taxes paid while working in the U.S. illegally. Ten Republicans, including 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, voted against changing current law, too. We first debunked this claim in October 2006, and later put the claim on our list of the “Whoppers of 2006.”

Dueling ‘Amnesty’ Claims in N.C., April 30

Kingston’s False ‘Amnesty’ Connection, July 17

Twisting Cochran’s Record, May 23

Playing Politics with Immigration, Sept. 17

Headed for the Hall of Shame, Aug. 20

Questionable Ethics Charges

Campaigns design attack ads to make voters think the worst of the opposing candidate, and sometimes those attacks are personal.

In Michigan’s 4th Congressional District Republican primary, state Sen. John Moolenaar accused businessman Paul Mitchell of “lining his pockets with Obama’s stimulus.” On the screen, viewers see stacks of bills and the words: “Mitchell took $100,000 from Obama’s stimulus.” The Moolenaar ad cited an unimpeachable source for the claim: recovery.gov, the government website for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But there’s a lot less here than meets the eye. Michigan received funding to retrain laid-off workers, some of whom signed up for classes at a medical education center Mitchell once headed. The stimulus money helped pay for the tuition of laid-off workers who were seeking training in careers such as dental assistant and pharmacy technician; it did not go to line Mitchell’s pockets.

Whopper -ethicsIn another GOP primary, this one in Pennsylvania’s 9th District, Rep. Bill Shuster accused his tea party-backed challenger, Art Halvorson, of “lining his pockets with taxpayer subsidies.” The ad said: “His farm in Iowa got half a million dollars.” That was not the case at all. Halvorson rents property to farmer Jon Charles Jacobson, who has received $423,019 worth of USDA subsidies over 18 years. Jacobson received those subsidies, not Halvorson. And Jacobson told us he farms 700 acres and only a fraction of the subsidies he received came from farming that was done on Halvorson’s 40-acre property.

In the general election, the conservative Ending Spending Action Fund attacked Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s ethics by claiming she profited “from her votes,” and specifically accusing her husband of engaging in “a shady stock deal” and the New Hampshire senator of “a conflict of interest.” As a result of this family conspiracy, the ad says, Shaheen’s “wealth has surged while in public office.” The facts are far less tantalizing. The ad’s claims all stem from her vote for the stimulus – which all Senate Democrats supported – and the fact that her husband had a small financial stake in a company that received a $77,715 stimulus grant. The kicker: The Shaheen family’s estimated net worth had actually declined since she took office in January 2009. And the Shaheen campaign said her husband’s stock option in the company expired, so the family did not earn a dime from the “shady stock deal.”

In the Arkansas gubernatorial race, the Republican Governors Association claimed the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Mike Ross, got a “sweetheart deal” when he sold his family-owned pharmacy to a campaign donor in 2007. The ad cited a news story that was based largely on an independent appraisal of Ross’ pharmacy by Adam Guthrie Jr. The ad quoted Guthrie from a 2009 news story: “You can buy half the town for $420,000.” But Guthrie’s appraisal of the Ross pharmacy was discredited by state regulators, and Guthrie surrendered his license in 2010 rather than face disciplinary action by the Arkansas Appraiser Licensing & Certification Board for his appraisal of the Ross property. Also, the House ethics committee cleared Ross of any wrongdoing, saying the buyer paid fair market value for the pharmacy. The ad ignored all that.

Misleading Michigan GOP Primary Voters, July 31

Scandalous Ad in New Hampshire Race, Aug. 28

Stretching the Facts in Pennsylvania, March 28

Another Arkansas Whopper, Sept. 3

Senior Scare

This year, we likened claims designed to scare seniors to ghost stories — both frightening and fanciful. And they were plentiful, too.

In the first nine months of 2014, $50 million had been spent on TV ads that mentioned Medicare, with Democrats outspending Republicans nearly 2 to 1, according to Kantar Media Intelligence’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. That’s about 112,000 spots, and the numbers don’t even include ads about Social Security, the other major senior-scare topic.

medicareguaranteeIn many cases, the claims were the same old scare tactics. In several Senate and House races, Democrats claimed Republicans would “end the Medicare guarantee,” a reference to the candidates’ support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan and a version of the “end Medicare” whopper that has been around since 2011. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t end the guarantee of Medicare, or Medicare benefits, as some ads claimed. Instead, it proposed phasing in a government-subsidy program in which future beneficiaries pick from traditional Medicare or private insurance plans, which must offer the same benefits as traditional Medicare.

Other Democratic ads, such as one from Alison Lundergan Grimes attacking Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate race, recycled the outdated claim that Republicans supporting Ryan’s plan would increase Medicare costs by $6,000 per beneficiary. That’s based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Ryan’s 2011 plan. Ryan’s subsequent proposals were more generous in terms of the growth of subsidies, and his current proposal is actually modeled on a plan that CBO says would lower seniors’ premiums and costs by 6 percent on average. The CBO also now says its 2011 report was a “rough analysis” based on assumptions that have proven invalid. Other Democratic claims exaggerated the impact Ryan’s plan would have on seniors’ prescription drug costs.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to push the old, misleading claim that the Affordable Care Act would cut Medicare by $716 billion. That’s a reduction in the future growth of spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the current budget. The National Republican Congressional Committee led the charge on this talking point, making the claim in ads in several House races. Most of the reduction in Medicare spending is in the growth of future payments to hospitals, a move that extends the life of the Medicare trust fund.

On Social Security, an ad from Sen. Landrieu in Louisiana claimed that her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, voted to cut Social Security benefits “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut.” No, he didn’t. That’s a reference to a Republican Study Committee budget resolution that called for using a different method of calculating cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age. The “savings” from the cost-cutting measures would prolong the life of the Social Security trust funds — not pay for tax cuts. President Obama proposed the same change in cost-of-living calculations and correctly said it would “improve Social Security solvency.”

Political ads designed to scare seniors to garner their votes usually include images of elderly men and women, even though the claims being made pertain to proposed changes that wouldn’t affect seniors today. In the Arkansas Senate race, for example, an ad from Crossroads GPS attacking Pryor showed an image of a senior man while saying the Democratic incumbent “suggested raising the retirement age” for Social Security. He did — but for those who are now teenagers, not the man pictured.

Midterm Medicare Mudslinging, Oct. 3

More Senior Scare in Arkansas, Aug. 22

Social Security Scare in Louisiana, Aug. 7

Medicare Ghost Stories, July 9

Old Medicare Claims in Arkansas Senate Race, Feb. 21

Coal-Fired Whoppers

The whoppers in Kentucky and West Virginia were often fueled by America’s No. 1 energy source, coal.

Whoppers - coalThe House Majority PAC, a super PAC dedicated to returning the Democrats to power in the House, got things started early — way back in March — with a TV ad in West Virginia’s 3rd District that falsely claimed Republican Evan Jenkins “vowed to repeal black lung benefits.” Jenkins vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, not end black lung benefits. A repeal of the ACA would make it more difficult for some miners and surviving spouses to prove eligibility for the Federal Black Lung Benefits Program. But that would not repeal the benefits, which were created under a separate law.

Six months later, Rep. Nick Rahall doubled down on the black lung benefits claim. His campaign ran an ad saying Jenkins pledged to “take away” black lung benefits. “When I hear Evan Jenkins say that he’s gonna take away our black lung benefits, it just bothers me to no end,” a coal miner said in the ad. Jenkins said no such thing. To the contrary, Jenkins says he is “firmly opposed to any cuts to the Federal Black Lung Benefit Program.” Rahall’s campaign was putting words in Jenkins’ mouth.

In the Kentucky Senate race, Grimes accused McConnell and his wife of “personally” taking “$600,000 from anti-coal groups.” Viewers wouldn’t know this from the ad, but Grimes was primarily talking about money from Wells Fargo. Yes, the bank. Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife and a former secretary of labor, sits on the Wells Fargo board of directors — for which she has been paid $684,000 over the last three years. It’s true that Wells Fargo — five years before Chao joined the board — decided not to extend credit to mountaintop removal projects or to coal companies that receive a majority of their coal production from mountaintop removal. But it’s also true that the bank still lends billions to coal companies. In fact, the environmental Sierra Club gave it a “D” rating this year for its involvement in financing coal-fired power plants in 2013.

Not to be outdone, the McConnell campaign claimed to show “shocking” video evidence from Grimes’ “own staff” that proves “Grimes is lying” about her support for coal. Spoiler alert: There is no smoking gun. None of those featured in the ad is a paid staffer with the Grimes campaign, and all of them are expressing their personal opinions — not revealing campaign strategy. The Grimes supporters were surreptitiously videotaped by conservative activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action Fund as they were meeting with undercover actors who posed as liberals concerned about Grimes’ coal-friendly statements. The McConnell ad says “Grimes is lying,” but ignores the possibility that the supporters shown in the video are just telling the undercover actors what they think the actors want to hear.

Bogus Attack in Coal Mine Country, March 19

Doubling Down in West Virginia, Sept. 16

Kentucky Coal Connections, Oct. 7

No Proof of ‘Lying,’ Oct. 15


What list of campaign whoppers would be complete without claims about Obamacare? In this election, we saw efforts to paint Republicans as supporters of the Affordable Care Act, even though they weren’t. And, as in past elections, we saw conservatives offering misleading attacks on the law.

ObamacareIn the most interesting twist, the Democratic Senate Majority PAC ran an ad that could have been mistaken for a product of the Koch brothers from the way it disparaged Obamacare. The TV spot claimed that Cassidy, the Republican running for the Senate in Louisiana, sponsored a bill while in the state Legislature to create “government-run health care” in Louisiana. Cassidy did nothing of the sort. His 2007 bill, which never made it out of committee, called for setting up a state insurance exchange to serve as a clearinghouse for insurers and potential customers. The ad also claimed Cassidy argued for “automatic Obamacare registration,” but he actually called for repealing the ACA and enrolling the uninsured in a scaled-back GOP alternative.

In Georgia’s 1st Congressional District, Bob Johnson and Buddy Carter – who were rivals for the GOP nomination – ran deceptive ads in which each portrayed the other as a closet fan of Obamacare. A Johnson TV ad quoted Carter as saying Obamacare is “not so bad.” Carter said that “some of the things that have happened so far are not so bad,” but he immediately added that “the worst part is yet to come.” Carter, meanwhile, blasted Johnson for “membership in and endorsement from groups that support Obamacare.” Dr. Bob Johnson is a member of the American Medical Association, but he disagrees with the AMA on this issue. Needless to say, both have called for repeal of the law.

The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity made canceled insurance policies a theme of its ads, with one series of TV spots against Democratic senators claiming, “Millions of people have lost their health insurance.” Insurance companies did discontinue policies that had covered millions who bought the plans directly, rather than through an employer. Those plans didn’t meet the minimum benefit standards of the law. But those policyholders didn’t lose the ability to have insurance. In most cases, insurers offered them an alternative plan, and in other cases, individuals could buy coverage on state or federal marketplaces, many with the help of federal subsidies. In fact, there is evidence that far more have gained coverage than had their policies canceled.

Other Republican ads claimed that premiums or health costs were “skyrocketing” under the ACA. That’s misleading. Employer-sponsored premiums, where most Americans have coverage, have been growing at historically low rates in the past few years, as have overall health care costs. Premiums for those who buy their own private insurance will go up or down, in some cases significantly, depending on individual circumstances: For instance, those with health conditions would likely pay less than they did when their health status was a pricing factor, and the reverse is likely the case for healthy individuals.

‘Cassidycare?’ Come On! July 11

Who Supports Obamacare in Georgia Race? July 16

Obamacare Ad Onslaught, April 11

Dishonoring Veterans

Democrats and Republicans tried to capitalize on public anger over the VA hospitals scandal by wrongly accusing their opponents of neglecting veterans by voting to cut their benefits or skipping important hearings on veterans-related issues to raise campaign cash.

Whoppers - veteransBack in June, the House Majority PAC accused California Republican Doug Ose of voting “to slash veterans benefits by $15 billion” in 2003, but actually he voted for a nonbinding budget resolution that proposed a 5.4 percent increase in new spending authority for veterans benefits and services for fiscal year 2004. Democrats claimed the bill contained a $15 billion cut because the House Republicans’ budget proposed a smaller increase in spending authority for veterans benefits than President Bush’s budget. Bush had called for a 6.6 percent increase compared with the 5.4 percent contained in the House measure.

After that, the Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA aired an identical TV ad making the inaccurate claim that Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican, “voted for a plan that would cut veterans benefits.” The ad was referring to a February 2012 vote related to the Baseline Reform Act of 2012, a Republican-sponsored bill that would have changed the budget process in a way that may or may not have resulted in budget cuts. Under the bill, baseline budget projections would not be adjusted for inflation. But the bill alone would not have resulted in automatic cuts to veterans benefits. Congress would still need to decide how much to spend above or below the baseline. As the Congressional Budget Office said in an analysis of the bill: “Any impact on the budget would depend on the extent of future legislative actions.”

Those ads aired before former Republican Rep. Bobby Schilling ran a TV spot featuring four Army and Navy veterans scolding Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos for $6 billion in cuts to “veterans benefits” that never happened. What Bustos initially voted for last December was a bipartisan budget to avert another government shutdown that also reduced future cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of working-age military retirees by cutting spending by an estimated $6.2 billion over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016. But the pension cut quickly drew fire from military and veterans groups, and members of the Senate and the House, including Bustos, voted weeks later to repeal the cut and restore the old cost-of-living formula for all who had signed up for military service prior to 2014.

And Concerned Veterans for America got in on the deception with an ad that falsely claimed Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.” In fact, none of the three fundraisers that Braley attended was scheduled at the same time as the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing that he missed that day. The Braley campaign has said that the congressman missed the VA committee hearing because he was attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that was taking place at roughly the same time. The official transcript shows Braley was present for the oversight hearing. But it is not known for how long, and his campaign wouldn’t say.

Moldy Baloney About Vets’ Benefits, June 5

Democratic Assault on Cassidy’s Record, Sept. 3

No Cuts for Military Vets, Sept. 18

Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack, Aug. 1

Misleading Ads About Taxes

Nothing, the saying goes, is as certain as death and taxes. To that we might add “and misleading political ads about taxes.” As usual, 2014 campaigns have been filled with bloated boasts about tax cuts and off-base accusations that an opponent has raised taxes.

The bipartisan deal reached on New Year’s Day in 2013 to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff provided plenty of ad fodder for both sides. Known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the compromise agreement permanently extended Bush-era income tax cuts for everyone except for individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000 a year.

Whoppers - taxesThat led to a grossly misleading boast by McConnell, the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, who voted for the bipartisan deal. McConnell claimed he “[s]aved 99% of Kentuckians from Obama’s Tax Increases.” But Obama’s plan would have extended the Bush-era tax cuts for those earning up to $250,000 for families ($200,000 for individuals). In other words, McConnell can only credibly claim to have “saved” individuals with taxable income of between $200,000 and $400,000 and couples who earn between $250,000 and $450,000. That’s about 1 percent to 2 percent of Americans.

Interestingly, that same fiscal cliff vote was used as the basis for an ad from McConnell’s opponent, Grimes, who claimed McConnell  “even voted to end the payroll tax credit.” It’s true that a temporary payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire in the fiscal cliff deal. But no one really pushed for extending the payroll tax holiday, not even Democrats who had proposed it two years earlier as a form of temporary recession relief. All but three Senate Democrats voted for the fiscal cliff bill, and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday was even supported by the likes of Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House. The fiscal cliff deal McConnell voted for was praised by Obama, who even thanked McConnell by name for supporting it.

On more than one occasion, Republicans and their allies labeled vulnerable Democratic senators champions of a carbon tax without evidence. One particularly egregious example: A Crossroads GPS ad said Colorado Sen. Mark Udall “voted to enact a carbon tax.” He did not. The ad refers to a vote on a failed amendment to a nonbinding budget resolution. The amendment would have required any possible future carbon tax to be revenue neutral, with the tax proceeds being returned to the American people. We saw similar bogus attacks on Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska.

In a Republican-on-Republican attack, Paul DeMarco, a candidate in Alabama’s 6th Congressional District Republican runoff, butchered a quote from his opponent, Gary Palmer, on taxes. The ad left the false impression that Palmer supported a $1.2 billion tax hike. It took a quote from an op-ed Palmer wrote opposing the tax increase, but cut it off in mid-sentence. The ad quoted Palmer as saying, “I would be willing to support a tax increase …,” even though the rest of that sentence read “… but only on the condition that we first set in place some meaningful accountability measures. Unfortunately, the proposal before the people of Alabama falls well short of the mark.”

And, in what ended up being the most shocking upset of the political year so far, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia lost his primary to upstart Republican David Brat, despite Cantor repeatedly portraying Brat as a “liberal college professor” who advised then-Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine on a massive tax hike plan. Cantor distorted Brat’s role on the Joint Advisory Board of Economists, a large board of unpaid technical experts that was narrowly tasked with providing professional economic forecasts. Advice on tax policy was not part of the job description.

McConnell’s Bloated Tax Boast, April 23

Grimes Ad Misses the Mark on McConnell, Oct. 23

Cantor Mislabels Opponent, May 5

Cantor Mislabels Opponent, The Sequel, May 28

Editing Out the Facts in Alabama, June 25

More Carbon Tax Distortions, July 24

AFP Distorts Begich’s Carbon Tax Stance, Feb. 28

 Wait … There’s More!

The liberal Senate Majority PAC claimed in a TV ad to “connect the dots” on Rep. Tom Cotton’s career. Cotton was “paid handsomely working for insurance companies” before joining Congress, the ad said, and he has paid them back in Congress by supporting the industry’s agenda. There is one problem with this theory: Cotton didn’t work for any insurance companies. His only established connection to the industry involved consulting work for the Federal Housing Administration.

Conversely, Cotton made the curious claim that President Obama “hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill.” That was his defense for being the only member of the Arkansas delegation to vote against the bill. But food stamp funding has been part of farm bills going back to 1973.

Whoppers - terroristsSen. John Walsh, before quitting the race over plagiarism charges, claimed Republican Rep. Steve Daines “proposed making women criminals for having an abortion.” The ad cites the Life at Conception Act, which Daines co-sponsored. But that bill clearly states that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.”

In the Georgia Senate race, Republican David Perdue cited a campaign strategy memo from Michelle Nunn’s advisers to make the audacious claim that “her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” She “admits” it! It’s right there in the campaign memo! Except it’s not. The memo doesn’t “admit” anything. It was meant to prepare “responses to potential Republican attacks,” as it said. It didn’t say those attacks would be accurate. And there’s no evidence that the foundation — Points of Light, the volunteer group founded by former Republican President George H.W. Bush — gave money to any group linked to terrorists.

Most attack ads appear in competitive races, but long-shot Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District ran a TV ad that claimed Rep. Steve King voted to “raise his own pay by $20,000 a year and take perks like free health care for life.” Mowrer is doubly wrong. The $20,000 figure is about how much congressional salaries automatically have increased for cost-of-living adjustments since 2002, when King was first elected. King did not vote to raise his pay — let alone “by $20,000 a year.” He also didn’t vote for “free health care for life.” King voted for a House budget resolution that urged the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But if that happened, members of Congress would return to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which is not free.

Disconnecting the Dots in Arkansas, April 11

Hijacking History in Arkansas, Sept. 24

Abortion Attack Goes Too Far in Montana, May 22

Perdue Distorts Nunn Campaign Memo, Sept. 12

Double Whopper Against King, Oct. 10

Editor’s note: Did we miss one of your favorite whoppers? Let us know which one. Tweet us at @factcheckdotorg.

– by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, D’Angelo Gore and Robert Farley

NRA’s ‘Slick’ Ad Links Braley to Bloomberg http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/nras-slick-ad-links-braley-to-bloomberg/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:19:23 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90034 The National Rifle Association implies Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley lied when he said he “never met Michael Bloomberg,” but there’s no evidence of that. The NRA ad puts two separate photos of the men side-by-side and says they were at the “same event.” It was a day-long event, and they spoke hours apart.

The NRA Political Victory Fund ad says Braley, a Democrat running for the state’s open Senate seat, is “so slick, he can’t stick to the truth,” as an image of an oily substance slides down the screen. But the ad shows it’s the NRA that’s slippery when it comes to the facts.

The ad says Braley “votes for Michael Bloomberg’s extreme anti-gun agenda” in Washington but tries to be “slick” and “hide his connections to Bloomberg” in Iowa. It shows a clip of Braley at an Oct. 11 debate saying, “I’ve never met Michael Bloomberg.”

The narrator continues, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event,” as an image is shown of the two men, Bloomberg sitting on the left and Braley standing at a podium on the right. “Braley’s staff even said so,” the narrator continues, as an image of a Dec. 13, 2010, press release on the event appears on screen.

Case closed? Not at all.

The press release says that Braley spoke at a launch event that day for a group called No Labels at Columbia University in New York. No Labels aims to bring people together, regardless of political affiliation, and, in its words, “call[s] on our leaders to put the labels aside and focus on fixing America’s most pressing problems.” Its tagline: “Not left. Not right. Forward.” Its founders include former Democratic National Committee Finance Chair Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

The Braley press release — which has made the rounds on Twitter as something of a smoking gun — says the congressman was “[j]oined by a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials, including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), among others.”

But those officials didn’t appear on a panel with Braley, who addressed the audience on his own for about five minutes during a nearly three-hour morning session (see the 52:35 mark). Braley spoke about growing up in a “no labels community” and “no labels household,” in which his father was a Republican and his mother was a Democrat. He talked about bipartisanship, using two pieces of bipartisan legislation that he authored as examples of bringing people together.

There was a break for lunch, according to one of the final morning session speakers, followed by afternoon breakout sessions (see the 58:58 mark of part 2 of the morning video). Bloomberg, who was headlining the event, appeared on a panel on “Electoral Reform in America” during the afternoon. Bloomberg’s fellow panelists were then-Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware, then-Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado of California and Ellen Freidin of FairDistrictsFlorida.org.

It was a large event, with the feel of a mini-political convention. In the introduction for the video stream of the day, TV journalist Bob Franken said there were more than 1,000 people in attendance in Columbia’s Lerner Hall auditorium. And the day was filled with big names and politicians, in addition to those mentioned in Braley’s press release, including New York Times columnist David Brooks, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, then-Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

It would be quite possible for two of the day’s speakers to never cross paths, given the number of attendees and speakers, and length of the event.

The Braley campaign told FactCheck.org that Braley and Bloomberg “did not meet at the event that day. It was an all day event, and Bruce was not there the entire time.” Sarah Benzing, Braley’s campaign manager and former chief of staff, tweeted on Oct. 11 that they did not see Bloomberg at the event: “I happened to staff Bruce at the no-labels event that day. No sign of Bloomberg.” And Matt Canter, who was on Gillibrand’s staff that day, also tweeted: “I was at that w Sen. Gillibrand & met Bruce that day. Didn’t see Bloomberg there while we were all there. All day event.”

No Labels confirmed to FactCheck.org that the two men attended the event, but didn’t know whether they talked or not.

We can’t say for sure whether Braley and Bloomberg met at the event or not. But neither can the NRA, which confirmed to us, and the New York Times, that the image of Braley and Bloomberg is actually two separate photos. Viewers with an inclination toward detective work could pick up on that, particularly if they pause the ad. But viewers may also think they’re looking at the same image, torn in half, as the graphics make it appear, and as the narrator implies.

The narrator’s words may lead viewers to believe that the NRA has photographic proof that the two men met, when he says, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event.”

Braley has an “F” rating from the NRA, which takes issue with Braley’s pro-gun-control stances. Among his “votes” for Bloomberg’s “anti-gun agenda,” according to the NRA: a vote against the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, which would have allowed residents of states that permit the carrying of concealed weapons to do so in other states.

In late 2012, in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, Braley said he would sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition clips. He told the Huffington Post last year that he probably wouldn’t have supported the failed Senate legislation to expand background checks, because it didn’t go far enough. Braley objected to immunizing gun manufacturers from lawsuits for negligence. The Senate bill would have expanded background checks to private sales at gun shows, and also expanded lawsuit immunity to such sellers that completed checks.

So, Braley’s positions on guns are clearly at odds with the NRA, but the group goes too far in suggesting he lied when he said he never met Bloomberg.

– Lori Robertson, with Carolyn Fante

GOP Whacks Weiland Over Payroll Taxes http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/gop-whacks-weiland-over-payroll-taxes/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 21:03:47 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90001 A Republican TV ad says Senate candidate Rick Weiland is going across South Dakota saying “he’s one of us” when “Weiland supports higher payroll taxes.” Not for all, he doesn’t.

The “one of us” reference could lead viewers to believe that Weiland would raise payroll taxes for everyone in the state. Not so. He supports raising or eliminating the Social Security payroll tax cap – which would only affect individuals currently earning above $117,000.

Weiland, a Democrat who has boasted of visiting every one of South Dakota’s 311 towns, is competing against Independent candidate Larry Pressler and former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican nominee, in a three-way race for the state’s open Senate seat.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee uses Weiland’s traveling ways against him in an ad, called “All Over,” that suggests he isn’t like South Dakota voters after all.

“Rick Weiland is traveling all over South Dakota saying he’s one of us, but Weiland supports higher payroll taxes,” the ad’s narrator says. That’s misleading.

It’s true that Weiland favors expanding retirement benefits and paying for it by hiking or eliminating the cap on the Social Security payroll tax.

In August, the Argus Leader reported that Weiland, in an email to supporters, said that “raising or scrapping the cap on Social Security would allow seniors to receive a true annual cost of living adjustment and put the program on solid financial footing for decades to come.” He also told the paper he supported a bill that would phase out the cap over five years, leaving all income subject to the payroll tax.

Currently, employees and employers each pay 6.2 percent on earnings up to $117,000. Income over that amount isn’t taxed. The cap is scheduled to increase to $118,500 in 2015.

So Weiland’s plan would only affect individuals whose additional earnings would have otherwise been tax-free as a result of the tax cap. But most South Dakotans don’t earn enough each year to be affected by raising the cap or scrapping it all together. The state’s median household income was $54,453 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (table H-8). Less than 12 percent of South Dakota residents who filed federal tax returns in 2012 had an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or more, according to IRS statistics.

Other Attacks on Weiland

The ad makes four additional claims that do not tell the full story:

Weiland “supports $700 billion in Medicare cuts.” This refers to Weiland’s support for the Affordable Care Act. But, as we’ve said again and again when Republicans have made this claim, the estimated $716 billion in “cuts” is actually a reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the program’s current budget. The largest chunk of the $716 billion — about $415 billion over 10 years — comes from a reduction in the growth of future payments to hospitals through Medicare Part A. The next biggest chunk of the $716 billion is an estimated $156 billion in payments to insurance companies that offer private plans to seniors through the Medicare Advantage program. The law is intended over time to bring the costs of the MA plans in line with traditional Medicare plans.

Weiland “thinks a trillion in new taxes is okay.” This claim is also based on Weiland’s support for the federal health care law, which was estimated to raise about $1 trillion in tax revenue between 2013 and 2022, according to a Congressonal Budget Office analysis of a bill calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. However, viewers should know that a number of the new taxes, such as a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income and an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax, would, again, fall on Americans with high incomes. The increase in the Medicare tax, alone, was estimated to raise almost one-third, or about $318 billion, of the $1 trillion, according to CBO’s calculations. The law also includes taxes on health insurers, such as the excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans. CBO estimates that tax will bring in another $111 billion over 10 years.

Weiland “supports Obama’s plan raising energy costs.” This claim is based on Weiland’s stated support for a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Opponents of the proposal argue it would cause energy bills to increase. That could happen, at least in the short term, according to the EPA’s own projections. But long term, it could also reduce bills. Nationwide, “average monthly electricity bills are anticipated to increase by roughly 3 percent in 2020, but decline by roughly 9 percent by 2030 because increased energy efficiency will lead to reduced usage,” according to an EPA analysis of its proposal. That’s under the proposal’s first option for emissions reductions. An alternate option could result in up to a 1.4 percent increase in bills in 2020 and up to a 3.5 percent decrease in 2025.

Weiland “wants to stop the Keystone pipeline and the 40,000 jobs it would create.” He does oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the benefits of it have been exaggerated. And the State Department does estimate that 42,100 jobs could be created by building the pipeline, including direct and indirect jobs. But they’d be temporary positions, lasting from just one to two years. And once the pipeline enters service, the project would only require 35 permanent workers and 15 temporary contractors, the State Department says.

– D’Angelo Gore

A ‘Willie Horton’ Ad in Nebraska http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/a-willie-horton-ad-in-nebraska/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:31:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90018 Every now and then we see a powerful attack ad that is factually accurate, but makes such a strong appeal to fear that we urge viewers to pause to consider all the facts. That’s the case in Nebraska, where a TV ad has been compared to the infamous Willie Horton ad.

The National Republican Congressional Committee went on the air Oct. 17 in Omaha with an ad that slams state Sen. Brad Ashford for his support of the state’s so-called good-time law, which allows inmates to receive credits to reduce their sentences. It is certainly fair game to debate the merits of good-time laws, which are in place in at least 32 other states because they ease prison overcrowding and give prison officials a tool to maintain order.

But the NRCC ad, which is titled “Nikko,” features the horrific case and the tattooed face of Nikko Jenkins, a convicted carjacker who went on a killing spree not long after his release from prison that resulted in four homicides in 11 days in August 2013.

“Brad Ashford supported the good-time law and still defends it, allowing criminals like Nikko Jenkins to be released early,” the ad says, displaying side-by-side photos of the white “liberal” Democrat and black convicted murderer.

The menacing image of Jenkins and the implication that Ashford is somehow responsible for Jenkins’ actions caused a backlash that went far beyond the boundaries of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. The ad brought immediate comparisons to the Willie Horton ad that an independent group aired in 1988 to portray Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, as soft on crime. Horton was a murder convict who raped a woman while on furlough, as the New York Times reported at the time Horton appeared in the ad.

Michael Steele, the first African American to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the “Nikko” ad racist.

“You say to yourself, what is the point of this ad? I mean, in the context of the case or the situation, yeah, okay, the member of the House supported the law. But then to put it in this frame, says something very racist in my view. … Stupid does stupid,” Steele said in a TV interview on Oct. 18. “This ad doesn’t tell you anything other than consultants are stupid and that’s basically – they play to the lowest common denominator and that’s part of the problem.”

Nobody’s disputing the factual accuracy of the statements in this 30-second ad — but it cries out for a full explanation of what happened in the Jenkins case and Ashford’s response to it.

Good-Time Law Gone Bad?

The Omaha World-Herald has done a remarkable job of documenting the case of Nikko Jenkins, which is summarized in a timeline that begins with Jenkins’ release from prison on July 30, 2013, and includes his Aug. 29, 2013, arrest for multiple murders. He later pleaded no contest to the four murders.

As the World-Herald documented, Jenkins received a maximum 21-year sentence for “two carjackings he committed when he was 15 and two assaults that occurred while he was an inmate.” Jenkins served 10-and-a-half years — almost exactly half his maximum sentence — because of the state’s sentence credit law, which was liberalized in 1992 from earned-time credits (in which inmates earn time off) to good-time credits (in which inmates get automatic credit, but can lose good-time credits for violating prison rules).

Ashford was in the state Legislature in 1992, but he did not vote on the good-time law, according to the World-Herald. Nevertheless, Ashford supported it. The NRCC ad points to a Sept. 6, 2013, World-Herald editorial that said Ashford supported the 1992 change in the law, as did most state legislators. (The Nebraska Legislature is unicameral, which means it has a single legislative body.)

World Herald, Sept. 6, 2013: Ashford said Thursday that the intent of the 1992 bill, which passed 27-6, was to address inconsistent sentencing by judges and to put into law the use of carrots and sticks to help motivate inmates. It was not meant to be lenient on violent criminals, Ashford said.

Before the 1992 legislation, state law said inmates could earn shortened criminal sentences when they demonstrated good behavior — a sensible approach. But during debate on LB 816, lawmakers removed the words “for good behavior.” That ill-considered change effectively cut sentences in half, without the specific good behavior requirement. Only first-degree murderers and convicts serving rare mandatory minimum sentences saw no benefit.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in an August 2011 report said that “at least 44 states … provide opportunities for some inmates to accelerate their release date,” and “at least 32 states have good-time policies.” Some states have both.

There were calls to tighten the Nebraska law in the aftermath of the Jenkins case, but there were also questions about how well the law was being implemented by prison officials. The World-Herald did an investigation that found “prison officials rarely took away the good-time privilege.” The paper said, “Inmates were punished for 92,000 infractions over five years, yet good time credit was taken away in less than 5 percent of those cases.”

Jenkins “could have spent at least another 9½ months in prison if officials had given him the maximum penalties for breaking prison rules,” the World-Herald reported.

World Herald, Sept. 24, 2013: From 2005 to 2011, prison records show, Jenkins was written up at least eight times, for refusing to submit to a search, aggravated assault on a corrections officer, three episodes of using threatening language, two episodes of “tattoo activities” and creating a weapon out of a toilet brush.

A judge sentenced him to four more years for his assault. For all his transgressions, prison officials took away just under 18 months of good time credit, including three months for the assault.

Good time is sometimes restored, although prison officials couldn’t say how often. Jenkins was given back at least a month of good time after it had been taken away, a prison spokeswoman said.

Ashford told the World-Herald that the problem is not with the good-time law, but with “the implementation of the sanctions” by the corrections department. “We need to ask the department why the administrative sanctions were not given,” he told the paper.

The World-Herald also wrote last year that Jenkins may have been required to served 21 years in prison if prosecutors tagged Jenkins as a “habitual criminal” after his assault conviction in prison. Prosecutors filed a “charging document” to do just that, but then withdrew it as part of a plea agreement.

World-Herald, Sept. 5, 2013: In the attack on the corrections officer, prosecutors filled out a charging document that would have tagged Jenkins as a habitual criminal. Such a designation could have meant a mandatory minimum 10 additional years in prison.

However, prosecutors dropped the charging document after Jenkins agreed to plead no contest to felony assault of an officer. Prosecutors also dropped an attempted escape charge punishable by 10 months in prison.

Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, said he is reviewing the decision to drop the habitual criminal tag. The prosecutor who made it is now a judge.

Under case law, Kleine said, a habitual criminal charge usually requires a defendant to have gone in and out of prison twice before committing a third crime. Jenkins never left prison.

“There’s a question of whether he would have qualified,” Kleine said. “We’re looking at that.”

Former Douglas County Attorney Stu Dornan, a Republican who criticized the NRCC ad for its “fear-mongering,” told the World-Herald that prosecutors and judges adjust sentences knowing that good-time credits will be applied to an inmate’s prison term. And there is evidence that that may be the case.

A January 1999 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics shows (on table 8) that violent offenders in Nebraska in 1997 served an average of 60 months in prison – which was nearly a year longer than the national average of 49 months. Violent offenders served longer average prison terms in only eight states in 1997, the report shows.

Similarly, the average maximum sentence in Nebraska was 134 months that year – much higher than the national average of 93 months. Only four states had an average maximum sentence for violent offenders that was higher than 134 months.

We could not find more recent statistics. However, Nebraska switched to its good-time law in 1992, as we said earlier, so the 1997 data — even though 17 years old — would reflect sentencing and time served under the good-time law in place at the time.

Ashford’s Response

Ashford has resisted attempts to change the good-time law.

On Jan. 13, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh at the request of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman introduced LB 832, which the bill description says would “require violent offenders sentenced after the date of the Act to earn sentence reductions through participation in a department-approved personalized program plan and through good behavior. Under LB 832, violent offenders may earn sentence reductions of up to 50% of their total sentence.”

At a Feb. 12 hearing of the Judiciary Committee he chairs, Ashford questioned the need for the bill. He asked Corrections Director Mike Kenney, “[s]omeone’s sentence who is misbehaving … can be lengthened for a significant period of time under the current law, correct?” Kenney responded, “Yes.”

Ashford also raised concerns at that hearing about what impact changes in the good-time law would have on prison overcrowding, rehabilitation programs and inmate recidivism. “What our goal should be, your goal and my goal, and we talked about this in my office, is the same,” he told Kenney. “We want people to reenter society and not come back to the institution.”

He told Kenney he wasn’t trying to be “adversarial” but that the bill to change the good-time law was a distraction.

“[T]he good-time law, which can be applied today in a way to take good time away, is distracting us from trying to get to the problem here and to try to get people out into the community in a safer way so that they can be productive and have a job and have a house, a place to live, so that they won’t commit more acts,” Ashford said.

Lautenbaugh’s bill was indefinitely postponed on April 17. That was the day the Republican governor signed a bill authored by Ashford designed to address numerous prison issues. The bill, which passed 46-0, is “intended to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders released from prison,” Ashford said in a statement on the bill’s passage.

Ashford’s bill provided more money for mental health, vocational and life skills programs for inmates while in prison, and required parole officers to help inmates and parolees to obtain access to housing and rehabilitative programs upon release. It also created a working group to study prison overcrowding and produce a report by Sept. 1, 2015.

Is Ashford’s bill enough? That’s a legitimate debate to have, but that’s not what voters are getting in the TV ads.

His Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Terry, held a press conference criticizing Ashford for opposing changes to the law, and has run multiple TV ads attacking Ashford for his position. The Terry campaign has indirectly referred to Nikko Jenkins in its ads, but it has not used the murderer’s name or image. Still, Terry’s campaign has defended the NRCC ad and has made the issue a centerpiece of its campaign.

Even after the uproar over the “Nikko” ad, Terry’s campaign started running a TV ad titled “One Bullet” on Oct. 21 that attacks “the good-time law that Brad Ashford supports,” and questions why voters should send Ashford to Washington “if the consequences of Brad Ashford’s dangerous policies are assault, robbery and murder.”

The World-Herald editorial board — which supports changing the law — gave a full-throttle endorsement of Ashford in an Oct. 21 editorial that attacked the NRCC and Terry’s ads for neglecting “the full story.”

In its editorial on the attack ads, the World-Herald praised Ashford’s legislative response, calling it “a serious effort to improve the prison system” and saying “a harder push for good-time changes could have doomed the larger reform effort” sought by Ashford. It also praised him for doing the “heavy lifting” to pass “juvenile justice reforms” last year that “could do more than any good-time change to protect Nebraskans from a future Nikko Jenkins.”

The editorial listed some of the facts omitted in the attack ads, including the failure of prison officials to “fully utilize” the existing law to keep Jenkins behind bars longer and their failure to properly respond to Jenkins’ plea for mental health help and his threats to commit violent acts when released from prison. It also noted the bipartisan support that the good-time law has enjoyed in the past. “At best, this is a bipartisan failure,” the editorial said.

World-Herald editorial, Oct. 21: The good-time law and the management problems in Nebraska’s prisons are state issues, not matters for Congress. In Lincoln, Ashford worked to solve state problems. That’s a much tougher job than flinging Washington mud and hoping it sticks.

The good-time law needs to be changed — and so do these mudslinging ads.

We take no position on the good-time law, but we agree the ads fail to tell the whole story. We encourage voters to seek out the facts. And we wholeheartedly embrace the editorial’s call for an end to “mudslinging ads.”

– Eugene Kiely

FactChecking the Iowa Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-iowa-senate-race/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:30:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88640 Longtime Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring, and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst are each hoping to be the one to replace him. Braley was once an early favorite to hold the seat for Democrats, but Ernst now has a slight lead in a very competitive race that most political forecasters rate a pure “toss-up.”

Ernst — who gained national prominence with a TV ad touting her hog-castrating prowess — has been attacked for being an “extreme” candidate who wants to privatize Social Security. And Braley — whose campaign has made a number of gaffes — has faced claims that he rarely attends his congressional committee hearings and is out-of-touch with Iowa voters.

Here’s a look back:


Claim: Ernst “would privatize Social Security.”

Facts: Ernst hasn’t proposed or endorsed a plan to change Social Security. In fact, she opposes any changes in Social Security for current seniors or workers nearing retirement age.

senatebattleAt most, Ernst has said that she would consider allowing “younger workers,” or those “just entering the workforce,” to put some portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into interest-bearing or stock market-based “personal savings accounts” for their retirement. Braley and other Democrats have hammered Ernst ever since, claiming that she “would privatize Social Security” or that she has “proposed privatizing Social Security.” But that goes too far.

Ernst hasn’t offered any specifics or committed to a fully “privatized” Social Security system, or even a partial one, as the Braley campaign and Democratic TV ads would have voters believe. That is a point that Ernst made in a televised debate with Braley on Sept. 28, when she said, “I haven’t endorsed one option over another, but we need to come together in a bipartisan manner to solve these issues.”

Full story: “Ernst and ‘Privatizing’ Social Security,” Oct. 7


Claim: Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.”

Facts: That’s false. None of the fundraisers was scheduled at the same time as the congressional hearing that Braley missed.

Here’s what’s true: Braley missed a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, titled “Veterans Affairs in the 112th Congress: Reviewing VA’s Performance and Accountability,” on Sept. 20, 2012. He also attended three fundraisers for his reelection campaign that day in Washington, D.C., including a breakfast scheduled from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., a lunch event at noon and a fundraising reception from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

The problem with the claim made in an ad from Concerned Veterans for America? The three fundraisers Braley attended didn’t conflict with the hearing he missed, which lasted from 10:19 a.m. to 11:54 a.m. The Braley campaign has said that the congressman missed the VA committee hearing because he was attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that was taking place at roughly the same time. The official hearing transcript shows he was present at the oversight hearing, but it is not known for how long. And his campaign declined to tell us.

Full Story: “Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack,” Aug. 1


Claim: Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings.”

Facts: That’s accurate, but not the whole story.

Braley missed 15 out of 19 full committee hearings as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2011 to 2012. However, that’s not his complete attendance record. Braley also served on the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity those two years, and he attended 15 out of 17, or 88 percent, of the subcommittee hearings. That means that, in total, combining the full committee hearings and subcommittee hearings, Braley was present at nearly 53 percent of the hearings that he could have attended.

Full story: “Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack,” Aug. 1


Claim: As an Iowa state legislator, Ernst “never wrote one measure to slash spending.”

Facts: Ernst’s record isn’t completely devoid of any effort to cut spending, as a Braley campaign ad suggests.

Ernst co-sponsored several measures intended to save the state money or cut wasteful spending, such as bills to freeze state hiring, develop less expensive state retirement plans and require a cost-benefit analysis before building new state rest stops.

It is true, as the same Braley ad says, that “she backed measures to actually increase spending,” including funding for transportation projects, the state preschool program, and a fund for road and bridge repair. But saying Ernst “never wrote one measure to slash spending” overlooks the part of her record aimed at cutting costs.

Full Story: “Pork, Served Two Ways, in Iowa,” June 13


Claim: Braley “voted to raise taxes on every single Iowa taxpayer.”

Facts: That’s a distortion of Braley’s clearly stated position to retain Bush-era income-tax rates for all but individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for couples.

The vote cited in an ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee is one Braley cast in the House in December 2010 as a protest against extending Bush tax cuts for another two years for the more affluent. Had the bill failed, the Bush tax cuts might have lapsed on schedule on Jan. 1, 2011, for “every single” taxpayer, as the ad claims — assuming no other compromise was worked out. As it happened, the bill passed by a more than comfortable margin of 277 to 148, and the tax cuts were temporarily preserved for everyone.

But Braley’s vote against that bill doesn’t mean that he favored raising everybody’s income taxes. In fact, he clearly didn’t. During debate on the measure, Braley reiterated that he opposed any increase in taxes on the majority of taxpayers, saying the deal he voted against included at least an $81 billion tax break for “the wealthiest people in this country.” More recently, Braley voted to raise taxes on only about the top 1 percent, while keeping federal income taxes the same for all who are less affluent.

Full story: “NRSC Distorts Braley Tax Record,” Oct. 22


Claim: Ernst supports “a plan cutting Medicare’s guaranteed benefit.”

Facts: This tired claim misrepresents Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, which wouldn’t take away any benefits that are currently “guaranteed.” Ryan’s proposal would require private plans to cover the same benefits as traditional Medicare.

The Senate Majority PAC ran similar ads in other Senate races, tying Republican candidates to Ryan’s plan to gradually transition Medicare to a premium-support system in which people currently under 55, once eligible for Medicare, would get government subsidies for a selection of insurance plans on a Medicare exchange. The exchange would include both private plans and traditional Medicare. The DSCC also ran an attack ad against Ernst on this issue.

Ernst’s support for Ryan’s plan is indirect. She voted against an Iowa state Senate resolution that expressed opposition to the Ryan plan in 2011, which, unlike his current plan, didn’t give future beneficiaries the option of selecting a traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan. Ernst’s website says she “opposes any efforts to change the promised benefits for today’s seniors.”

Full story: “Midterm Medicare Mudslinging,” Oct. 3


Claim: Braley is backed by an environmental activist who “stands to profit by blocking” the Keystone XL pipeline.

Facts: This is inaccurate. It is based on outdated information about the investments of Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate Action group has run TV ads against Braley’s GOP challengers.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager, gave up ownership of Farallon Capital Management at the end of 2012 to pursue a career in environmental activism. Farallon invested hundreds of millions in oil and gas companies, including Kinder Morgan, an energy company that owns a pipeline that would be an alternative to Keystone if the latter project didn’t come to fruition, according to industry analysts.

So, in the not-too-distant past — 2012 — Steyer could have stood to profit if the Keystone pipeline project had been blocked. However, Steyer instructed Farallon to divest his personal holdings of money in tar sands and coal when he left the company. More important, his old hedge fund no longer has any holdings in that pipeline company.

The ad, from the conservative American Crossroads super PAC, also implies that Braley opposes the pipeline project because NextGen is spending millions to help him defeat Ernst. Braley initially voiced support for the pipeline in 2012, but has been opposed to it since at least May 2013, when he voted against authorizing the northern leg of the project. Braley says he’s opposed to the project because it threatens renewable energy jobs in Iowa and because there’s no guarantee the oil transported by the pipeline would stay in the United States.

There’s no evidence of any quid pro quo between Braley and the billionaire environmentalist.

Full Story: “Special Interest Battle in Midwest Races,” Sept. 23

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

Oct. 24: McConnell, Student Loans, Tax Cuts http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/oct-24-mcconnell-student-loans-tax-cuts/ Fri, 24 Oct 2014 13:27:59 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=90471
Grimes Ad Misses the Mark on McConnell http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/grimes-ad-misses-the-mark-on-mcconnell/ Thu, 23 Oct 2014 18:22:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89872 Thought you’d seen it all this political season? An ad from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes criticizes Sen. Mitch McConnell for his vote on a bill that President Obama praised, and even thanked McConnell by name for supporting.

The Grimes ad says McConnell “even voted to end the payroll tax credit” and refers in small print to McConnell’s vote in favor of the fiscal cliff deal that permanently extended the Bush tax cuts for most but allowed a temporary payroll tax cut to expire. All but three Democrats also voted for the bill, and the expiration of the payroll tax holiday was even  supported by the likes of Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House.

The ad also paints McConnell as “a multimillionaire who voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators.” But the ad is cherry-picking, ignoring other votes McConnell has cast to prevent automatic pay increases for members of Congress. And the fact that McConnell is a multimillionaire has less to do with his congressional pay and much more to do with his wife’s money.

As the Kentucky Senate race heads into the final weeks, recent polls suggest it will be a tight race right to the finish.  Both campaigns this week released a flurry of new ads attacking each other.

This latest Grimes ad, titled “Hurting Us,” stretches the facts to make the point that McConnell has enriched himself while voting against bills that could boost the economic well-being of Kentuckians.

Narrator: “Who is Mitch McConnell working for? He’s a multimillionaire who voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators. And for Kentucky families? McConnell voted 17 times against raising the minimum wage, opposed tax credits for small businesses that create jobs, and even voted to end the payroll tax credit, costing families an extra $2,000 a year. Mitch McConnell: taking care of himself, hurting us.”

The Payroll Tax Credit

We’ll address each of the ad’s claims, but let’s start with the claim that McConnell “even voted to end the payroll tax credit.”

At issue is the payroll tax holiday enacted in 2011 as part of the bipartisan agreement to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. Proposed by President Obama to provide some recession relief, it reduced the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for a year, saving a family earning $50,000 a year about $1,000. McConnell voted in favor of it.

A second round of congressional haggling began the following year, when the payroll tax holiday was set to expire. Both Democrats and Republicans — including McConnell — professed to want to extend it for a year, but there was a partisan disagreement over how to pay for it. McConnell balked at a Democratic plan that called for paying for the tax cut with a new 3.25 percent tax on income over $1 million. McConnell said at the time he would support a payroll tax cut so long as there was no tax increase to pay for it.

Indeed, McConnell ended up supporting a bipartisan compromise bill in February 2012 that extended the payroll tax holiday for another year, but was not offset with a tax increase on millionaires (or any other taxes or spending cuts).

So it can be said that McConnell voted for the bill that initiated what was promoted at the time as a temporary, one-year payroll tax holiday. And with the economy continuing to flounder, he voted the following year to extend it for another year.

This brings us to early 2013 and the vote cited in the Grimes ad.

Leading up to the vote, the White House and top Democrats sent mixed signals about whether they wanted to extend the payroll tax cut for yet another year.

In September 2012, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testified before a Senate Budget Committee that he thought it was time for the payroll tax holiday to go.

New York Times, Sept. 30, 2012: “This has to be a temporary tax cut,” said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, testifying before the Senate Budget Committee this year and voicing the view of many in the White House and on Capitol Hill. “I don’t see any reason to consider supporting its extension.”

The same New York Times article noted that “Nancy Pelosi of California, the top House Democrat, has told reporters she thinks it should expire.”

In an article on Nov. 29, 2012, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was attempting to put a payroll tax extension back in play in negotiations with Republicans. But it’s unclear how hard the administration ultimately pushed. As we noted in a story about the fiscal cliff negotiations that year, extending the payroll tax cut was not part of Obama’s 2013 budget. And whether it was part of the Obama administration’s initial fiscal cliff proposal is a bit fuzzy. As we reported on Dec. 5, the president’s opening offer in the fiscal cliff negotiations included $200 billion in new stimulus spending. At that time, Treasury declined to give us a detailed list of proposals for new spending, but it did confirm published reports that some of the elements of the stimulus plan might include an extension of the payroll tax holiday.

In any event, an extension of the payroll tax cut was not included in the fiscal cliff compromise deal — known as the  American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 — that was reached on New Year’s Day in 2013. McConnell voted for the bipartisan deal, which permanently extended Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except for individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000 a year. Technically, it was not a “vote to end” the payroll tax holiday. The 2012 payroll tax cut contained a sunset provision, and it was simply allowed to expire. But the compromise deal had the same effect.

The fiscal cliff deal was praised by President Obama in an address that same day.

Obama, Jan. 1, 2013: Thanks to the votes of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession and obviously had a severe impact on families all across America.

Obama even thanked by name those who he said helped forge the bipartisan agreement — including McConnell.

Obama, Jan. 1, 2013: I want to thank all the leaders of the House and Senate. In particular, I want to thank the work that was done by my extraordinary vice president, Joe Biden, as well as Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell. Everybody worked very hard on this and I appreciate it.

Obama made no mention of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday in his speech.

Only three Democratic senators voted against the bill, and two of them — Michael Bennet and Tom Carper — made no mention of the expiration of the payroll tax holiday as a sticking point in statements explaining their votes. In other words, while the ad rightly notes that McConnell voted for a bill that did not extend the payroll tax holiday, the same could be said of all but three Democratic senators, and Obama, for that matter, since he signed it.

Pay Raises

The Grimes ad also dubs McConnell a “multimillionaire” and pairs that fact with the claim that he “voted repeatedly for pay raises for himself and other senators.”

We looked into McConnell’s record on voting for pay raises back in June 2013 when the Democratic groups Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA ran an ad claiming that McConnell voted four times to raise his own pay. We confirmed that McConnell voted against a 2009 appropriations bill with a provision eliminating the pay raise scheduled to take effect in 2010, and that he cast votes in 2001, 2002 and 2003 to block amendments to bills that would have prevented adjustments in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. The Grimes ad cites those same four votes.

But we also concluded the claim “simply ignores other votes he has cast to prevent automatic pay increases for members of Congress” including measures that blocked pay increases in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The ad is also deceptively worded when it links the pay raises to the fact that McConnell is a multimillionaire. The Center for Responsive Politics ranks McConnell as the 10th wealthiest senator, with a net worth somewhere between $9.2 million and $36.5 million (based on the value ranges of assets from financial disclosure forms).

But as our fact-checking colleague at the Washington Post Glenn Kessler notes, the bulk of McConnell’s wealth comes via an inheritance (valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to McConnell’s 2008 financial disclosure statement) from the mother of McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as income earned by his wife. So McConnell is a multimillionaire, but not because of Senate pay raises he once supported.

Tax Credits for Small Businesses

Finally, the ad says McConnell “opposed tax credits for small businesses that create jobs” and in small print cites Senate roll call vote 177 on July 12, 2012. That was a vote against cloture that effectively denied a vote on the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, a bill that sought to provide incentives to hire new employees by giving businesses a 10 percent income tax credit on new payroll.

In its backup for the ad, the Grimes campaign cites a July 12, 2012, Washington Post story that says the Democratic plan for small-business tax breaks got caught up in a partisan “procedural debate over how and when the Senate should vote on a broader proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year.”

McConnell’s campaign says he preferred a Republican alternative for small-business tax relief, one originally proposed by then-Rep. Eric Cantor in the House. The Cantor alternative was offered as an amendment to replace the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, but it was tabled by a vote of 73-24. The alternative plan would have allowed businesses with fewer than 500 employees to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their active business income earned in the U.S., a cut that would have provided about $46 billion in tax relief to small businesses.

The McConnell campaign argues the Republican alternative would have provided meaningful relief, while the Democratic plan would not. We take no position in the political debate over which plan would have provided more small-business tax relief. We only note that there were different visions for small-business tax relief, and McConnell preferred the Republican one. The vote against the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act fell almost entirely along partisan lines, with just two Republicans supporting it, and one Democrat against it.

As for the ad’s claim that McConnell has voted 17 times against raising the minimum wage, McConnell has been consistently outspoken about his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage, arguing that it is a job-killer. For some flavor of McConnell’s position, see a transcript of his speech from the Senate floor when in April he successfully filibustered a Democratic bill that sought to raise the minimum wage, saying it could result in job losses.

 – Robert Farley

Crossroads Skips Context in Colorado http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/crossroads-skips-context-in-colorado/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 22:46:03 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89902 The conservative group Crossroads GPS attacks Colorado Sen. Mark Udall for saying the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant isn’t an “imminent threat” to the United States. The ad leaves off the rest of the senator’s remarks and then cites a news article that actually supports what Udall said.

Udall went on to say, “But if we don’t respond to the threat it represents, they will be a threat to this country.” And a USA Today article cited on-screen in the Crossroads ad quotes Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as telling the newspaper that the terrorist group isn’t a threat to the homeland “at this point.”

The ad, which is airing on a $3.5 million buy, according to the New York Times, features a woman named Melissa, a mother of five and a Marine, who says she worries about her kids’ “future and safety.” She says it “bothered” her when Udall said this, and a clip is shown of Udall saying, “that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation.”

That’s a truncated quote from the senator during an early September debate. Here are the fuller remarks:

Udall, Sept. 6 debate: I said last week that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation, and it doesn’t. I sit on the armed services committee and intelligence committee. But if we don’t respond to the threat it represents, they will be a threat to this country.

Udall went on to say that the U.S. should respond by standing together, not playing politics. He said, “We are pushing back ISIL right now as we sit here with airstrikes and special forces in Iraq.” And he said Arab nations and moderate Sunnis should “stand up and rub out this threat that’s in their midst.”

Udall didn’t dismiss ISIL as nothing to worry about. Instead, he said the terrorist group wasn’t an “imminent” threat to the U.S. but will be in the future if the country doesn’t respond in the Middle East now.

This isn’t the only attack ad to pick up on the Udall quote. The NRSC highlighted it in an ad also portraying Udall as soft on terrorism, as did Udall’s Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner.

But the Crossroads ad is the only one to actually cite a news article that supports what Udall said. While the woman in the ad says, “As a mom and a Marine, I know the danger is closer to home than Sen. Udall seems to think,” an on-screen graphic cites an August USA Today article headlined, “Returning Islamic State fighters could threaten USA.” That article quotes experts saying that an attack on U.S. soil isn’t an imminent threat, but there’s concern about what could happen if fighters holding Western passports return home.

USA Today, Aug. 28, 2014: After U.S. planes bombed its forces in Iraq, the jihadist juggernaut that calls itself the Islamic State threatened to attack Americans “in any place,” adding for good measure: “We will drown all of you in blood.”

For now, facing a multi-front war and bombs falling on their fighters’ heads, the Islamic State’s leaders probably lack the time and opportunity to plot a strike on the U.S. homeland.

That could change if thousands of fighters with Western passports return home, terrorism analysts warn.

“Right now, they have plenty of other things to worry about and bigger fish to fry,” says Mia Bloom, an expert on suicide terrorism. But “everybody’s worried about what happens when these guys come back” – especially after the U.S. bombing. …

An attack could come later from returning fighters, experts say, or sooner from Americans who’ve never been to the Middle East but are inspired by Islamic State propaganda.

But the thrust of the Islamic State’s polished online recruiting pitch is to come on over and join the fight, not to stay home and plot terrorism.

The article does include quotes from two former military and intelligence officials who expressed a greater concern over an attack on U.S. soil. Gen. John Allen, former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said the Islamic State was “a clear and present danger to the U.S,” and former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin told the paper the group’s rivalry with al Qaeda makes an attack on the U.S. more likely, because “success would contrast sharply with al-Qaeda’s inability to pull off another major attack here after 9/11.”

But then the paper quotes the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying that the Islamic State isn’t a threat to the homeland “at this point.”

USA Today, Aug. 28, 2014: The Islamic State is not a threat to the homeland “at this point,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told USA TODAY. Unchecked, however, it will threaten Israel and Europe, he said, describing the group’s world view as virtually “apocalyptic. … This is not a group that can stop. It has to stay on the offensive.”

The woman in the ad says, “I know the danger is closer to home than Sen. Udall seems to think,” but Dempsey’s comments back up Udall.

There can be a difference of opinion over whether ISIL poses a threat to U.S. interests and allies, or an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland. But this ad implies that Udall doesn’t think ISIL is a threat at all, and that’s not accurate.

The ad ends with the woman correctly citing the Denver Post editorial that endorsed Gardner. She says Udall was “running a single-issue campaign that insults all of us.” Indeed, the editorial board wrote of Udall’s focus on advertising claims that Gardner wanted to ban birth control: Udall’s “obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.”

– Lori Robertson