FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:22:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Playing Video Games in Kansas Primary http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/playing-video-games-in-kansas-primary/ Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:22:09 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87323 In the closing days of the Senate Republican primary in Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts released an ad that takes a video clip of his opponent, Milton Wolf, out of context to cast doubt on Wolf’s opposition to President Obama’s policies.

The ad shows Wolf, who is a distant cousin of Obama, saying in a Fox News interview that he wants “nothing more than to see Barack succeed” — evidence, the ad claims, that Wolf is “two-faced” and doesn’t really want to “stop Barack Obama.” But Wolf went on in the interview to criticize Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, as dangerous for the country, patients and the medical profession.

The Aug. 5 primary is the latest of this cycle’s intra-party clashes between the Republican establishment and tea party conservatives. Roberts, a three-term senator, has the support of the state’s Republican leaders and the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Wolf, a radiologist who has never held public office, has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Politico wrote on July 30 that Roberts is “still ahead,” but “has a real race on his hands.”

The Kansas City Star reported on July 31 that Roberts released a campaign ad called “Two Faced.” The ad suggests that Wolf says one thing and does another.  The Star quoted Roberts campaign chief Leroy Towns saying, “Kansans simply cannot trust anything Milton Wolf says.”

The ad covers two topics. The first recounts an ugly episode in which Wolf acknowledged he had posted patient X-rays on Facebook and made disparaging remarks about some patients. The narrator in the ad then moves on to comments Wolf made about Obama during a March 12, 2010, interview on Fox News.

Narrator: Wolf says he wants to stop Barack Obama, but Wolf actually praised Obama.

Wolf: I want nothing more than to see Barack succeed. And I know he will. [Replay] And I know he will.

Narrator: The two faces of Milton Wolf. We just can’t trust him.

It’s true that Wolf said nice things about Obama and how honored he and his family were to have a “front row” seat to the “wonderful turn of events to see him elected.” But the entire point of the Fox appearance was to speak against the Affordable Care Act, which was just days away from being approved by Congress and signed into law.

Wolf had written an editorial, attacking the president’s health plan, that appeared in the Washington Times on March 11. Fox News interviewed him the next day to discuss his op-ed.

Here’s the question and answer, starting at 56 seconds into the interview, that elicited the sound bite used in the ad:

Question: But at the same time, doctor, you’ve taken a rather courageous stand, considering it involves a family member. You think that the health care plan is a blight on America and you are against it.

Wolf: I want nothing more than to see Barack succeed. And I know he will. I think that yes, in fact, though, this plan that’s in the Senate right now, this health care bill before us, really is not in the country’s best interests and not in Barack’s best interests – ultimately. And, so yes, and it was a very difficult decision to do this, but in the end I felt there was a call of duty to stand up for my patients, and stand up for my profession, and ultimately to stand up for my country, and say this is not good. This is not good for our patients; it’s not good for our country. There’s a better way to do this.

During the 4:29 segment, these graphics appeared on the screen:

  • Lives at Stake; President’s Cousin Warns Against Plan
  • President’s Cousin Criticizes Plan; Says Reform Will Diminish Access to Care
  • All in the Family? Pres Obama’s Cousin Is Against Reform

The phrase “lives at stake” comes from the Washington Times op-ed in which Wolf writes, “Whatever we do, let us not surrender the great gains we have made. First, do no harm. Lives are at stake.” The phrase “diminish access to care” also comes from the op-ed. “Obamacare will further diminish access to health care by lowering reimbursements for medical care without regard to the costs of that care,” Wolf wrote.

It’s not unusual for Republicans to say they want Obama to succeed — or at least not fail — even as they are criticizing him.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in 2010, “I don’t want the president to fail.” Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming said of Obama in 2009, “I want every president to succeed. Always have. I think it’s the best for our nation.” At a time when he was the House minority whip, Republican congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia in 2009 said “nobody — no Republican, no Democrat — wants this president to fail, nor do they want this country to fail or the economy to fail.”

Wolf, in that respect, is no different.

– Eugene Kiely

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Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/braleys-va-hearing-attendance-under-attack/ Fri, 01 Aug 2014 18:05:31 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87164 A veterans advocacy group is making false and potentially misleading claims in a TV ad attacking U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley on his commitment to military veterans.

  • The ad falsely claims that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.” None of the fundraisers was scheduled at the same time as the congressional hearing that Braley missed.
  • The ad also claims Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings.” What the ad doesn’t say is that those were the full committee hearings. Braley also served on the VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in 2011 and 2012, and he attended 88 percent of the subcommittee hearings.
  • Plus, the ad says that “Congress was warned” about “secret lists, long waits, and preventable deaths” at the VA, “but Bruce Braley ignored it.” A graphic of a Government Accountability Office report from December 2012 on the reliability of reported VA outpatient wait times is then shown on screen. But that report didn’t say anything about “secret lists” or “preventable deaths” that have been the subject of news reports and congressional hearings this year. And the GAO report was the subject of a VA committee hearing in March 2013, after Braley was no longer on the committee.

The 30-second spot, from Concerned Veterans for America, began airing on July 25 and is part of a $2.4 million TV, digital and print ad campaign in Iowa, according to the group. Braley, a four-term Democratic congressman, is going up against Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa state senator, in one of the closer Senate contests this fall.

 

 Skipping Hearings to Raise Funds?

We’ll start with the ad’s false claim that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.”

Here’s what’s true: Braley missed the 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.

The problem with the ad’s claim? The time of the congressional hearing that Braley missed didn’t conflict with the times of the three fundraisers that he did attend.

Braley attended a breakfast fundraiser that was scheduled to last from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. He attended a lunch event with supporters at noon. And, finally, he attended a fundraising reception from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the evening.

But the hearing that Braley missed, which was to discuss a backlog of disability claims and mental health care issues for veterans, started at 10:19 a.m. and adjourned at 11:54 a.m. So the hearing began after the first fundraiser was scheduled to end, and the hearing was over shortly before the second fundraiser was scheduled to start.

The Braley campaign has said that the congressman was actually attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on a Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking operation. That hearing was taking place at roughly the same time as the VA committee hearing. How long Braley was present for the hearing on the DOJ inspector general’s report is questionable, though.

The official transcript of the Oversight Committee hearing, which lasted from 9:36 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., lists Braley as “present.” There are no recorded remarks from him, however. Also, C-SPAN video footage of the hearing doesn’t appear to show Braley ever in his seat. But the camera also is not focused on his chair through much of the hearing.

When FactCheck.org asked how long Braley attended the Oversight Committee hearing, the Braley campaign would only say that “the official transcript marks him as present.”

Braley did attend and participate in a VA subcommittee hearing later that day at 2:29 p.m. The hearing was to discuss changes to the Transition Assistance Program, which helps service members make the transition back home and to work after serving in the military.

To support its claim that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers,” Concerned Veterans for America provided links to a Des Moines Register report that said only that “Democrat Bruce Braley attended three fundraisers for his own campaign on a day that he missed a committee hearing on the lack of oversight at the Veterans Administration, records show.” Yet the report didn’t say that Braley missed the hearing to attend those fundraisers, and CVA provided no other evidence proving that the fundraisers were the reason Braley was absent from the hearing.

Braley’s Attendance Record

The ad also claims that Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans Affairs’ Committee hearings.” That’s accurate, but not the whole story.

The Braley campaign, in an email to FactCheck.org, admitted that the congressman 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.

His campaign said that “it should be noted that during many of these missed hearings, Braley was attending other committee meetings or fulfilling other veterans affairs-related business.”

For example, on April 5, 2011, Braley missed a hearing on the VA’s fiscal year 2012 construction budget to attend an Oversight Committee hearing on funding issues facing the U.S. Post Office. And on Aug. 13, 2012, Braley was absent for a hearing, about a new VA medical center in Orlando, which was held in Florida and was only attended by senators and representatives of that state.

Braley ‘Ignored’ Warnings?

Before the ad gets to the claims about Braley’s hearings attendance, it opens with this line: “The VA is failing our veterans: Secret lists. Long waits. Preventable deaths. Congress was warned. But Bruce Braley ignored it.” A graphic of a Government Accountability Office report from December 2012 also appears on screen.

But that report, titled “VA Health Care: Reliability of Reported Outpatient Medical Appointment Wait Times and Scheduling Oversight Need Improvement,” didn’t say anything about the “secret lists” or “preventable deaths” that have been the subject of news reports and congressional hearings in 2014.

The GAO report found that “outpatient medical appointment wait times reported by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are unreliable.” It also said that it found “inconsistent implementation” of scheduling policy that impeded Veterans Affairs medical centers from “scheduling timely medical appointments.” In conclusion, the report said, “Ultimately, VHA’s ability to ensure and accurately monitor access to timely medical appointments is critical to ensuring quality health care to veterans, who may have medical conditions that worsen if access is delayed.”

More important, the report, which wasn’t released until after the VA committee had already held its last hearing for the year, wasn’t the subject of a VA committee hearing until March 14, 2013, when Braley was no longer a committee member. We also reviewed the hearing transcripts of the veterans committees that Braley sat on in 2011 and 2012, and we did not find that the issue of long wait times for health care was ever the subject of those hearings. So Braley didn’t have an opportunity to ignore any warnings that may have been offered.

– D’Angelo Gore, with Eugene Kiely and Lauren Shapiro

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A Sour Note From ‘Every Voice’ http://www.factcheck.org/2014/08/a-sour-note-from-every-voice/ Fri, 01 Aug 2014 14:32:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87185 Two new ads from a newly renamed liberal group attack Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas with descriptions of favors he supposedly did for campaign donors. One of the ads is inaccurate and misleading.

Both ads, which started running July 29, are sponsored by “Every Voice Action” — a group dedicated to advocating for public financing of state and federal election campaigns, and formerly known as the Public Campaign Action Fund.

  • One ad says Pompeo supports “giving [Wall Street donors] your Social Security retirement funds to gamble.” In fact, Pompeo supports giving workers a choice between staying with traditional Social Security or — voluntarily — investing a portion of their Social Security taxes in an “investment program.” The ad also overstates the amount of donations his campaigns have received from “financiers and Wall Street bankers.”
  • A second ad says Pompeo “filed a bill to prevent new labeling laws” after taking “thousands” from those who “don’t want you to know what’s in our food.” That one is closer to the mark. It refers to a bill Pompeo sponsored to prevent states from enacting laws that require food labeling to disclose genetically modified ingredients, while accepting at least $21,000 from opponents of such labeling.

‘Money to Gamble’

The first ad features a graphic saying that “Pompeo’s taken over $600,000 from Wall Street,” which isn’t accurate. The narrator qualifies that to some extent, saying the total is from “financiers and Wall Street bankers,” but that isn’t accurate either.

What the ad refers to is the total that Pompeo has received (over a career spanning two previous elections as well as his current reelection bid) from the entire “finance, insurance and real estate” sector as defined by the Center for Responsive Politics, the ad’s source for the figure. That sector covers many types of donors — such as accountants, real-estate developers, employees of credit unions and officials of student loan companies — that have no financial interest in partial privatization of Social Security.

Nevertheless, the ad’s narrator goes on to say, “No wonder he supports giving them your Social Security retirement funds to gamble.” That’s misleading, too. No current Social Security recipient would be affected, and for future retirees the decision to invest would remain voluntary under the approach Pompeo has endorsed.

To back up its claim, Every Voice pointed us to a 2010 newspaper interview in which Pompeo says clearly that he supports giving workers a choice between sticking with traditional Social Security or investing part of their Social Security taxes in an “investment program.” Those currently receiving Social Security would not be affected.

The full quote:

Pompeo, April 12, 2010: I would advocate for a partial privatization of the system so people could choose to go into the government-funded program or to a retirement investment program where they could get a return on their capital.

The ad’s line of attack isn’t new. We addressed similar attacks in 2008, when a flurry of misleading ads from Democrats attacked Republicans for supporting President George W. Bush’s 2005 plan for private Social Security accounts. The Bush plan would have allowed investment only in very broadly diversified, government-approved funds, and only by younger workers, who would have had the option of diverting only 2 percent of their salaries to such funds (of the 12.4 percent currently taken by Social Security taxes, 6.2 percent paid by the worker and 6.2 percent by the employer).

Furthermore, Pompeo’s “Wall Street” donors wouldn’t necessarily benefit very much, if at all, from such a plan. Even for true Wall Street players, there’s little potential profit in partial privatization. As we pointed out in 2005, brokers netted only 16 cents in fees for every $10,000 invested in the sort of investment accounts — which currently cover millions of federal employees and retirees — on which Bush modeled his own partial privatization plan.

 ‘Prevent New Labeling Laws’

The second ad starts the same as the first, showing money dropping like confetti on Pompeo while the narrator says that “big donors are raining money” on Pompeo. In this one, the narrator goes on to say the congressman “has taken thousands from those who don’t want you to know what’s in our food,” and then “filed a bill to prevent new labeling laws.” This one has some substance behind it.

Although the ad never makes this point clear, what’s at issue here are only those food ingredients that have been genetically modified. The bill wouldn’t prevent just any new labeling law, contrary to the ad’s imprecise wording. The ad also doesn’t identify the donors or say how many “thousands” they have given. But it turns out, Pompeo has indeed sided with donors opposed to mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients.

On April 9, Pompeo introduced H.R. 4322, which he calls the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014″ (and which critics ridicule as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act). The measure would preempt state laws that require food labels to disclose genetically modified ingredients, as Vermont enacted in May, and as several other states are considering.

Instead, Pompeo’s bill would grant exclusive authority to the federal Food and Drug Administration to require uniform national labeling — but only if the government determines that there is a “material difference” between such ingredients and non-altered foodstuffs, such as an unexpected allergen or a significantly different nutritional quality. And FDA says it already regulates the safety of genetically modified foods, and that they “must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants.”

Is Pompeo’s sponsorship a payoff to campaign donors, as the ad says? According to the pro-labeling Environmental Working Group, the congressman accepted $21,000 so far in this campaign cycle from political action committees run by companies or groups opposed to labeling, including $5,000 from Bayer, $4,500 from General Mills, $4,000 from Dow Chemical and $2,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The EWG did not tabulate direct donations from executives of those companies, or donations in previous campaigns, which would have increased the amount further.

On the other hand, Pompeo says he’s acting to prevent a “mish-mash” of labeling rules and to allow Kansas farmers to get higher yields using genetically altered seed. He said he didn’t care about Monsanto, whose PAC has given him $1,000 this cycle. “I care deeply about our agricultural community.”

So we’ll leave it to voters to decide whether Pompeo cares more about farmers, as he says, or about “big donors,” as Every Voice’s ads say.

– Brooks Jackson

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Playing Politics with Violence Against Women http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/playing-politics-with-violence-against-women/ Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:14:15 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87187 An ad from Alison Lundergan Grimes knocks Sen. Mitch McConnell for voting “two times against the Violence Against Women Act” — evidence, Grimes concludes, that McConnell has forgotten that “over half the voters in Kentucky are women.”

But McConnell has never opposed the central purpose of the Violence Against Women Act. In fact, he was a cosponsor of the original bill in 1991, and he has twice supported its reauthorization.

McConnell did vote against a massive crime bill that included the VAWA because it also contained a ban on assault weapons. And he more recently voted against reauthorization of VAWA in 2012 and 2013 because he opposed Democratic expansions of the bill that included provisions for same-sex couples and immigrants, and one that would have allowed Native American tribal courts to try non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on reservations. In both cases, McConnell supported Republican alternatives to those bills that he claimed would have strengthened the Violence Against Women Act.

Throughout her campaign, Grimes has highlighted women’s issues, and her campaign website says that the contrast between her and McConnell on that front “could not be starker.” Drawing that contrast is the aim of this latest ad, the third in a series that features a Kentucky resident sitting beside Grimes and posing a rhetorical question to McConnell. We previously reviewed the first two installments, one on Medicare, the other on jobs.

This latest ad features Ilene Woods from Lynch, Kentucky, asking, “Senator, why did you vote two times against the Violence Against Women Act and against enforcing equal pay for women?”

After a pause, Grimes says, “I can never get him to answer this one either. I approve this message because, Senator, you must be forgetting that over half the voters in Kentucky are women, like Ilene.”

The ad’s claim that McConnell voted “against enforcing equal pay for women” relates to votes on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2012. We’ll get to those, but first we’ll deal with the ad’s main claim about VAWA, a law that seeks to combat crimes and violence against women. McConnell has a complicated history with the law — too complex to summarize in one sound bite in a 30-second ad.

McConnell’s History on VAWA

Back in 1991, McConnell was one of the original cosponsors of the first Violence Against Women Act, which was introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden. The bill sought to address a comprehensive spectrum of domestic violence issues. According to the Congressional Research Service, it “encourages collaboration among law enforcement, judicial personnel, and public and private service providers to victims of domestic and sexual violence; increases public awareness of domestic violence; addresses the special needs of victims of domestic and sexual violence; … authorizes long-term and transitional housing for victims; … and requires studies and reports on the effectiveness of approaches used for certain grants in combating violence.”

That first bill never progressed to a vote. Biden reintroduced it again in 1993, although McConnell was no longer a cosponsor. The bill was never brought to an independent vote, but that year VAWA was incorporated into the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a massive crime bill that sought to fund 100,000 new police officers and included significant investments in prisons and crime prevention programs. Also championed by Biden, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act — including VAWA — passed the Senate in 1993 by a wide margin, 95-4, and McConnell was among those who supported it.

However, when the law came back to the Senate via a final conference report, it included several new provisions, including an assault weapons ban, which McConnell opposed. That bill passed the Senate 61-38, largely along partisan lines. McConnell was among the majority of Republicans who opposed it. The bill was later signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, this version of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was not a clean up-or-down vote on VAWA.

VAWA was reauthorized and enhanced in 2000 when it was added to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which passed the Senate unanimously. VAWA was again reauthorized and enhanced by unanimous consent in 2005. So McConnell can be said to have twice supported reauthorization of VAWA, in 2000 and 2005.

And that brings us to 2012, when VAWA reauthorization became a bit of an election-year political football.

Democrats that year added provisions to VAWA reauthorization that Republicans generally opposed, such as extending protections to same-sex couples. Republicans also opposed an expansion of the number of temporary visas for immigrants in the country illegally who claim they are victims of domestic violence. And some Republicans also expressed concern about provisions dealing with new protections for Native Americans, arguing the provisions would allow tribal courts to try non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on reservations.

In an interview with Politico prior to the vote, McConnell accused the Democrats of politicizing an issue that otherwise enjoyed bipartisan support.

“We’re all in favor of the Violence Against Women Act – as you know, it was passed on a voice vote when we were in the majority here [in 2005],” McConnell said. “Any fight here would be completely manufactured on their part — there’s nothing to fight about.”

McConnell supported a substitute VAWA bill proposed by Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, which stripped out some of the “problematic provisions” of the Democratic version, and sought to strengthen VAWA by, for example, toughening criminal penalties. But that bill failed.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the Democratic version of the bill by a vote of 68-31 on April 26, 2012 – with McConnell voting against it — but the effort died in the Republican-controlled House.

The issue of VAWA reauthorization reemerged in 2013. As he had the year before, McConnell supported a Republican substitute bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley. The Grassley version would have kept funding levels the same, but would have increased the mandatory minimum sentences for aggravated sexual assault, and it called for a federal magistrate to oversee domestic violence cases in Native American territories. The Grassley plan, however, was rejected by a vote of 34-65.

The Democratic version of VAWA reauthorization passed 78-22, with 23 Republicans voting in favor of it (and McConnell voting against it). It was ultimately signed into law by President Obama .

In early July, McConnell contended that he is a longtime supporter of VAWA, but that he simply supported a different version than the one passed by the Senate.

“Actually I voted for a much stronger version of the Violence Against Women Act [the Grassley bill] than the one that ended up passing the Senate,” McConnell said. “So I’d be happy to have that debate with my opponent or anyone else because I voted for a much stronger provision.”

So it’s true that McConnell twice voted against reauthorization of VAWA — including a 2013 version that received healthy Republican support in the Senate — but in both cases, McConnell supported an alternative, Republican version of VAWA.

 Equal Pay for Women

As for the ad’s claim that McConnell voted “against enforcing equal pay for women,” the ad references two votes by McConnell, one against the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2012 and another against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. But whether those were votes “against enforcing equal pay for women” is a matter of political debate.

The Paycheck Fairness Act sought to bridge pay disparities between men and women and included provisions that prohibited companies from barring employees from talking with co-workers about their pay; required businesses to give a reason for disparities in pay; and allowed women to sue employers for punitive damages if they were paid unfairly.

Republicans uniformly opposed the bill, arguing that the law already prohibits unequal pay based on gender, and warning the bill would simply increase civil lawsuits.

”We don’t think America suffers from a lack of litigation,” McConnell said in a press conference after the vote.

Republicans successfully blocked the bill from moving forward to a vote on June 5, 2012. In fact, Republicans have blocked similar bills several times, most recently in April. McConnell contended the bill is “just another Democrat idea that threatens to hurt the very people it claims to help.”

The other bill referenced in the Grimes ad is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which expanded women’s ability to sue in pay discrimination cases. Prior to the Lilly Ledbetter law, federal courts held that the statute of limitations for a gender discrimination lawsuit ended 180 days after the first instance of discrimination. The law extended that to 180 days after the last instance of discrimination, essentially a person’s last paycheck at a company.

In a press release explaining his opposition, McConnell said he supports equal pay for equal work, but believed the bill would unfairly hurt businesses by “eliminating the statute of limitations on pay discrimination” cases. McConnell supported a failed amendment from Hutchison that would have started the 180-day statute of limitation clock from “the date when the person aggrieved has, or should be expected to have, enough information to support a reasonable suspicion of such discrimination.”

Despite McConnell’s opposition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed the Senate 61-36, and President Obama later signed it into law, his first as president.

We don’t take a position on whether the two votes highlighted in the Grimes ad were votes “against enforcing equal pay for women.” We provided McConnell’s fuller position to show this is a matter of debate, and we’ll leave that up to readers to decide.

– Robert Farley

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Misleading Michigan GOP Primary Voters http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/misleading-michigan-gop-primary-voters/ Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:09:02 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87205 The Republican candidates in Michigan’s 4th Congressional District entered the final weeks of the primary trading misleading claims in TV ads that rely on deceptive tactics to distort the facts:

  • State Sen. John Moolenaar accuses Paul Mitchell of “lining his pockets” with $100,000 in “Obama’s stimulus.” That’s grossly misleading. Michigan received funding to retrain laid-off workers, and a small slice of that went to pay tuition for training at an education center Mitchell once headed.
  • Mitchell says “Moolenaar authored the bill to fund Obamacare in Michigan.” That, too, is grossly misleading. It refers to the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Moolenaar chairs the subcommittee that writes the annual health care spending bill, which includes Medicaid. But he voted against the expansion.
  • Mitchell also claims Moolenaar “voted for $500 million in Obama’s stimulus funding.” That refers to a $6.8 billion spending bill — a fraction of which included stimulus aid — that received the support of all Republican senators. There was no separate vote on “Obama’s stimulus funding.”
  • Lastly, Mitchell claims Moolenaar “has voted to raise taxes and fees 160 times.” The Mitchell campaign pads the number by counting multiple votes on the same bills. We found it even includes legislation that cut taxes, could save money and had no fiscal impact.

Michigan’s 4th Congressional District is now represented by Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the powerful tax-writing panel known as the House Ways and Means Committee. But Camp’s announced retirement set off a costly battle for the Republican nomination. Mitchell has contributed $3.2 million of his own money — the second highest of any House candidate — to win the nomination. He has outspent Moolenaar by more than 5-to-1.

Lining Whose Pockets?

Mitchell has aired several TV ads that attack Moolenaar on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the stimulus) and the state senator’s voting record on taxes and fees. Moolenaar responded with a TV ad that accused Mitchell of making false claims — and then committed his own whopper when he accused Mitchell of “lining his pockets with Obama’s stimulus.” We’ll start there.

Moolenaar’s ad, called “Stimulus,” shows a man dressed in a business suit sitting behind a desk, pushing a stack of bills toward the camera, while the announcer says, “Mitchell took 100 grand from Obama’s stimulus.”

On the screen, viewers see the words: “Mitchell took $100,000 from Obama’s stimulus.” The source of the claim: recovery.gov, the government website for the ARRA.

The Moolenaar campaign initially did not respond to our request for information, but we got help from a local fact-checking group at Bridge Magazine, a project of The Center for Michigan, which had been in contact with the campaign. Ron French, a senior writer at the magazine who previously worked at the Detroit News, forwarded us emails he received from the Moolenaar campaign. A day later, Moolenaar campaign manager Sarah Brooks got back to us and confirmed the information that it sent to French.

It turns out that the Moolenaar campaign is referring to payments of $45,899 and $47,519 that the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs made to Ross Medical Education Center. The payments totaling less than $100,000 were part of two large stimulus grants totaling $29 million in 2009 that the state department received from the federal Department of Labor to provide “employment related services” to approximately 1,650 laid-off workers in Michigan.

Mitchell joined Ross in 1985 and rose to become the company’s top executive, serving as CEO for six years through 2011. He left the company in 2012. Ross provides training for such health care careers as dental assistant, pharmacy technician and veterinary assistant.

The stimulus money helped pay for the tuition of laid-off workers who were seeking training in the medical field at Ross; it did not go to line Mitchell’s pockets.

Funding Obamacare?

Moolenaar’s misleading attack ad on the stimulus issue was in response to misleading ads from the Mitchell campaign. The most recent of Mitchell’s ads — which purport to highlight Moolenaar’s “signature accomplishments” — distorts Moolenaar’s record on three issues. We’ll start with the claim about the Affordable Care Act.

The Mitchell ad says, “Moolenaar authored the bill to fund Obamacare in Michigan.” That’s misleading.

The Mitchell campaign did not respond to our requests for information about the ad. But we know that the claim refers to Senate Bill 763 — a routine annual appropriations bill for health care spending — because on its website the campaign says in a blog post that “Moolenaar authored the bill (SB 763 of 2014; Moolenaar voted Yes (http://bit.ly/MoolVotes1) that made the Obamacare Medicare [sic] expansion possible in Michigan.” (The campaign meant Medicaid, not Medicare, as it said in the preceding paragraph of the same blog post.)

Senate Bill 763 funded the Department of Community Health for fiscal year 2015, providing $17.492 billion in total funding — including $12 billion in federal aid. Moolenaar introduced it on Feb. 11, 2014. That was his job as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for the Department of Community Health. The bill, of course, contained Medicaid funding, including money to pay for the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. It passed 32-5 in the Senate on May 6 with 25 Republican votes. Only one Republican – state Sen. Patrick Colbeck – voted against it.

By the Mitchell campaign’s logic, 25 of the 26 Republicans who voted for that bill were voting to make “the Obamacare Medicaid expansion possible in Michigan.” But that’s false. The bill that made the Medicaid expansion possible was introduced in 2013 and Moolenaar voted against it.

The Medicaid expansion bill – HB 4714 – passed the Senate 20-18 on Aug. 27, 2013. It took two tries for the Senate to get the 20 votes needed to pass the bill, and required votes from all 12 Democrats and eight Republicans. Eighteen Republicans voted against it — including 17 who would later vote for the Department of Community Health spending bill.

During floor debate on HB 4714, Moolenaar called the Medicaid expansion “the greatest expansion of government in our time.”

Detroit Free Press, Aug. 27, 2013: “Is now the time in our nation’s history to expand federal government entitlement spending?” asked Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland. “Today (Tuesday) we have the opportunity to say no to more crushing federal debt that burdens our children and grandchildren. And no to the greatest expansion of government in our time.”

Moolenaar, like the vast majority of Republican congressional candidates, opposes Obamacare. In fact, he signed a pledge on July 10 to repeal Obamacare. In its endorsement of Moolenaar, the Tea Party Express cited his vote against the Medicaid expansion as a reason for its support, in part because he was bucking his party’s leader, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who supported the bill’s passage and signed it into law.

Tea Party Express Executive Director Taylor Budowich said Moolenaar’s vote “showed courage to not only stand up to tax-and-spend liberals, but even members of his own party.”

At this point, the Medicaid expansion is a fait accompli in Michigan — unless the Legislature repeals it. Sarah Brooks, Moolenaar’s campaign manager, said the senator consulted with the nonpartisan State Fiscal Agency, which informed him that withholding money for the Medicaid expansion in the annual appropriations bill would not terminate the program. That could only be done through separate repeal legislation, per the state Constitution, according to a written response from the agency that was provided to us.

“Medicaid expansion was created by statute in Michigan,” Brooks said. “So an amendment to the budget bill would not supersede the statute.”

Voting for Stimulus?

The same ad misleads voters by saying Moolenaar “voted for $500 million in Obama’s stimulus funding.”

The campaign points to the senator’s vote in 2011 on Senate Bill 179 as evidence of Moolenaar’s support for the stimulus. The campaign’s website says: “According to michiganvotes.org, Senator Moolenaar voted for $549 million in Obama deficit stimulus funding when he voted for Senate Bill 179 on May 23, 2011.”

Senate Bill 179 was an annual appropriations bill for the state Department of Human Services. An analysis of the $6.83 billion bill by the State Fiscal Agency shows that the $549 million in stimulus funds — which represented about 8 percent of all spending in the bill — was not at issue, because it was included in the budget proposals of the governor, House and Senate.

The Senate gave the bill final approval, 26 to 11, on May 24, 2011, with all 26 Republican senators voting for it and 11 of 12 Democrats voting against it. (One Democrat did not vote.) Democrats objected to a provision of the $6.83 billion bill that would impose a retroactive 48-month lifetime limit on cash benefits, a change that the State Fiscal Agency projected would immediately reduce welfare rolls by 12,600 recipients and save the state $77.4 million.

MLive.com – a news website — wrote, “Democrats argued the 48-month cutoff, first approved by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, should be graduated over time so families wouldn’t lose the benefits immediately.”

Yet, by the Mitchell campaign’s logic, all 26 Republicans “voted for $500 million in Obama’s stimulus funding” and no Democrat supported the funding.

Voted for Taxes and Fees 160 Times?

The Mitchell ad also says Moolenaar “has voted to raise taxes and fees 160 times.” That’s an exaggeration. The campaign pads that figure by employing deceptive tactics that we labeled “tax tally trickery” many years ago.

On its website, the Mitchell campaign lists 170 votes over a 10-year period that includes six years in the House (2003 through 2008) and four years in the Senate (2011 through 2014). But 42 of the votes – about one-quarter of them — were procedural votes taken prior to the final vote, so the Mitchell campaign exaggerates the number by counting two or three votes on the same bill.

The list also was padded by including nonbinding resolutions, which have no power to raise taxes and fees.

In one case, the campaign listed a bill that was not a tax increase at all. In that case, the House in 2005 twice voted overwhelmingly — 96-9 and 100-6 — to eliminate a provision in existing law that would have forced the financially strapped city of Detroit to provide a refund to utility customers. That bill did not raise taxes or fees. It allowed Detroit to continue to charge the existing tax of 5 percent on electric, gas and phone bills to help pay for police and firefighters.

“Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said passage of the legislation was essential to maintaining adequate policing on Detroit’s streets, and that had it not passed, the city would have been forced to lay off additional police officers,” the Michigan Chronicle wrote.

The Mitchell campaign counts both votes, even though they were on the same bill and that bill did not raise taxes or fees.

The list even includes legislation designed to save money and cut taxes.

For example, the House voted 104-1 on Nov. 30, 2004, and 101-0 on Dec. 7, 2004, to allow local governments with populations of 100,000 or less to enter joint arrangements to provide fire and police services — arrangements that the State Fiscal Agency said “could save money” on “cost efficiencies.” But the Mitchell campaign includes both votes on its list because the bill also gave the cities power to impose a “special assessment” to pay for the joint services.

The Mitchell list also includes bills that were part of a tax-cut package negotiated between Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2005 that “trades off tax cuts with certain increased tax levies and other measures to create a net business tax cut,” according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy website Michigan Votes, cited by the Mitchell campaign.

In all, there were 12 bills (Senate Bill 633 and House Bills 4342, 4972, 4973, 4980, 5095, 4096, 5097, 5098, 5106, 5107, and 5108) in the package, according to the State Fiscal Agency’s analysis of the tax-cut package. The Mitchell campaign list includes 16 votes on seven of the bills that raised taxes or fees, but ignores Moolenaar’s votes on the five bills in the package that cut taxes. However, the Legislature tied the bills together, so that the tax hikes would not happen unless the tax cuts also took effect.

The State Fiscal Agency analysis projected that the 12-bill package would result in a net tax cut of nearly $500 million in the first six years of enactment.

There were also 22 votes on legislation that passed unanimously — including a 105-0 vote on Nov. 10, 2005, on a bill that repealed a sales tax exemption on goods purchased by prisoners. The State Fiscal Agency estimated the repeal would cost inmates $500,000 in sales taxes in fiscal year 2006, rising to $800,000 by fiscal 2009. That bill was part of the tax-cut package.

In the interest of time — the election is Aug. 5 — we did not review the language of all bills on Mitchell’s list. We reviewed more than half of them — all 69 votes in the 2003-2004 legislative session and all 37 in the 2005-2006 session. And we identified all votes that were procedural votes and all bills that were nonbinding resolutions.

We did find that Moolenaar cast many votes to raise fees — largely because the Michigan Legislature votes on each and every fee change, rather than making all the changes in a single budget bill. That was the case when the governor included $125.5 million in new and increased fees in her fiscal 2004 budget to address a revenue shortfall. The new revenue was included in the governor’s budget, but separate bills and separate votes were taken on each fee. For example, there was a bill that raised the license fee for private registered pesticide applicators that the State Fiscal Agency estimated would bring in only $130,000 in annual revenues.

More to the point, though, we found that the Mitchell campaign exaggerates the number of votes on tax and fee increases, and ignores votes that Moolenaar took to cut taxes and save money.

– Eugene Kiely

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July 25: Carbon Emissions, Manufacturing, Food Prices http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/july-25-carbon-emissions-manufacturing-food-prices/ Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:53:08 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87359
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Parsing McConnell’s Job Description http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/parsing-mcconnells-job-description/ Fri, 25 Jul 2014 19:22:24 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87053 A laid off coal miner in an Alison Lundergan Grimes TV ad poses a question to Sen. Mitch McConnell: “Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?” McConnell doesn’t dispute saying it and no recording exists; but he claims that he misunderstood a reporter’s question and his words have been misinterpreted.

What’s a fact-checker to do? Look at the facts.

McConnell was quoted as saying, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job.” But the comment came on the same day that he was in his home state to speak about — jobs. McConnell gave his quote during a brief interview April 24 with a local reporter who didn’t stay for McConnell’s speech, which focused on his efforts to retain and create coal jobs.

So, the theme of McConnell’s speeches that day — four of them in all — were about the very issue (jobs) and the very industry (coal) that concerns the man featured in the Grimes ad.

Moreover, there were numerous instances before and after April 24 that show the senator considers creating jobs part of his job. He has supported approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, passage of trade legislation, and funding for job training and workforce development programs.

There may be a philosophical difference between the two candidates on how best to create jobs. But Grimes’ use of a single quote that appeared in a six-paragraph story of a local paper doesn’t fully reflect McConnell’s position on job creation.

Coal has emerged as a key issue for both campaigns, with each candidate accusing the other of not doing enough to bolster the industry. The McConnell campaign recently put out an ad that claimed Grimes “supports Barack Obama’s anti-coal environmental platform.” But as we wrote about an outside attack ad that accused Grimes of being “silent” as “Obama attacked coal,” Grimes has repeatedly staked out a position strongly opposing Obama’s tighter regulation of the coal industry.

The Grimes ad attacking McConnell on coal is the second in a series that features a Kentucky resident sitting beside Grimes and putting a rhetorical question to McConnell. The first featured a classic and misleading Democratic Medicare scare tactic.

In this new ad, Grimes sits next to David Stanley in front of a roadside gas station. She begins, “I’m Alison Lundergan Grimes and David Stanley lost his coal mining job in Letcher County, and he has this question for Senator McConnell.”

Stanley then says, “Mr. McConnell, in the last two years, we’ve lost almost half of our coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?”

After a pause for effect, as birds chirp and a pickup truck passes by, Grimes leans in and tells Stanley, “I couldn’t believe he said that either.”

They are referring to a McConnell quote in the Beattyville Enterprise that ran in an April 24 story under the headline, “McConnell says not his job to bring jobs.” The article was only six paragraphs long, so we’ll share it in its entirety:

Beattyville Enterprise, April 24: U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said Friday that it is not his responsibility to bring jobs to Kentucky.

Appearing in Beattyville, McConnell was asked by The Beattyville Enterprise what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County.

“Economic development is a Frankfort issue,” McConnell said. “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”

Asked about public works projects McConnell said he is interested in bringing public works to the state. “Most comes from the state, though,” he said.

He did say that he is responsible for protecting jobs by “pushing back” against the Obama Administration’s restrictions on the coal industry.

“Oil and gas are big here,” he said of Lee County. “They (the Obama Administration) are making it hard on them too,” he said.

McConnell’s office said his message to the reporter “got lost in translation,” and it quickly issued a statement from McConnell saying the story reflected “the exact opposite message to the one I was trying to convey.”

McConnell, April 25: I visited Lee County to talk about a top priority of mine: jobs. I was surprised to see a headline about my visit that sent the exact opposite message to the one I was trying to convey. Encouraging positive economic development and job growth is at the center of what I do every day.

A month later, McConnell further addressed the comment during a press conference with his Kentucky colleague, Sen. Rand Paul (beginning about the 9:23 mark).

McConnell, May 24: I thought [the reporter] was talking about specific industries in Lee County. And that is obviously a job of the state Commerce Department. I believe, had he stayed for the speech … he would have understood that my whole speech was about job creation and the job destruction that’s gone on as a result of the Obama administration. So look, the things that Senator Paul and I work on together and the things that we advocate are all job related.

Edmund Shelby, the Beattyville Enterprise editor who conducted the interview, stands by the story.

Asked if it is possible McConnell misinterpreted his question and believed it was about “specific industries in Lee County,” Shelby said, “If that’s his interpretation, I think that’s a fair interpretation.” But Shelby said his question was more generic in asking about what he would do to bring jobs to Lee County. And, Shelby said, “We were both speaking English.”

No recording of the interview exists. However, McConnell’s public comments minutes later suggest there’s more to his position than are captured in his brief quote to the Beattyville Enterprise.

Shelby said he could not stay to hear McConnell’s speech — he interviewed McConnell in the hallway before the event –  but we obtained a recording of the speech from a Los Angeles Times reporter who was there, and reported on it (h/t to Michael A. Memoli). In his ensuing speech, McConnell laid out his case that if voters reelected him, and Republicans recaptured a majority in the Senate, he would be in a position to reverse many of the Obama administration policies that he says have stifled job creation. In his speeches that day, McConnell argued the Democratic Senate had blocked numerous jobs bills passed by the Republican House.

“We’re now in the sixth year of this, what I would call a kind of Western European experiment — big debt, lots of borrowing creating that debt, taxes, regulation, micromanagement of every part of our lives,” McConnell said. “And what has it produced? In America, writ large, very slow growth.”

Those comments comport with others McConnell made before and after the Beattyville speech.

Here are some examples we found of McConnell talking about efforts to create or preserve jobs:

  • In a floor speech on Jan. 15: “What we’re saying is, how about we actually try to create jobs? … The Republican-controlled House has sent over a number of bills that would give a boost to jobs and the economy. A good start would be for the President to lean on the Democrats who run the Senate to take those up for immediate consideration. … He could call for true, bipartisan tax reform. He could announce construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which would help create thousands of American jobs right away. And he could actually deliver on one of the brightest spots of his economic agenda: trade.”
  • In a floor speech on Feb. 26: “How else can you explain why the President has refused to sign off on projects such as Keystone Pipeline that would create thousands of jobs or why he refuses to push his own party to join Republicans and support trade legislation that could create even more jobs?”
  • In a press release on June 25, McConnell applauded the passage of a bill to promote job training and workforce development programs.
  • In a floor speech on May 13: “The Keystone Pipeline is a project almost everyone knows will create thousands of good jobs at a time when we need them very badly … The American people sent us to the Senate to do something about jobs and address the issues that actually matter to their daily lives. It is time the Democrats, who run the Senate, drop the diversions and finally work with us to do so.

One could make a political argument about whether McConnell’s approach to job creation is correct — some economists, for example, debate the job-creating power of the House bills he referenced. But McConnell’s statements make clear that he sees job creation as part of his job description.

The Grimes ad goes one step further and links McConnell’s comment to coal jobs — and there’s plenty of evidence that that’s a distortion of McConnell’s position. In fact, as the Beattyville Enterprise story itself states, McConnell “did say that he is responsible for protecting jobs by ‘pushing back’ against the Obama Administration’s restrictions on the coal industry.” Shelby said Grimes was “mixing two issues” in the ad — the lack of coal jobs and McConnell’s comment about job creation in general.

The speech McConnell delivered in Beattyville made clear that McConnell considers the protection of coal jobs, and fighting President Obama’s regulations of coal mining, a key responsibility of his job. In fact, that was the focus of his speech.

The Los Angeles Times reporter who was present for that speech and three others that day wrote that those speeches “each offer a fuller picture of how the incumbent argues his status in Washington as a potential majority leader in a Republican-led Senate next year is an answer to the state’s economic woes.”

As Stanley did in the Grimes ad, McConnell lamented the loss of coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky. According to a 2014 report from the Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence in partnership with the Kentucky Coal Association, coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky have fallen by 38 percent from mid-2011 to the end of 2013, when they numbered 7,436.

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told us it’s unfair to blame McConnell for that. “Senator McConnell and his staff have done everything they can to support Kentucky’s coal miners and coal production,” he said.

Bissett said the Kentucky Coal Association does not endorse political candidates.

Neither does the Beattyville Enterprise.

“We find it best not to endorse people who would later disappoint us,” Shelby said.

– Robert Farley

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More Carbon Tax Distortions http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/more-carbon-tax-distortions/ Thu, 24 Jul 2014 18:38:34 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87068 Crossroads GPS claims that Colorado Sen. Mark Udall “voted to enact a carbon tax.” Udall did no such thing. Republican Thom Tillis claims that Sen. Kay Hagan “supported a carbon tax” that would destroy “up to 67,000 jobs in North Carolina over the next ten years.” That’s not accurate, either.

In fact, Congress has never voted on a specific carbon tax proposal. Udall couldn’t have voted to enact such a tax even if he wanted. And the figure on North Carolina jobs comes from a scenario presented by a group opposed to such a tax.

To make these claims, Crossroads and Tillis twist the senators’ votes on amendments to a nonbinding budget resolution. We saw similar distortions early this year, when Americans for Prosperity ran an ad saying Sen. Mark Begich “is on record supporting a carbon tax … that will cost the average family over $2,000 annually.” Begich hasn’t backed a carbon tax proposal, and the $2,000 figure is based on general assumptions, not any specific plan. That figure has been used to attack Hagan, too, in an ad from the conservative advocacy group American Energy Alliance.

No Vote to ‘Enact a Carbon Tax’

Crossroads points to Udall’s March 22, 2013, vote for a budget resolution amendment to require any possible future carbon tax to be revenue neutral, with the money the government would receive from the tax being returned to the American people. In other words, Udall voted to support making a hypothetical tax revenue neutral.

Also, the amendment was to a nonbinding budget resolution, which sets spending and budget guidelines but doesn’t carry any force of law. The amendment was incapable of enacting anything, and at any rate, it didn’t call for the enactment of a carbon tax plan, which would be a direct tax on the carbon content of fossil-fuel energy, such as coal, oil and gas. The goal of such a tax — like other pollution-reduction strategies — would be to lower the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment.

The amendment, which was defeated by a 41-58 vote, was written by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who, along with three other Democratic lawmakers, had previously released a “discussion draft” of a carbon tax, asking for comment on how a tax should be priced and structured, and how revenue could best be returned to the public. Whitehouse’s amendment said that all revenue from a “fee on carbon pollution” should be “returned to the American people in the form of federal deficit reduction, reduced federal tax rates, cost savings, or other direct benefits.” So, if such a tax were to exist, the Whitehouse amendment called for the revenue to be returned to the public in some form.

The Crossroads ad, however, goes on to wrongly say that Udall voted for a carbon tax proposal that “could have led to higher electricity prices, squeezing middle-class budgets,” vaguely adding: “A carbon tax could squeeze local businesses and hurt Colorado employment.”

Such a tax could do those things, depending on how it was structured. But, again, Udall didn’t vote on a specific proposal.

In general, a fee on carbon is designed to raise the price of fossil fuels, prompting consumers to switch to renewable energy options and consume less energy, and leading businesses to develop new energy-reducing products and technology. But whether that would lead to “squeezing middle-class budgets” or businesses and by how much depends on many details that would have to be addressed in carbon tax legislation.

And such legislation faces a steep uphill battle amid much political opposition. As Charles Komanoff, director of the Carbon Tax Center, told us in February, “To my knowledge, there has never even been a hearing, even just an informational hearing on anything that is or resembles a carbon tax bill.”

The most recent Senate legislation was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer and referred to committee on Feb. 14, 2013. The bill, which called for a $20-per-ton carbon fee with 60 percent of the revenue returned to households, has no other cosponsors and hasn’t moved since. In the House, Rep. Jim McDermott introduced a carbon tax bill on May 28 of this year. It, too, was referred to committee with no action since. McDermott introduced the same bill in 2012, and it died in committee. In addition to the lack of traction of such bills, the White House opposes a carbon tax.

The Crossroads ad cites a study released in February 2013 by the anti-carbon-tax National Association of Manufacturers, which looked at two hypothetical scenarios, finding they would reduce productivity, lower wages and increase the price of fossil fuels. NAM’s scenarios use the revenue from a tax to reduce the debt and personal income tax rates. But the revenue from the tax could also be used to give households rebates, as the Sanders-Boxer bill proposed, or lower corporate tax rates to ease the impact on businesses.

“The ultimate economic effects of a carbon tax, however, would depend on how the revenues from the tax were used,” said a May 2013 Congressional Budget Office report, with deficit or tax-rate reduction lowering the total cost to the economy and other methods directing relief to consumers or businesses.

But, again, Udall didn’t vote to enact a carbon tax — or even to support a specific proposal.

 False Attacks on Hagan, Too

Hagan’s Republican opponent, Tillis, twists another vote on an amendment to the 2013 budget resolution to wrongly claim on his website that the Democratic senator “has supported a carbon tax that would cause gas prices and utility bills to skyrocket, while destroying up to 67,000 jobs in North Carolina over the next ten years.” Tillis’ site refers to “Hagan’s carbon tax” and call this her “energy policy.” But simply reading that Web page shows Tillis doesn’t have support for such claims.

The American Energy Alliance, a conservative group that doesn’t disclose its donors but has been linked to the Koch brothers by Politico, also launched an ad early this month that uses the same supposed evidence to claim that Hagan wasn’t telling the truth when she said she opposed a carbon tax and that she had “worked to make it a priority.”

Both the Tillis camp and AEA point to Hagan’s March 2013 vote against an amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt to require 60 votes to approve any potential carbon tax in the future. The amendment failed. It wasn’t a vote for a carbon tax; it was a vote against a nonbinding resolution requiring a high threshold for passing such a tax at some unknown point in the future.

There was no proposal that would have “destroy[ed] up to 67,000 jobs in North Carolina” over a decade, as the campaign says. Instead, that number comes from the NAM analysis of two scenarios, and it’s the upper-most estimate for NAM’s high-end scenario. Technically, NAM didn’t say up to 67,000 jobs would be lost. Its figure is for reduced labor income. NAM notes: “This does not represent a projection of the number of workers who may need to change jobs and/or be unemployed, as some or all of the lost labor could be spread across workers who remain employed.”

AEA’s ad also claims that Hagan supported a tax that “could cost the average family over $2,000 a year,” but that figure comes from a January 2013 Heritage Foundation analysis of carbon-tax scenarios presented in the Energy Information Administration’s 2012 Annual Energy Outlook. Heritage’s maximum-impact scenario estimated a cut in income for a family of four of $1,900 in 2016. The scenarios didn’t include any method of returning revenue to the public.

But that’s all a moot point anyway. Hagan didn’t support — or decline to oppose — any specific carbon tax plan with her 2013 vote.

The Tillis camp and AEA provide another weak link to a carbon tax, mentioning a letter Hagan and other freshman Democratic senators (including Begich and Udall) wrote to the Senate majority leader in July 2010, a few months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The letter expressed support for comprehensive energy legislation that would include “making polluters pay through a price on greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the Tillis camp acknowledges on its site, the letter didn’t provide any specifics as to whether that policy should be a carbon tax, cap-and-trade or some other method of penalties and incentives. The letter gives general ideas of what energy legislation should include, such as “tax incentives, grants, loans and other assistance to help American manufacturers create jobs, cut their energy consumption, retool for a clean energy economy and remain competitive in the global market.”

For the record, Hagan voted against the Whitehouse amendment, a vote her campaign cited last fall as evidence of her opposition to a carbon tax. The Hill newspaper quoted Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner as saying: “She opposes it (as evidenced by the act she voted against it).” But The Hill noted, as we have, that the “vote was largely symbolic, as the underlying bill was nonbinding. The Whitehouse amendment also didn’t exactly address the concept of carbon tax directly.”

Neither of the votes cited by these groups would have enacted a carbon tax, or even demonstrated support for a certain plan. The votes are distorted in these attacks and then linked to conservative analyses of general scenarios, not proposals that the Democratic senators actually had supported.

– Lori Robertson

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Wisconsin Trek-ery http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/wisconsin-trek-ery/ Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:51:18 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=87054 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claims his wealthy Democratic opponent is “sending jobs overseas.” But Mary Burke says the family company, Trek Bicycle Corporation, is “making more bikes in the U.S. than anyone.” Both are at least partly correct, but neither is telling the whole story.

Walker’s Attack

Walker started the latest round with a TV spot July 16 claiming Burke “[made] millions” sending jobs “that could have been done in Wisconsin” to “countries where women and children might work up to 12 hours a day, earning only $2 an hour.” 

Burke’s brother John, Trek’s CEO,  said the ad is wrong to blame his sister: “Mary had nothing to do with sourcing decisions at Trek. Those decisions were made by my father [the company's founder] and myself,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, a 2005 state Department of Commerce press release announcing Burke’s appointment as Wisconsin’s commerce secretary said she was responsible at Trek for “helping to start and oversee companies in the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, and the Netherlands.”

During her time at the family business, Mary Burke was director of European operations and later director of forecasting and planning. She left in 2004.

It’s questionable, though, whether the jobs in question, as a practical matter, “could have been done in Wisconsin” as the ad claims. All but a very few of the bikes sold in the U.S. by Trek’s competitors are made overseas. The National Bicycle Dealers’ Association estimates that 99 percent of all bikes sold in the U.S. last year were imported.

Generally, industry experts say only very high-end bikes with carbon-fiber frames, costing thousands of dollars each, can be made profitably in the U.S. “Trek would not be at all competitive in the U.S. market if they weren’t in China,” said Ray Keener, executive director of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.

Still, it’s a fact that Trek produces the vast majority of the bicycles in China and other foreign countries. And there’s no question that Mary Burke, who has been an executive of the company, is wealthy enough to have donated more than $400,000 to her own campaign as of July 1. So the Walker ad is accurate at least to that degree.

Burke’s Response . . .

If you can’t dispute the facts, political strategists advise, “Change the subject.” And that’s what Burke’s response tried.

It calls Walker’s ad “an outrageous attack on a great Wisconsin company,” even though Burke herself was the specific target. It says “almost 1,000 Wisconsin people” work at Trek — avoiding any mention of how many Chinese, Taiwanese or German people also work at Trek’s overseas facilities. Founded in 1976, Trek remains a privately owned company that does not have to make public reports of its financial results or business operations.

Burke’s ad also says that Trek “makes more bikes in the U.S. than anyone.” That long-standing company claim may be accurate; the  Journal Sentinel wrote that one researcher described it as “plausible, but difficult to verify.” Even if true, however, it doesn’t contradict the Walker ad.

. . . And Counter-Attack

The Burke ad also counter-attacked Walker on the outsourcing issue. “It’s Walker’s agency that gave millions in tax breaks to companies that relocated jobs overseas, the narrator says. The ad cites an Associated Press item that in turn refers to a July 9 investigative story by Madison, Wisconsin TV station WKOW.

The station reported that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — an agency created and chaired by Walker himself — gave financial awards to two companies, Ireland-based Eaton Corporation and Wisconsin-based Plexus Corp., that later laid off a total of 279 workers in Wisconsin and relocated the work overseas.

Walker’s Renewed Attack

Walker then renewed his attack July 22 with another TV spot saying Burke “forgot to mention that they [Trek] make 99 percent of their bikes overseas, in places like China.”  On screen, the percentage is given as “over 99.5%.”

That statement is based on an interview with Trek company public relations manager Eric Bjorling, published Jan. 9, 2011 by the digital magazine OnMilwaukee.com. Although Bjorling was reluctant to give specific figures — the subject was a sore point with the company even then — the persistent interviewer wormed out of him that Trek’s U.S. production — exclusively carbon-fiber bikes — is “somewhere in the 10,000 range,” depending on the year. The rest of the bikes are made in Germany, China and Taiwan. How many? “Again, it’s tough to say,” Bjorling responded. “We do sell roughly 1.5 million bikes every year, so that gives you an idea.”

So if Trek made exactly 10,000 bikes in the U.S. and 1.5 million worldwide, that would figure out to 99.3 percent of its bikes made overseas.

And the percentage could be higher today, because last year a state agency, petitioning on behalf of Trek workers, stated that the company had shut down most of the second and third shifts at its Waterloo, Wisconsin bike-frame production facility. “Production has been shifted to China,” the petition stated, adding that a total of 15 to 20 workers were laid off. The U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the matter and determined on Nov. 7 last year that all Trek workers laid off after August 12, 2012 are eligible for federal trade adjustment assistance.

In fact, it’s the second time that Trek workers have qualified for such assistance. In 2004, Trek petitioned the Department of Labor on behalf of its workers, and DOL determined that an increase in imports “contributed importantly” to a decline in employment at the company.  As the second Walker attack as says, Trek “has outsourced jobs for years.”

Hypocrisy

But what should voters make of all this? We find each side is telling only part of the story while accusing each other of hypocrisy — and each with some merit.

In fact, only two years ago, the agency Walker created and chairs chose Trek as one of the companies featured in a marketing campaign to encourage others to do business in Wisconsin. WEDC featured Burke’s brother John, the company CEO, in a two-minute promotional video and said Trek “has developed into a global leader in the design and manufacturing of bikes and biking equipment.”  The WEDC described Trek as a company that embodies the state’s “pioneering spirit and heritage of innovation, key attributes of our state’s business climate.” 

So Walker’s now faults Burke for her role at a company his state agency once held up as a shining example. Meanwhile Burke’s campaign attacks Walker’s agency for providing state aid to companies that outsource hundreds of jobs — just as her family company has done.

As the Walker campaign likes to point out, way back in 1995 Trek got an $875,000 state loan to help finance expansion of its new $6.3 million factory in Whitewater, Wisconsin. According to a Wisconsin State Journal article dated June 29, 1995, the company then envisioned adding 400 new workers to the 875 workers it employed at the time. And now some of that work has gone to China.

The economic reality that neither side is addressing squarely is that in today’s global economy, like it or not, U.S. workers compete for jobs with workers in rising economies around the world. Both Walker’s development agency and Burke’s family business have struggled with that, and their TV attacks and counter-attacks tell voters little about what Wisconsin’s next governor can do about it.

– Brooks Jackson

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Stretching the Truth in Arkansas http://www.factcheck.org/2014/07/stretching-the-truth-in-arkansas/ Mon, 21 Jul 2014 21:28:25 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=86831 The conservative group Americans for Prosperity stretches the truth to attack Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas for “higher gas and grocery bills.”

  • AFP blames Pryor’s vote to ban drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for higher gas prices. But the Energy Information Administration says drilling in ANWR would translate to little, if any, drop in prices at the pump.
  • As for higher grocery bills, AFP cites Pryor’s vote to increase ethanol production, which raised the demand for corn and the price of livestock. But the Department of Agriculture says the impact on overall retail food prices was less than 1 percent.

The Arkansas race is one of nine competitive races considered critical to whether Republicans can regain control of the Senate. Already, there has been more than $7.5 million in outside money spent on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The ad from Americans for Prosperity claims Pryor has “made things harder” for the state’s unemployed and working families “living paycheck to paycheck.” It shows images of downcast men and women, who could be “your neighbor, your friend, your daughter.”

AFP TV Ad: You know who they are. Your neighbor, your friend, your daughter. Maybe it’s you. 84,000 Arkansans out of work. Families living paycheck to paycheck. And Mark Pryor has made things harder. Voting with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time. Higher gas and grocery bills. Higher healthcare costs from Obamacare. Driving up the debt we owe China. Tell Mark Pryor Arkansas families need jobs, not bigger government.

It’s true, as the ad claims, that were 84,000 Arkansans out of work in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that’s the fewest number since November 2008.

As for the claim that Pryor has voted with President Obama 90 percent of the time, that was true last year, according to a vote analysis by CQ Weekly. But as we noted once before, Pryor also voted against Obama more than any other Senate Democrat last year.

More importantly, AFP provides weak evidence to support its claims that Pryor is responsible for such things as “higher gas and grocery bills” and “higher healthcare costs from Obamacare.”

Gas Prices

AFP cites three votes Pryor cast against domestic drilling to support its assertion that Pryor is responsible for higher gas prices. The three votes were for amendments which would have banned drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

ANWR covers over 19 million acres of land and water in northeastern Alaska. In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) designated most of the area as protected wilderness, except for a section of about 1.5 million acres. This area along the coast — since referred to as the “1002 Area” after the section of the bill that defined it — is subjected to studies that relay to Congress the potential impacts of oil and gas exploration and development. ANILCA placed the area in limbo, and whether or not to authorize drilling in ANWR has been a political issue for nearly 40 years.

A 2008 report by the Energy Information Administration examined the impact of drilling in ANWR and concluded that oil production in that area would not significantly influence world oil prices. The projected potential price reduction would be around 41 cents to $1.44 per barrel of low-sulfur, light (LSL) crude oil in 2026/2027. The price of oil is currently a little over $100 per barrel. According to EIA, U.S. refineries produce about 19 gallons of motor gasoline from one barrel of crude oil. So, that translates to pennies per gallon at the gas pump. But since oil is a global commodity, EIA warned that there may not be any impact at all.

EIA, 2008: Assuming that world oil markets continue to work as they do today, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could neutralize any potential price impact of ANWR oil production by reducing its oil exports by an equal amount.

For some context, the average price of regular conventional gasoline was $2.34 per gallon when Pryor cast the last of the three votes cited by AFP, and it was $3.56 on July 14, according to EIA data. The price of gasoline fluctuated a good deal between those dates, and was $1.83 per gallon when Obama took office in January of 2009. In 2011, we looked into some of the claims about whether Obama was to blame for higher gasoline prices and found that much of the rhetoric was misplaced.

Finally, the claims about higher gas and grocery bills come immediately after the ad blames Pryor for “voting with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time.” That may leave the false impression that Pryor voted with Obama to raise prices, but, in fact, the ANWR votes cited by AFP were cast in 2003 and 2005, long before Obama became president — although then-Sen. Obama voted in favor of the two bills in 2005.

Grocery Bills

How was Mark Pryor responsible for “higher grocery bills”? Because he voted for the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, according to AFP. This, too, is a stretch.

In 2005, a section of the Energy Policy Act created the Renewable Fuel Standard program. That program mandates that a specified level of renewable fuel be blended into gasoline. In 2007, the program was expanded, increasing the required volume of renewable fuel. The rapid increase in demand for ethanol, which increased prices of livestock and corn products.

However, increased renewable fuel mandates were not the only cause of rising food prices. Other factors, such as “low global stocks, droughts, exchange rates, policy responses by some major trading countries, and rising incomes in some countries such as India and China, have also contributed to price increases,” according to the USDA.

In fact, the USDA said, in 2008, that the inflated price of corn had very little affect on overall retail food prices. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, “higher corn prices increase animal feed and ingredient costs for farmers and food manufacturers, but pass through to retail prices at a rate less than 10 percent of the corn price change.” Because food using corn as an ingredient makes up less than one-third of retail food spending, the report states, “overall retail food prices would rise less than 1 percentage point per year above the normal rate of food price inflation when corn prices increase by 50 percent.”

In April 2009, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that about 10-15 percent of the rise in food prices in 2008 could be attributed to ethanol subsidies. Food prices that year rose 5.1 percent, so the effect of ethanol subsidies was responsible for less than a 1 percent increase in the price of food that year.

CBO, April 2009: CBO estimates that from April 2007 to April 2008, the rise in the price of corn resulting from expanded production of ethanol contributed between 0.5 and 0.8 percentage points of the 5.1 percent increase in food prices measured by the consumer price index (CPI). Over the same period, certain other factors — for example, higher energy costs — had a greater effect on food prices than did the use of ethanol as a motor fuel.

The retail cost of food has, historically, risen about 2.5 percent to 3 percent a year, said Ephraim Leibtag of the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Factors such as weather, production issues and changing consumer demand, all effect the overall price of food, he said. And a spike in the price of any single commodity, such as corn, generally translates to only a small overall increase in retail food prices.

It is worth noting that the Energy Independence and Security Act passed the Senate with bipartisan support, 86-8. (Seven Republicans and one Democrat opposed it; and then-Sens. Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, as well as John McCain, did not vote). And it was signed by then-President George W. Bush, not Obama, although the ad implies otherwise.

Food prices are up under Obama, but not as much as they were before he took office. The index measuring the average consumer price of all food and beverages (including restaurant meals) was 10.7 percent higher in May than it was when Obama took office five and a half years earlier, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For some perspective, food prices rose by 21.9 percent in the five and a half years prior to Obama taking office.

Health Care Costs From Obamacare

The ad also claims Pryor’s vote for the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is responsible for higher health care costs. AFP cites a Forbes story reporting on an analysis from the conservative Manhattan Institute that concluded that individual market premiums would rise by an average of 49 percent due to the new health care law.

But the ad does not mention that it is referring only to those who buy insurance on their own as opposed to through an employer. Just over 120,000 Arkansans, or 4 percent of the state’s population, purchased insurance on the individual market in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

A couple other big qualifiers (which we have noted previously when the Manhattan Institute report has been cited in attack ads): The institute didn’t adjust for the fact that the ACA requires certain minimum benefits, which many pre-ACA individual market plans didn’t meet. By and large, the post-ACA plans are more robust (whether purchasers like or want that or not). So it is not comparing similar types of plans before and after the ACA. And the institute’s figures don’t account for federal subsidies, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would be extended to 80 percent of all those buying exchange plans nationwide.

As we have said repeatedly, premiums in the individual market can go up or down, perhaps significantly, depending on the individual.

And most Arkansans — 40 percent of the population — have insurance through their workplaces. Nationwide, employer-sponsored premiums for family plans went up 3.8 percent, on average, in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer health benefits survey. Since the ACA was passed in 2010, those premiums have gone up 5.9 percent, on average, per year, while in the five years before the ACA, premiums went up 4.8 percent, on average, per year.

When we have explored this issue in the past, we noted that experts attributed a small increase in work-based premiums directly to the ACA. When family premiums jumped 9 percent from 2010 to 2011, for example, experts told us that the law was responsible for a 1 percent to 3 percent increase, with the remainder due to higher medical costs. That was expected, as the law required the elimination of preexisting condition exclusions for children, the coverage of dependents on their parents’ plans up to age 26, free coverage of preventive care, and an increase in caps on annual coverage. Since that initial jump, however, the yearly employer-based premiums have risen at historically low rates.

Another 38 percent of Arkansans have government-sponsored health insurance, primarily Medicare or Medicaid, which would not be affected by the changes in the individual market.

– Eden Everwine and Robert Farley

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