FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:43:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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

NRSC Distorts Braley Tax Record http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/nrsc-distorts-braley-tax-record/ Wed, 22 Oct 2014 18:21:54 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89882 In Iowa, a Republican ad claims that Democratic Senate nominee Bruce Braley “voted to raise taxes on every single Iowa taxpayer.” That badly distorts Braley’s clearly stated position. The fact is, Braley voted most recently to raise taxes on only about the top 1 percent, while keeping federal income taxes the same for all who are less affluent.

Braley consistently favored holding income-tax rates steady for all but individuals making more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 for couples. The vote cited by the ad is one Braley cast in the House in 2010 as a protest against extending Bush tax cuts for another two years for the more affluent — which Braley called “a Christmas bonanza to the privileged few” — as a condition for extending the cuts for the less affluent.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee released the ad Oct. 21. The narrator says that “even Obama thinks Braley is too extreme on taxes,” and goes on to cite Braley’s vote on Dec. 17, 2010, against a tax bill that represented a compromise between Obama and congressional Republicans. Braley was one of 112 House Democrats who opposed the measure (as did 36 House Republicans).

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.

In the end the measure had the support of most House Democrats, and once House Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed it to go to the floor, there was little doubt it would pass. (She later grumbled that Republicans were forcing Democrats “to pay a king’s ransom in order to help the middle class.”) That made Braley’s 2010 vote little more than symbolic.

Braley had spelled out his reasons several days before in a news release dated Dec. 9:

Braley, Dec. 9, 2010: As the tax cut package takes shape, I want to reiterate my support for a tax cut extension for every American family on incomes up to $250,000. I continue to fight for an extension of unemployment benefits, especially during the holiday season. I remain extremely concerned that extending Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthiest 2% of Americans will explode the deficit.

I continue to fight to cut taxes for Iowa’s families and working to ensure our future generations are not saddled with extreme debt. I look forward to reading the legislative language produced on the bill to make a firm decision on these provisions.

And during debate on the measure, Braley reiterated that he opposed any increase in taxes on the majority of taxpayers, saying the deal included at least an $81 billion tax break for “the wealthiest people in this country.” As recorded in the Congressional Record:

Braley, Dec. 17, 2010: Mr. Chairman, today, the House will vote on a bill that will explode the deficit by $858 billion. While this package includes several programs I have proudly supported, I cannot support the underlying bill.

As recently as last week, I voted to give every American a tax cut by making the middle class tax cuts permanent for the millions of American families, consumers, and small-business owners who drive our economy. I have consistently voted to extend unemployment insurance to assist the families struggling in this difficult time.

Those were some of the good things included in this deal. Unfortunately, the merits of these good things do not outweigh the bad things in this deal. I cannot justify mortgaging our children’s futures to provide a Christmas bonanza to the privileged few. I refuse to support increasing the deficit by at least $81 billion to provide a tax break to the wealthiest people in this country. I refuse to support a bill that would balloon the deficit by $23 billion to provide an average tax break of more than $1.5 million to only 6,600 families a year.

That is why I am voting “no,”‘ and I urge you to do the same.

Whether that vote makes Braley “extreme” or not is a matter of opinion. Obama himself said when he signed the bill that “there are some elements of this legislation that I don’t like,” so the difference between him and Braley may not be as wide as the NRSC ad would have viewers believe. Obama, like Braley, wanted tax rates increased on those making more than $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples. But Republicans insisted on continuing the Bush cuts even for the most affluent, and Obama gave in.

There’s no question, however, that Braley and Obama were indeed on opposite sides on this bill. The president supported the bill in order to get a temporary, one-year 2 percentage point reduction in the Social Security payroll tax as an economic stimulus measure, as well as a 13-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. (Unemployment was still at 9.8 percent in November of that year.) But, as the Washington Post reported Dec. 7, 2010, in a story cited on screen in the NRSC ad, the president’s “liberal supporters are furious about the decision” to compromise with Republicans on extending tax cuts for higher-income taxpayers. Braley was among those holding out for a tax hike on top earners.

But just because Braley cast a protest vote against that bill doesn’t mean that he favored raising everybody’s income taxes. In fact, he clearly didn’t. Furthermore, had the bill failed, further negotiations could well have led to a different compromise that Braley might have supported. And in fact, just such a compromise followed a little more than two years later when the “fiscal cliff” deal raised tax rates only on those earning more than $400,000 a year ($450,000 for couples) effective in 2013.

That bill raised taxes on even fewer affluent Americans than Obama or Braley wanted. But Braley voted for the bill anyway — extending tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans and raising taxes only on about the top 1 percent. (According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent of income earners took in a minimum of $434,000 each, and the average was much higher, in 2010 for a two-person household.) Braley was among 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans who supported that legislation.

– Brooks Jackson

Aiken’s Attack Ad Is Off-Key http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/aikens-attack-ad-is-off-key/ Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:02:12 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89833 Clay Aiken’s latest attack ad against incumbent Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers hits a couple of bad notes.

  • Aiken falsely claims Ellmers “voted against the payroll tax cut because she thought $1,000 out of your pocket is not that much money.” She voted against a two-month extension because it wasn’t long enough, and helped craft a bipartisan bill that extended the payroll tax holiday for one year.
  • Aiken also says Ellmers failed to “stop a Fort Bragg Air Wing from being moved out of state,” because she missed a deadline for filing a bill amendment with the House Rules Committee. But that had nothing to do with the amendment not coming up for a floor vote. More important, the airlift wing hasn’t moved, and Ellmers is still fighting to keep it from being relocated.

Aiken, a Democrat best known nationally for his runner-up finish on American Idol in 2003, is fighting an uphill battle to unseat the incumbent. Redistricting has given Republicans a decided advantage in North Carolina’s 2nd District, and a flash poll in late September showed Ellmers ahead, but with Aiken making a race of it.

Payroll Tax

In his latest ad, Aiken makes the argument that Washington has changed Ellmers.

“We all hope people go to Congress with good intentions,” Aiken says in direct-to-camera appeal. “But after Renee Ellmers got there, she voted against the payroll tax cut because she thought $1,000 out of your pocket is not that much money.” That’s a gross distortion of Ellmers’ position.

The payroll tax holiday enacted in 2011 reduced the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. The temporary recession relief was set to expire at the end of 2011, setting off a contentious round of partisan congressional haggling.

The Aiken ad cites a Dec. 21, 2011, report on Time Warner Cable News on the House rejecting a Senate plan to extend payroll tax cuts for two months, with Ellmers joining the Republican majority. But as the accompanying interview with Ellmers indicates, her position was exactly the opposite of what Aiken suggests. In the interview, she explains that instead of a two-month extension, she and other House Republicans preferred extending it for a full year.

“We’re all about the year extension,” Ellmers said in the TWCN report. “That’s what we voted in the House of Representatives. … We’re just not in agreement that a two-month or eight-week extension, as the Senate has passed back to us, is acceptable.”

In the interview, Ellmers did refer to the payroll tax extension — which she estimated at $1,000 a year for the average American — as “not that much money for anyone.” But contrary to the Aiken ad’s suggestion that Ellmers wanted to nix the tax cut because it wasn’t that much money, the context of the interview makes clear that Ellmers was saying it was “not that much money” when compared with the comprehensive tax reform changes she and other Republicans envision.

Ellmers, Dec. 21, 2011: Well, the thing is, the payroll tax extension is not that much money for anyone. For a year, it’s about $1,000 for the average American. … So the point is that this isn’t really the way to go about good tax reform. We just want to make sure that over the year, in the economy we’re in, we’re not taking money out of those pockets. But what we’re working for is good, sustainable tax reform that’s flatter, fairer, that really is much simpler, and this will just lead up to that. So I’m for this in the sense that I don’t want to do any more harm to anyone. But the real goal here is good tax reform that we can all work on.

Her fuller comments also make clear that Ellmers believed an extension of the payroll tax cut was critical as the country continued to struggle to get out of a recession.

“We’ve got to give the people of North Carolina that reassurance moving forward into 2012 that they’re going to keep that money in their pockets,” Ellmers said.

In rejecting the Senate plan, House Republicans were pushing for a year-long extension, and had hoped to include provisions to pay for it with higher Medicare premiums on upper-income senior citizens, as well as a measure to fast-track a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

But two days later, House Republicans relented and unanimously agreed to a two-month extension, with the promise of negotiating a longer-term agreement early in 2012. And, in fact, as a conference committee member, Ellmers helped to craft a compromise agreement in February 2012 to extend the payroll tax cut until the end of 2012. Ellmers, of course,  voted for that bill.

The payroll tax holiday was allowed to expire at the end of 2012, with neither Republicans nor Democrats fighting for its inclusion in the so-called fiscal cliff deal reached in January 2013.

Fighting for Bragg Air Wing

In the ad, Aiken also criticizes Ellmers because “she didn’t stop a Fort Bragg Air Wing from being moved out of state, which will hurt our local economy.”

But it wasn’t for lack of trying on Ellmers’ part.

After President Obama’s 2015 budget proposal called for deactivating the 440th Airlift Wing at Fort Bragg as a cost-cutting measure, Ellmers joined a bipartisan group from the North Carolina delegation that sent a letter in March to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey urging them to reconsider. The following month, Ellmers made a similar appeal during testimony at a House Armed Services Committee.

And in May, Ellmers introduced an amendment to the 2015 defense authorization bill to spare Fort Bragg’s 440th Airlift Wing from being deactivated or relocated. The amendment was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of North Carolina congressmen, Democratic Reps. David Price and Mike McIntyre and Republican Rep. Richard Hudson.

In its support for the ad, the Aiken campaign argues that it’s not so much that Ellmers hasn’t advocated for saving the airlift wing, it’s that she botched those efforts. The Aiken campaign cited a May 22 story in the Fayetteville Observer that said Ellmers’ amendment “was submitted late, according to the House Armed Services Committee.”

The Rules Committee website does, in fact, note that Ellmers’ amendment was filed late. But that’s not as calamitous as it sounds. The fact that it was filed late did not preclude it from being considered. There were 322 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 submitted for consideration. Of them, 32 are listed as “late” — most of them later than Ellmers’ proposed amendment — and yet 15 of them were “made in order,” meaning they were allowed by the Rules Committee to be voted on by the full House. The Rules Committee decided not to allow Ellmers’ amendment to be debated on the floor and voted on.

“Typically, we mark amendments when they have been submitted late,” a Rules Committee spokesman told us in a phone interview. “But the fact that it is late does not have any bearing on whether it is ‘made in order’ or not. The lateness factor does not preclude an amendment.”

So why did the Rules Committee decide not to allow the Ellmers amendment to move forward? There were hundreds of amendments to the NDAA, the spokesman said, and “we don’t normally get into why a particular amendment is ‘made in order’ or not.”

“We’re not sure why the Rules Committee rejected it,” said Lawrence Kluttz, a spokesman for Price, a Democrat who co-sponsored the amendment. “But it was not because it was submitted late. There were other amendments submitted late that were allowed to be considered on the floor.”

The ad also makes it sound like the airlift wing already has been moved out of the state, and that hasn’t happened — at least not yet.

“Number one, it’s still there,” Patrick Sebastian, an Ellmers campaign spokesman told us in a phone interview. “For Aiken to act as if the airlift is gone, he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Whatever happens in the future happens, but [Ellmers] is working hard with other legislators in North Carolina to keep the airlift wing in North Carolina.”

An amendment authored in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has at least delayed the proposed move until 60 days after the Air Force provides justification for it.

In the same interview highlighted in the ad, Ellmers vowed that despite the failure of her proposed amendment, she would keep up the fight.

“We’re not going to let this issue go. I feel very strongly – that not only for military readiness, but also to the economy of the Fayetteville area is dependent on that unit staying together,” Ellmers told TWCN.

 – Robert Farley

FactChecking the Michigan Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-michigan-senate-race/ Tue, 21 Oct 2014 17:23:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89687 The Michigan Senate race pits Democratic Rep. Gary Peters against Republican Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, to replace the retiring Sen. Carl Levin. The two candidates have faced plenty of attacks from outside spending groups, who have poured enough money into the race to make it the seventh highest in terms of outside dollars.

In fact, those groups — not the candidates themselves — have so far been the focus of our fact-checking efforts. False and misleading claims have centered on taxes, equal pay for women, health care, outsourcing jobs, Medicare and energy.

The latest polls show the race tilting in Peters’ favor.


Claim: On Peters’ watch “Michigan gas taxes [were] siphoned off by Washington instead of staying [in Michigan] and being spent on Michigan’s crumbling roads.”

Facts: Despite what a Land campaign ad says, Michigan has received slightly more than $1 worth of highway funding for every $1 collected of federal gasoline taxes earmarked for highways.

The Land ad makes it seem like Michigan is getting back less in highway funding than its residents pay in gasoline taxes. But the Federal Highway Administration reported that, in 2012, Michigan received $1.03 in highway funding for every senatebattle$1 in federal highway gasoline taxes collected in the state. Michigan’s return on investment was even better in 2010 and 2011, according to the FHA, when the state received $1.30 and $1.20 in highway funding for every $1, respectively.

It turns out Land’s point isn’t just about return on investment, but also increasing local control of highway spending. She advocates a plan to gradually reduce the federal gas tax and replace it with a state tax, giving states more control over the money.

The federal government currently collects a tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and puts it into the Highway Trust Fund. Out of every 18.4 cents, 15.44 cents are allocated to state departments of transportation to “design, construct, improve and preserve” major roads. The money can’t be used for routine maintenance, such as repairing potholes, which are shown in Land’s ad.

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29


Claim: Land “said guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Facts: The DSCC ad making this claim takes Land’s words out of context.

The ad cites an April 12 article from the Wall Street Journal, which made it clear that Land’s “not a good idea” comment was referring to the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill, not to the idea of equal pay. The article even noted Land’s stated support for “the principle of equal pay for women.”

As the Journal explains, the bill “which was blocked by Senate Republicans, would have allowed employees to discuss their pay without potential retaliation and required employers to show that salary differences aren’t based on gender bias.” Land said she opposed the bill because “that would require that businesses have to post the pay of each individual so it was public. … I don’t think you should have to have everyone know what your pay is.”

People may disagree with her — or object to her ill-informed belief that the bill would have required employers to post employees’ pay — but Land never said “guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29


Claim: Peters, who opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is backed by environmental activist Tom Steyer, who “stands to profit by blocking Keystone.”

Facts: The claim that Steyer would profit from the Keystone pipeline is based on outdated information.

Steyer does oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for environmental reasons, and Peters voted against the project in May 2013. It’s also true that Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action group backs Peters, and had spent $3.6 million against Land as of Oct. 20. Until 2012, Steyer owned Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund that invested in Kinder Morgan, an energy company that owns a pipeline that runs from Canadian tar sands to Pacific ports. This pipeline would be an alternative if the Keystone project fizzled. So, in the not-too-distant past, Steyer might have profited if the Keystone pipeline project had been blocked.

But when he left Farallon, Steyer instructed the company to divest his personal holdings of money in tar sands, coal, oil and natural gas. In 2013 he pledged to donate profits he had received from the Kinder Morgan investment to environmental disaster relief, and in 2014 he announced that he and his wife would put $2 million in a new Climate Disaster Relief Fund to help victims of extreme weather including wildfires. And Farallon no longer has any holdings in Kinder Morgan.

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


Claim: Health insurance premiums are up “by nearly 40 percent” in Michigan.

Facts: Americans for Prosperity uses this figure, which comes with several caveats, from an unscientific survey. This wouldn’t be the first time that the conservative group founded by businessman David Koch misused the survey.

The ad attacks Peters for his support of the Affordable Care Act and suggests health insurance premiums are going up by nearly 40 percent for everyone in Michigan. That’s simply not the case. Premiums for employer-sponsored plans, where most Americans (and Michiganders) get their coverage, have gone up an average of 5.9 percent per year since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, while they went up 4.8 percent on average per year in the five years before the law. AFP’s claim concerns the no more than 5 percent of Michiganders in the individual market.

Small print in the ad cites an April 7 story in Forbes, which is about a survey of 148 insurance brokers taken by Morgan Stanley to help guide investor decisions about stock purchases. A state-by-state chart suggests a 35.6 percent increase in rates in the individual market in Michigan in 2014, according to responses from just six insurance brokers in the state.

Robert Santos, senior methodologist at the Urban Institute and past president of the executive council at the American Association for Public Opinion Research, told us that the survey has no scientific validity with regard to the aggregated nationwide results. He also said that “anyone would be on very tenuous ground in trying to make a state-specific inference” from the survey. A small notation below the state chart uses technical jargon to warn the same thing.

And even if the figure were accurate, it doesn’t account for improved coverage or government subsidies, which 80 percent of those in the new individual market exchanges are expected to receive.

Full story: “AFP Misuses Survey Again,” May 30.


Claim: A Michigan family’s “new plan is not affordable at all” under the ACA.

Facts: Another Americans for Prosperity ad features a Michigan mom, Shannon Wendt, who says her family’s “new plan is not affordable at all.” Her case is actually an example of how middle-class families can benefit from the health care law — if they choose to do so.

The ad leaves the false impression that the Wendt family obtained its costly new insurance plan through the federal exchange set up by the ACA. Rather, the family’s “new plan” is a temporary plan that does not meet the ACA requirements. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offered the plan to customers who had their old policies canceled but did not want to purchase insurance on the exchange. It turns out that Wendt found a cheaper, subsidized plan on the exchange, but declined to accept it because she did not want her children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, even though they were eligible. HealthCare.gov explains that a family cannot receive subsidies to help buy insurance on the exchange if the children in the family are CHIP-eligible and they do not sign up.

We found that a Michigan family of seven similar to the Wendts could get a “silver” plan with the same coinsurance as the Wendts’ current plan, a monthly premium that would be roughly the same and an annual deductible far below their current $10,000 deductible. Plus, such a family would be eligible for subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket expenses to around $3,000 — which could represent a significant savings since Shannon Wendt told MLive.com, a Michigan news website, that her family paid $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses last year.

Full story: “Misleading Anti-Obamacare Ad in Michigan,” March 31


Claim: Land “supports a plan that would end the Medicare guarantee.”

Facts: A DSCC ad misrepresents Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan to make this false claim about Land. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t end the guarantee of Medicare benefits, nor would it take away any particular benefits that are currently “guaranteed.”

Instead, Ryan’s plan, which he first included in his 2011 House budget, called for a transition 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 private plans offered would have to include minimum benefits equivalent to those covered by traditional Medicare. The 2011 version of Ryan’s plan didn’t include traditional Medicare as an option on that exchange, but his plan the subsequent year, and every year since, has. His proposals also have grown increasingly more generous in terms of how that premium-support subsidy increases over time.

Land expressed support for the 2012 Republican Platform, which among other things called for a premium-support system like Ryan’s plan.

Democrats have made similar claims against Republicans in many congressional races.

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


Claim: Peters, who was the state lottery commissioner from 2003 to 2007, “outsourced millions in contracts out of state, and even to China.”

Facts: Ending Spending Action Fund made this distorted claim, wrongly implying that the outsourcing cost Michigan jobs, and blaming Peters for an out-of-state contract in place before he became lottery commissioner.

The ad cites a 2005 article from the Detroit News about the state purchasing 6 million pencils for the lottery from a Chinese manufacturer for $210,000. According to the state’s purchasing director, Sean Carlson, no Michigan jobs were lost because no state-based company bid on the contract or even made such pencils at the time. The contract actually saved taxpayers $90,000.

The ad also cites a Feb. 12, 2007, article in the Coldwater Daily Reporter that discussed the Michigan Lottery’s contracts with GTECH, a Rhode Island lottery operating company that Bloomberg News described as “the world’s biggest supplier of lottery systems.” GTECH has been the state’s lottery operator since 1988, so the company already held the contract when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Peters commissioner on April 9, 2003. In June 2003, after Peters was appointed commissioner, the Michigan Lottery exercised an option to extend GTECH’s contract through 2009. No Michigan jobs were at stake because no Michigan companies competed for this highly specialized work.

Full story: “Jackpot Ad Is a Loser,” Sept. 25


Claim: Peters backed “carbon taxes” that would have “killed up to 96,000 Michigan jobs.”

Facts: Peters didn’t support a carbon tax. Rather, he supported cap-and-trade legislation that independent analyses said would cause a small reduction in employment.

The Land ad cites Peters’ vote for H.R. 2454, also known as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which would have required polluters to have allowances, or permits, in order to emit carbon dioxide. The bill passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate. A carbon tax, while having a similar goal to cap-and-trade (reducing emissions), would instead be a direct tax on the carbon content of oil, gas and coal. Such a tax is politically unpopular, and legislation that would institute it hasn’t moved out of committee.

The 96,000-jobs figure used by the Land campaign comes from a 2013 National Association of Manufacturers analysis of two hypothetical carbon tax proposals, not Waxman-Markey. We looked at Waxman-Markey back in 2009 and determined that the bill would have caused a loss of jobs, but opponents — including the NAM— were exaggerating the likely impact. Independent experts and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the cap-and-trade legislation could have led to a small loss of jobs.

Full story: “Peters’ ‘War’ on Michigan Jobs?” May 30

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

Student Loan Stretching http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/student-loan-stretching/ Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:25:00 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89775 Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton mischaracterizes the Affordable Care Act’s impact on student loans, and a teachers union stretches Cotton’s voting record on the issue.

Cotton says the ACA “nationalized the student loan industry” and implied students can’t get private loans from their local banks anymore. Not exactly. Plenty of banks offer private education loans, and the federal student loan program always has been a government program.

Before the ACA, about half of federal student loans originated with private lenders while being guaranteed by the government. Now, the government is both the lender and the guarantor. The move saves $61 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

An ad from the National Education Association Advocacy Fund attacks Cotton on this topic, saying that he “voted to end low-interest student loans.” He didn’t. The vote in question was on a Republican budget that called for ending federal subsidies for need-based Stafford loans. The subsidies cover the cost of interest payments while students are in school. The Republican budget didn’t call for ending the loan program, which includes unsubsidized Stafford loans at the same interest rate.

Nationalizing a Federal Program

At the Oct. 14 Arkansas Senate debate with Sen. Mark Pryor, Cotton mischaracterized the changes made to the federal student loan program by the reconciliation bill, which was part of the Affordable Care Act. He claimed the health care law “nationalized the student loan industry,” and made it so that students couldn’t have a mix of federal and private loans, as he did when he was a college student. He said the law “took that choice away from you so the bank where you have a checking account can’t help initiate a loan for you.”

Let’s start with the claim that the ACA “nationalized the student loan industry.” The federal government got into the student loan business with the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965. The loan provisions of the law were designed to, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “enhance access to postsecondary education for students from low- and middle-income families by providing them access to low-interest student loans.”

First came the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, in which loans originated with the private sector but were backed (guaranteed against default or in cases of death) by the federal government and offered at rates lower than the banks would normally give. In 1993, a direct loan program was created by separate legislation “with the goals of streamlining the student loan delivery system and achieving cost savings,” says CRS. That program, where the government directly lends the money, was supposed to gradually replace the FFEL program, but that plan was later nullified by subsequent legislation.

Colleges and universities chose which program they’d like to use, and students would get information on applying for a loan — specifically a Stafford loan for students or a PLUS loan for parents of dependent students — through college financial aid offices. From students’ perspective, for the most part, they “didn’t even recognize there were these two different programs working in tandem,” Beth Akers, a fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, told us. The difference was who sent a check to the school, and who sent students a bill once they graduated. Even then, loans originating with the government could be serviced by private banks, meaning the bills still came from the banks.

In 2010, the year the Affordable Care Act was enacted, CBO estimated that 55 percent of federal student loans originated with banks (what are called “guaranteed loans”), with the rest originating with the government as “direct loans.”

The share of bank-originated federal loans had been declining — it was 81 percent in 2008. The reasons were the financial crisis, which increased private lenders’ costs and led the Department of Education to buy new loans that had originated with private lenders. Uncertainty about the banks’ participation caused more schools to switch to the direct loan program. CBO estimated this decline would continue, with the guaranteed, or bank-originated, loans making up 40 percent of new federal loans in 2013.

But the ACA changed the program, making all new federal student loans direct loans. Specifically, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which passed the House by a vote of 253 to 171 in September 2009, was rolled into the reconciliation bill, which Democrats used to pass the health care law without risk of a filibuster. Under the student aid provisions, the government would cut out the middle-man — the private lenders, such as Sallie Mae — and all new loans would be direct ones from the government. CBO estimated the move would save taxpayers $61 billion over 10 years. More than half of that amount would go to the Pell Grant program for low-income students.

CBO’s report on the loan programs said that the FFEL program (in which banks originated the federal loans) was “significantly more costly for the federal budget.” Why? Mainly because payments to the lenders were set, by legislation, at a higher average amount than the cost of the direct loans, with the additional payment covering “the higher marketing and funding costs of the guaranteed loan program and the higher level of services that it offers to schools and students.” In other words, it’s cheaper for the government to lend the money directly instead of paying banks to do so.

The government still contracts with private banks to service student loans — meaning students may still send their payments to private banks — but banks no longer originate the loans. Cotton may oppose that change, but it’s misleading to say the ACA “nationalized” a student loan program that was a federal program in the first place.

As for students not being able to choose to get a private loan at “the bank where you have a checking account,” as Cotton said, that’s not accurate, either. Private banks offer student education loans, just as they did before the ACA.

And even under the pre-ACA federal program, students weren’t the ones who could choose whether their Stafford loans originated with a bank or the government — that choice was up to colleges and universities. A student couldn’t get a federal loan through his local bank unless the bank was part of the federal program and worked with the college or university in question. Akers says the banks, in the past, couldn’t discriminate against the student, but they could say they’d only lend to those attending certain institutions.

PNC Bank provides a chart on the differences between federal and private student loans. Students can borrow larger amounts privately, but need to have a credit check and likely a co-signer (neither are required for Stafford loans). The fixed interest rate is lower for the federal loan as well, though a variable-rate loan could dip below the Stafford’s current 4.66 percent fixed rate.

With subsidized Stafford loans, available based on income, the government covers the interest on the loan while a student is still in school and during any hardship deferment periods.

Cotton Wants to ‘End’ Low-Interest Loans?

The National Education Association Advocacy Fund launched an ad on Oct. 14 featuring Arkansas teacher Ashley Pledger saying, “Tom Cotton got federal student loans to help pay for his Harvard education, but now Cotton wants to end those same student aid programs. Tom Cotton would deprive Arkansas students the opportunities that helped him.”

On screen are the words, “Tom Cotton voted to end low-interest student loans.”

But the March 2013 vote cited — in favor of the Republican Study Committee budget resolution — wouldn’t have ended low-interest student loans. Instead, it called for ending subsidized Stafford loans, which are available to undergraduates to cover interest payments while they are in school. The proposal didn’t call for eliminating all Stafford loans (a little more than half are unsubsidized, says CBO) or PLUS loans the government provides for parents of undergraduate dependents. The RSC budget failed.

Cotton has said he had Stafford loans and private loans to help pay for his Harvard education. We don’t know whether Cotton received subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford loans. But either way, his vote wasn’t to “end low-interest student loans,” as all types of Stafford loans have the same interest rate.

In July last year, Cotton also voted against the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, a measure that reversed a doubling of student loan interest rates and changed the rate-setting system from one legislated by Congress to one tied to the market and capped. He was one of only six Republican House members to vote against the bill, which passed the House on a 392-31 vote and the Senate on an 81-18 vote.

The NEA ad doesn’t cite that vote, which could certainly be called a vote against lowering student loan interest rates. But it still wouldn’t be a vote to “end low-interest student loans,” nor would it be a vote to “end those same student aid programs” that benefited Cotton.

At the time of the vote on interest rates, Cotton said he favored “ending the federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business” and having “hometown banks work with students and families to finance higher education.”

Cotton, Aug. 1, 2013: A better path is to repeal Obamacare, which nationalized the student-loan business, and let Arkansas’s hometown banks work with students and families to finance higher education, just as they do with homes, farms, businesses, and other loans. I’m committed to bringing affordable higher education to every Arkansan and ending the federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business.

It’s unclear exactly what Cotton proposes for the federal student loan program. But if the Affordable Care Act were repealed, then the student loan program could go back to the days before the ACA, when about half of federal student loans originated with private banks and the other half with the federal government. However, that wouldn’t end the “federal-government monopoly” on student loans. The federal student loan program already had provided the vast majority of student education lending.

CBO’s 2010 report on the program said there wasn’t good data on the size of the private student loan market, but that one estimate showed the dollar value of such lending was about one-quarter the size of the federal lending program in 2007-2008. For fiscal year 2007, the federal loan program included $64.4 billion in lending for 14.3 million new loans. (For fiscal 2014, the Department of Education estimates new lending under the federal loan program would total $112.1 billion for 21.9 million loans.)

At the Oct. 14 debate, Cotton said, “I don’t want to eliminate the student loan program,” but that he wanted local banks to compete. He didn’t elaborate. We asked Cotton’s campaign for clarification and details on what Cotton supported in terms of the federal student loan program. We have not yet received a response.

The Brookings Institution’s Akers laid out for us the general arguments for and against having private banks originate the federal loans or having the government do so: Having the private sector involved could lead to efficiencies that come with competition for government grants or students’ business, but could be less stable, as happened during the 2008 financial crises. With the direct federal loans, that competition is eliminated but the stability, and potentially cost savings, is gained.

How best to structure and operate the federal student loan program would make for an interesting policy debate, but as often happens in political campaigns, voters in Arkansas are left instead with exaggerations and misrepresentations of the facts.

– Lori Robertson

Jenkins Ads Mislead on Carbon Tax, Coal http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/jenkins-ads-mislead-on-carbon-tax-coal/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 20:37:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89637 Two highly misleading ads from Republican Evan Jenkins leave the false impression that Rep. Nick Rahall is responsible for higher electric rates and personally profited from his votes in Congress:

  • Both ads imply that West Virginia’s electricity rates skyrocketed after Rahall voted for a budget resolution that called for a carbon tax. But the budget plan failed; no tax was ever implemented; and the 23.2 percent rate increase mentioned in one ad has nothing to do with a carbon tax.
  • One ad says Rahall took “bribes” in exchange for votes, “pocketing millions of dollars in return” for helping President Obama “kill coal.” But Rahall didn’t personally pocket any money. The ad cites editorials about Rahall’s out-of-state campaign contributions and lobbyist-paid trips. The editorials were written in 1994 and had nothing to do with coal or Obama.

Jenkins has proven to be a tough opponent for the Democratic incumbent, who has served in the House since 1977 and has represented West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District since 1993. The race is currently rated as a “toss-up” by the Rothenberg Political Report.

No Carbon Tax

In the Jenkins campaign ad “Bribes,” which went on the air Oct. 10, a narrator says Rahall “has gotten rich” in Congress and “he’ll never face the choice between feeding the kids or heating the home.” It goes on to say, “So when Rahall pushed a carbon tax raising electric rates, he wasn’t thinking about you.”

Another Jenkins campaign ad released earlier, on Oct. 1, also suggested that West Virginians’ utility bills have increased because of a carbon tax. That ad shows the words “power bills rise” and “carbon tax hits the poor” on screen, while the narrator says, “Nick Rahall’s carbon tax, sky high electric rates.” That’s followed by another graphic with “rate increase” and “23.2 percent” in quotes.

But no carbon tax has been implemented causing electricity rates to increase.

What Rahall voted for was the 2013 Congressional Progressive Caucus budget plan to create jobs and reduce the deficit. The proposal also called for a fee of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted by polluters, according to a summary of the plan. Under the proposal, the emissions fee would increase by 5.6 percent each year, and 25 percent of the revenue would be used as rebates to help shield low-income families from higher energy costs.

But the budget proposal failed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 327 to 84. Not one Republican voted for it, and more Democrats voted against it than in favor. Even if it had passed, the budget proposal was a nonbinding resolution, and the carbon tax proposal could not have been implemented without separate legislation.

Rahall told West Virginia’s Metro News that he did not vote for the budget because of the carbon tax proposal, but rather to make a statement against Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, which Rahall opposed.

Even though Rahall’s vote could not have possibly resulted in higher electric bills, viewers see quotes from a newspaper article — “power bills rise” and “23.2 percent” – that have nothing to do with a carbon tax proposal at all. They come from a June story in the Charleston Gazette about two West Virginia utility companies asking a state commission to approve a 17 percent increase in electric power rates to increase company revenue.

Charleston Gazette, June 30: Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, both subsidiaries of American Electric Power, asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission on Monday to approve a 17 percent overall increase in electric power rates, which would raise the company’s revenue by $226 million.

Homeowners and individual customers could get higher rate increases than industrial and commercial consumers under the proposal Appalachian Power submitted on Monday. For example, residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would see their monthly power bills rise by 23.2 percent, or $21.77, to $115.77 from $94, according to a statement from the power company.

Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, said in a Monday news release that increased revenues are needed to cover the costs of doing business.

“It includes things like storm restoration costs from the derecho [June 29, 2012] and Superstorm Sandy [Oct. 29, 2012], implementation of a right-of-way maintenance program to improve reliability and a return that is sufficient to attract capital. Ultimately, the commission will determine the outcome of the request,” Patton said.

The “carbon tax hits the poor” quote used in the Jenkins ad comes from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which argued against such a tax in an August 2012 report. As we said, the resolution didn’t pass and couldn’t have implemented a tax anyway.

Cash for Votes?

The “Bribes” ad also makes the over-the-top claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” and says that the Charleston Gazette said Rahall “took bribes, trading cash for votes.” But the Jenkins campaign has no proof that Rahall’s votes were influenced by donations to his campaign.

First of all, neither Obama nor Rahall has killed coal. To be sure, the coal industry in West Virginia has suffered because of a number of factors, some of which predate the Obama administration, such as competing energy sources and technology. Regardless of the industry’s struggles, as of 2013, West Virginia was still the second largest coal producer in the nation after Wyoming, according to the Energy Information Administration. Its demise is greatly exaggerated.

Now, about those claims of “bribes.”

To back up its claim that Rahall “helped Obama kill coal, pocketing millions of dollars in return,” the Jenkins campaign points to more than $3 million in campaign contributions Rahall has received since 2007 from labor organizations and Democratic campaign committees and leadership PACs. The campaign also points to Rahall’s 2007 vote for H.R. 2643, a bill that endorsed “a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of such emissions,” as well as Rahall’s 2009 vote for H.R. 2996, which, among other things, increased the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by more than $2.65 billion.

But Rahall’s vote for H.R. 2643 came in 2007, before Obama became president, and the bill didn’t become law anyway. Plus, campaign contributions alone hardly prove that Rahall is working on the president’s behalf. As we have written before, Rahall, on a number of occasions, has opposed Obama on policies affecting the coal industry. That includes a vote in 2009 against final passage of the Obama-backed H.R. 2454, which included a cap-and-trade system regulating carbon emissions from coal companies and other utilities.

In addition, viewers could be led to believe that the “bribes” and “cash for … his vote” quotes featured in the ad have something to do with Obama. They don’t. Those quotes come from Charleston Gazette editorials that were written 20 years ago.

In October 1994, former Gazette Editorial Page Editor Dan Radmacher questioned why the overwhelming majority of Rahall’s campaign contributions that year had come from people living outside of West Virginia.

Charleston Gazette, Oct. 23, 1994: Ask yourself: Why would people who don’t live in this state send money to convince West Virginians to elect Rahall?

Obviously, out-of-state donors are trying to buy influence with the representative who chairs a House subcommittee on transportation. They’re trading cash for favorable treatment in Congress. They know that Rahall, an entrenched incumbent, is a likely winner, so they want to butter him up in advance.

We should also note that Rahall again has received the vast majority of his money — 72 percent — from out-of-state residents during the 2014 cycle. But Jenkins has received a total of $315,000 in out-of-state contributions, according to Opensecrets.org. That’s not much less than the $394,000 that Rahall has received from outside the state.

In May 1994, longtime Gazette Editor James A. Haught wrote an editorial about “semi-bribes” to members of Congress, including Rahall, who once went on a cruise paid for by a lobbying group. “Remember when Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., took a Caribbean cruise with a woman companion at the expense of a lobbying group wanting his vote in Congress? The U.S. Senate finally has taken a solid step to ban such lucrative semi-bribes. By 95 to 4, it voted to prohibit lobbyists from giving Congress members free vacations, fancy meals, golf outings, ski trips and other luxury gifts,” he wrote.

And in February 1994, Radmacher wrote another editorial suggesting that Rahall would vote against a bill seeking to prevent secondhand smoke-related deaths because of support he had received from the tobacco industry. “Rep. Nick Rahall is probably the most hopeless of the state’s representatives,” he wrote. “A smoker himself — he prefers cigars — Rahall is well-known for mooching off the tobacco industry. He has accepted free trips and other legal bribes from the industry, including nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions. Guess which way he’ll vote, if the issue ever even makes it to the full House?”

But those are the opinions of editorial writers. They don’t prove that Rahall votes based on campaign donations. And, again, those editorials had nothing to do with Obama or coal.

– D’Angelo Gore

FactChecking the Louisiana Senate Race http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/factchecking-the-louisiana-senate-race/ Fri, 17 Oct 2014 17:10:20 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89433 As the campaigns head into the home stretch, the Louisiana Senate race has shaped up as one of the least positive in the country. Small wonder. Louisiana has become one of the key battlegrounds in the Republican Party’s efforts to regain control of the Senate.

The seat has been held by Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu since 1997, but polls show she is vulnerable in this red state. Landrieu faces Republicans Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness in the Nov. 4 election, but if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off in a Dec. 6 runoff. Polls show Cassidy leading Landrieu in a head-to-head race.

Over the last two weeks, the Wesleyan Media Project found just 18 percent of the ads in the Louisiana Senate race were positive, with the rest split almost evenly between contrast and negative ads. In the prior two-week period, there wasn’t a single positive ad aired in the race.

Where there are negative and comparison ads, fact-checkers often find themselves very busy. And that has certainly been the case in Louisiana.


Claim: Cassidy “voted for a plan that would cut veterans benefits.”

Facts: This is inaccurate. An ad aired separately by both Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA, two Democratic-aligned groups, cites Cassidy’s February 2012 vote for a Republican-sponsored bill that would have changed the budget process in a way that may or may not have resulted in budget cuts.

senatebattleSpecifically, the Baseline Reform Act would have changed how the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determines baseline projections used to measure the impact of changes in law. But, as CBO explained in its analysis, the bill “would not affect direct spending or revenues. Any impact on the budget would depend on the extent of future legislative actions by the Congress and the President.”

Cassidy is a Republican who supports cutting spending. Neither side disputes that. This ad, however, is wrong when it says Cassidy’s vote for the Baseline Reform Act “would cut veterans benefits.”

Full Story: “Democratic Assault on Cassidy’s Record,” Sept. 3


Claim: Cassidy sponsored a plan “called ‘Obamacare lite’ ” that would have set up “government-run health care” in Louisiana.

Facts: That’s pure invention; Cassidy’s bill did nothing of the sort.

Senate Majority PAC’s ad refers to S.B. 307, a bill that Cassidy introduced in 2007 when he was a Louisiana state senator. The bill had one pale similarity to what eventually became the federal Affordable Care Act — it would have set up something called a “Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange” within the state Department of Insurance. But Cassidy’s state-run exchange would have been nothing like the ACA. It didn’t include any new regulations on doctors, hospitals or patients, contrary to the ad’s claim that it amounted to “government-run health care.” The ACA, of course, isn’t “government-run health care” either, despite the many times Republicans have tried to brand it as such.

Cassidy’s bill led to nothing. It died quietly in committee without receiving even so much as a public hearing.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11


Claim: “Cassidy even said the government should automatically register us in Obamacare if we don’t sign up.”

Facts: Cassidy actually called for repealing the law and enrolling the uninsured in a scaled-back GOP alternative.

A Senate Majority PAC ad refers to remarks that Cassidy made on March 20 to the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. In those remarks, Cassidy did indeed argue for automatically signing up uninsured people for his Republican alternative to the ACA — not Obamacare.

Full Story: ” ‘Cassidycare?’ Come On!” June 11


Claim: “Mary Landrieu voted to take away your gun rights.”

Facts: A TV ad by the National Rifle Association stretches Landrieu’s voting record to the breaking point to support its implication that she has supported policies that would prevent homeowners from being able to protect themselves against violent intruders.

The NRA cites Landrieu’s vote for a proposal that would have expanded background checks to private sales by unlicensed individuals at gun shows and over the Internet. It also cites her votes to confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court — both of whom the NRA contends have been hostile to gun owners’ rights — and votes cast in 1999 and 2004 for amendments to close the so-called “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on firearm transactions at gun shows.

Landrieu has co-sponsored and voted for legislation to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons in states other than their own, has repeatedly opposed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and has voted to prevent the seizure of firearms during a state of emergency. She also praised a decision by the Supreme Court to repeal a ban on carrying handguns in Washington, D.C., and voted in 2009 to “restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia” and to repeal its ban on semi-automatic weapons.

In other words, Landrieu has been an advocate for people — like the woman featured in the NRA ad — being able to keep firearms in their homes for protection.

Full story: “NRA’s Ominous But Misleading Appeal,” Oct. 3


Claim: Landrieu voted “to give benefits to those here illegally” instead of “fully funding veterans benefits.”

Facts: There was no such vote. Cassidy’s ad is referring to a procedural vote that prevented all Republican amendments to a bipartisan spending bill. As for the “veterans’ benefits,” Cassidy voted for the same cuts in a House version of that spending bill, and both candidates later voted to restore those reductions.

First of all, Landrieu never voted “to give benefits to those here illegally,” as the ad claims. The procedural vote that blocked Republican amendments to a bipartisan budget bill prevented a vote on an amendment from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions that would have restored a cut in the pensions of working-age military retirees and paid for it by taking away child tax credits from some immigrants living in the country illegally. Democrats have historically opposed such efforts, arguing that the chief beneficiaries of the child tax credit are the children of immigrants in the country illegally — and most of those children, they note, are legal citizens by birth.

But the Sessions amendment on military pensions never got a vote. And the point became moot when less than two months later both Landrieu and Cassidy joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and Senate to restore the pension cuts before they ever had a chance to kick in.

Full Story: “False Choice: Veterans vs. Immigrants,” Sept. 19


Claim: Landrieu supports “amnesty.”

Facts: Landrieu voted on a bipartisan immigration bill that included an earned path to citizenship, not blanket amnesty.

Cassidy’s ad cites Landrieu’s vote in 2013 for S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, otherwise known as the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill. The bill included a series of border security measures that would have to be achieved before a pathway to citizenship would be available to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally since at least Dec. 31, 2011. The earned path to citizenship included paying fines and back taxes, proving gainful employment, completing background checks, learning English and civics, and going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.

We’ve said numerous times before that such an earned path to citizenship does not meet the strict definition of amnesty, which implies that immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally would be granted immediate, permanent residency without any of the requirements listed above. It’s a distinction Cassidy himself made in a 2013 interview.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17


Claim: Cassidy doesn’t think border security is a problem.

Facts: A Landrieu ad quotes Cassidy out of context to suggest he’s weak on border security. In fact, he has a history of supporting enhanced border security.

In Landrieu’s ad, Cassidy is heard saying, “Our threat is not the folks coming across the border,” and the narrator responds, “Really? Mary Landrieu thinks that is the threat.” Actually, Cassidy was talking about the biggest threat to Louisiana jobs. He wasn’t saying the problem of immigrants coming across the border was not a threat, but rather that a moratorium on offshore drilling represented a comparatively bigger threat to Louisiana job creation.

Pulling the quote out of context as evidence that Cassidy “opposed a border fence” ignores Cassidy’s history of votes for border security.

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17


Claim: Landrieu “voted to … build triple-layer fencing.”

Facts: This is true, as Landrieu says in her TV ad. She voted to build hundreds of miles of it in 2006 — but seven years later, she called that vote a “mistake.”

In 2006, she voted for an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that provided $1.8 billion to construct 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the southwest border. She also voted that year for the Secure Fence Act, signed by President George W. Bush, that called for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” for nearly 700 miles. Congress later gave the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to decide what type of fencing was appropriate for different regions along the border, and very little of it has been double- or triple-layer fencing.

But in June 2013, as the latest comprehensive Senate immigration bill was being debated, Landrieu opposed an amendment to the bill that would have required 350 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border. In a floor speech opposing the amendment, Landrieu said she “voted for the dumb fence once” and wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Landrieu said she supported construction of a “smart fence” utilizing new technology, a combination of a “real and virtual fence that is actually going to work.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17


Claim: Landrieu “voted nine times to block amnesty.”

Facts: There were no votes on amnesty, contrary to this claim in a Landrieu ad. Her tortured logic: The current immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” so her votes to overhaul the immigration system were votes to “block amnesty.”

Landrieu’s ad scrolls through vote numbers and dates, but fails to mention those were all votes related to the Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill. Most of the votes were procedural votes related to the bill, but the list also includes votes for border security amendments and her vote in favor of the final bill, which passed 68-32.

The Landrieu campaign quotes some Republicans who argued that the existing, broken immigration policy amounts to “de facto amnesty.” But the fact is those who live in the U.S. illegally were not granted amnesty, and there have been no votes to grant them amnesty. So she did not have the opportunity “to block amnesty.”

Full Story: “Playing Politics with Immigration,” Sept. 17


Claim: Cassidy voted to cut Social Security benefits “to pay for a tax break for millionaires like himself.”

Facts: The proposal would have slowed Social Security spending to prolong the life of its trust funds — not to finance tax cuts.

Landrieu’s claim refers to Cassidy’s votes over the years for the Republican Study Committee’s budget resolutions, most recently for fiscal year 2015. It is true that the RSC budget resolution for fiscal 2015 would have reduced Social Security benefits by changing the method of calculating cost-of-living increases and raising the retirement age.

However, the savings would not go “to pay for a millionaire’s tax cut,” as Landrieu says in the ad. The slower rate of spending from the Social Security trust funds would prolong the life of the funds and improve the program’s finances. Moreover, budget resolutions are nonbinding. They do not carry the force of law. An actual “cut” in Social Security benefits would require separate legislation.

Full Story: “Social Security Scare in Louisiana,” Aug. 7


Claim: The Koch brothers are “spending millions” to elect Cassidy so he will “fight for them” on issues such as their “fight to let flood insurance premiums soar.”

Facts: Cassidy championed flood insurance legislation that was opposed by Americans for Prosperity — a conservative advocacy group founded by David Koch.

A Senate Majority PAC ad uses guilt by association to tie Cassidy to brothers David and Charles Koch and AFP’s policy position on the National Flood Insurance Program, which is billions of dollars in the red.

Here’s what actually happened: A 2012 law designed to bring flood insurance premiums in line with actual costs threatened to result in “stratospheric” rate hikes for many homeowners in flood-prone areas such as in Louisiana. Late last year, Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York proposed legislation to soften the blow of rate hikes by reinstating grandfathered rates and capping premium increases. AFP and a coalition of other conservative groups opposed the legislation, arguing that it is not “reasonable to leave taxpayers on the hook for insuring private property.” But Cassidy, who co-sponsored the bill, led the charge to pass the legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama.

Full Story: “Guilt by Association in Louisiana,” April 10

– The Staff of FactCheck.org

The Uninsured in Kentucky http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/the-uninsured-in-kentucky/ Wed, 15 Oct 2014 22:52:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89731 Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes disagreed at their Oct. 13 debate on how many Kentuckians had gained health insurance through the state exchange. McConnell disputed that the state website has insured 521,000 people. Grimes, meanwhile, said those half a million people had insurance for the first time.

More than half a million people have signed up for coverage through the Kynect website for both private insurance and Medicaid, but Grimes is wrong to say they were all previously uninsured. Through the end of the open-enrollment period, 75 percent of Kentuckians who had signed up for coverage indicated they had been uninsured prior to gaining insurance through Kynect. That’s according to numbers provided to FactCheck.org by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

During the debate, McConnell said he would be fine with continuing the Kynect website, even though he opposes the Affordable Care Act (around the 34:30 mark). He said it was a “state decision” and the state “can continue it if they’d like to,” though Kentucky would “have to pay for it.” When asked by moderator and TV journalist Bill Goodman if he’d continue Kynect, McConnell said, “Yeah, I think it’s fine to have a website.”

It’s a website that Goodman then noted had “also insured 521,000.” McConnell said, “No, it hasn’t.” Later, when Goodman said 85,000 of those had private insurance, McConnell asked: “How many of them, though, got insurance after having policies canceled?”

We don’t know how many had received cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their plans didn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum benefit requirements, and then decided to purchase coverage through the Kynect website. But we do know that some of those who signed up through Kynect — 25 percent — said they had been previously insured.

A Gallup poll released in August found Kentucky had experienced the second largest drop in the percentage of uninsured among the states from 2013 to mid-2014. Kentucky’s percentage of uninsured went from 20.4 percent to 11.9 percent, a drop of 8.5 percentage points, second to only the decline in Arkansas, according to the telephone survey.

Grimes, however, echoed a common Democratic talking point in assuming that all those who got coverage through the exchange were newly insured. She said: “We have over half a million Kentuckians who for the first time ever are filling prescriptions. They are going to the doctor and they’re getting checkups. I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hand. I will work to fix the Affordable Care Act.”

The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services told us that between Oct. 1, 2013, and April 15, 2014 — the open enrollment period — 413,410 Kentuckians enrolled in health coverage through Kynect. Of those, 330,615 qualified for Medicaid coverage and 82,795 bought private insurance. Three-quarters of all those signing up indicated they had been uninsured prior to getting coverage through the website.

That would mean that as of April 15, there were about 310,000 uninsured Kentuckians who were covered through Kynect. The total enrollment number is now more than 521,000. If the 75 percent figure remained constant, then there would be about 391,000 previously uninsured people who now have coverage.

– Lori Robertson

Corbett’s Desperation and Deceit http://www.factcheck.org/2014/10/corbetts-desperation-and-deceit/ Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:08:07 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=89604 We’ve noticed that the most deceitful attack ads often come from candidates who are most desperate. For example, consider the claim by Pennsylvania’s unpopular Republican Gov. Tom Corbett that his opponent “is promising to raise middle-class taxes,” when in fact Democratic nominee Tom Wolf promises to cut them.

Wolf has proposed increasing the state’s income tax — but only for those making more than roughly $70,000 to $90,000 per year for individuals, or more than $140,000 to $180,000 for married couples. For the large majority of Pennsylvanians, whose incomes fall below those levels, Wolf proposes to reduce or eliminate the income tax.

Furthermore, Wolf also proposes to cut local property taxes, shifting more of the burden of financing schools to the state. That would be an additional benefit to homeowners.

But Corbett is trailing by wide margins in the polls, as he has been for many weeks. And now, with Election Day just three weeks away, he’s twisting Wolf’s proposal around nearly 180 degrees in ads calling it a tax increase on “middle-class” families.

Corbett’s campaign released a 30-second TV spot on Oct. 7 claiming that Wolf is “calling for raising taxes on middle-class families.” That followed a 45-second ad released Sept. 30 that made the same claim, even though Wolf had been saying just the opposite for months.

Corbett even adds insult to injury by calling Wolf “dishonest” in one of those ads, which itself misrepresents Wolf’s business dealings.

Who’s Being ‘Dishonest’?

But it is Corbett who’s being dishonest here. He knows exactly what Wolf is proposing, because he was standing only a few feet away from him during an Oct. 8 debate in which Wolf sketched out his plan.

Wolf said (starting at about 23 minutes into the recording): “If you are in the seventy to ninety thousand dollar range as an individual — and you can double that if you are married — you should not pay any more in taxes. And people making below that will get a break. That’s my goal.”

And that is consistent with what Wolf has been saying as far back as February, when he released a “Fresh Start” campaign white paper that included a promise of a “progressive income tax” that “will result in every middle-class family receiving a tax cut.” But the initial plan didn’t define “middle class” or give an income level.

In later interviews, including a July 25 session with Associated Press reporters and editors, Wolf specified that the “middle-class” cutoff would come somewhere between $70,000 and $90,000 in annual income. Later, his campaign said that would be just for single taxpayers, and the income level would be double that for married couples filing jointly. In the Oct. 8 debate, Wolf confirmed the $140,000-$180,000 range as the likely cutoff for couples.

By way of background, Pennsylvania currently imposes a flat 3.07 percent income tax on all taxable income, allowing for a hodgepodge of deductions but with no standard exemption or exclusion. Wolf says he would institute a universal exclusion, exempting all income below a certain level from any income tax. And he would increase the percentage tax rate on income above that level.

Wolf hasn’t yet specified exactly how large that exemption would be, or how much he would increase the 3.07 percent tax bite on income above the exemption level. He also has not been pinned down on precisely at what income level Pennsylvanians would see an increase — except to say that the cut-off would fall somewhere in the $70,000 to $90,000 range for individuals, or the $140,000 to $180,000 range for couples.

The Corbett campaign says the rate would have to go up by 188 percent to accomplish Wolf’s goal of shouldering a greater share of school spending. But Wolf, who served as revenue secretary under then-Gov. Ed Rendell, says those details would have to wait until he’s in office and has access to more detailed information on the state’s financial status, and on “what everybody pays in taxes.”

Actually, some information on who pays how much state income tax is publicly available already. Even so, Wolf’s stated intent could not be more clear: The income tax would go down for most, and go up only for the relative few with higher incomes. And the outline he has given is quite consistent with that goal.

Even if Wolf provides a tax break only to those at the lower end of the income ranges he has mentioned, many more people would see an income tax cut than would see an increase. We know this because the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that two-thirds of all households in Pennsylvania reported income of less than $75,000 last year, and all of those would see income taxes reduced or eliminated if Wolf sets his cut-off at that level, which is on the low side of the $70,000-$90,000 range for individuals.

Even fewer taxpayers would see an increase if Wolf eventually were to set the cut-off at closer to $90,000.

Looking only at married-couple families in Pennsylvania, Census reports that 16.5 percent had income of $150,000 or more, which is also at the lower end of Wolf’s $140,000 to $180,000 range for couples filing jointly. And yet, Corbett’s ads keep calling the Wolf proposal a tax increase on middle-class taxpayers, rather than the tax cut he promises for most.

We freely concede that some Pennsylvanians who think of themselves as “middle class” have incomes higher than the levels described by Wolf, and they would see their taxes go up. A USA Today/Gallup Poll found in 2012 that only 2 percent of Americans considered themselves to be “upper class” and only 10 percent identified themselves as “lower class.” The rest described themselves as “middle class” (42 percent), “upper middle class” (13 percent) or “working class” (31 percent).

Both candidates are exploiting the tendency of egalitarian Americans to think of themselves as in the “middle” no matter how high or low their actual incomes. So Wolf’s promise of an income tax cut for “every” middle-class family is true only for those who accept his particular income definition of “middle class.” But Corbett’s ads strive to give the impression that Wolf is proposing an income tax increase for everybody who considers himself “middle class.” And that’s not the case.

Failed Attempts at Justification

The Corbett campaign strains — and fails — to justify turning a proposed cut into a promised increase. One example is a citation in the 45-second ad, which includes a truncated, misleading quote from a political news website called PoliticsPA.com. On screen viewers see, “Wolf Calls for Income Tax Increase.” What viewers are not shown is the rest of the headline: “[and] Reduction of Property Taxes.”  

And even that full headline lacks important detail; it is a secondhand account of the AP’s July 25 interview. The AP’s own headline gave a more detailed and accurate description of Wolf’s position: “Tom Wolf says richer Pennsylvanians to pay more income taxes to lower property taxes.” But that headline didn’t suit the Corbett campaign’s purposes, and so it used the less accurate and less authoritative snippet.

Another example of failed justification is in the backup provided by the Corbett campaign for its more recent ad. The campaign says, “The $70,000-$90,000 range is well within the middle class in Pennsylvania.” Oh really? To back that up, the Corbett campaign cites median income figures for the three most affluent counties in the state — Chester ($86,184), Montgomery ($78,984) and Bucks ($76,859) — while ignoring the state’s 64 other counties with lower median incomes.

There’s no mention, for example, of Fayette County, with median income of only $38,108. Such cherry-picked data can’t change the fact that a small percentage of Pennsylvania taxpayers would see an income tax increase under Wolf’s plan, while the large majority would see a decrease.

More False Mudslinging

Also worth noting is that the more recent Corbett ad gives yet another distorted account of Wolf’s business dealings, which we dealt with in detail on previous occasions when two of his Democratic primary rivals attempted to raise them in different ways during that election. (Wolf won the primary with nearly 58 percent of the party vote.)

The Corbett ad claims that Wolf got rich “off the backs of middle-class taxpayers.” How? The ad says “millions from the state’s pension fund were funneled into Wolf’s company” and that “after Wolf pocketed the money” the company laid off workers, and “to this day hard-working Pennsylvania taxpayers have never been repaid.”

The facts as we outlined them before are these: Wolf was part owner of the Wolf Organization, a kitchen cabinet and building supply company that had been in the family since its founding in 1843. Wolf and his cousins sold 47 percent of the firm in 2006 — not to the state pension fund — but to Weston Presidio Fund V. As we reported, the state pension fund was one of many investors in the diversified Fund V, and owned only 5 percent of the $1 billion investment fund.

The ad claims that Wolf “laid off his workers,” but that’s not accurate. The company’s troubles resulted from the 2007 financial crisis and the collapse of the housing bubble that year, which took place after Wolf was no longer in charge.  And not mentioned in the Corbett ad is that of the $20 million that Wolf “pocketed” from the sale, he later reinvested $11 million to regain day-to-day control of the firm — saving it from foreclosure. The paper loss to the state pension fund would have been even greater had the company gone into foreclosure.

So when the Corbett ad says, “Tom Wolf, the more you learn the more dishonest he seems,” we can’t help thinking that the governor should take a look in the nearest available mirror.

– Brooks Jackson