FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Sat, 20 Sep 2014 13:00:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Alaska’s Pension Fight http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/alaskas-pension-fight/ Fri, 19 Sep 2014 22:45:57 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88565 The Alaska Senate candidates exaggerate the impact of a $500 million settlement that Republican Dan Sullivan reached as state attorney general in 2010.

The Alaska Retirement Management Board sued its actuarial firm in December 2007 for erroneous calculations that the board claimed caused the state to underfund its pension system by $2.8 billion. The state sought $2.8 billion in damages and settled in June 2010 for $500 million.

Sullivan and his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Begich, have put a misleading spin on the settlement in recent TV ads:

  • Sullivan’s ad features a teacher who says her pension “took a big hit” in the “financial crisis” and credits Sullivan for “forcing a Wall Street firm to pay for their malpractice.” The two events are unrelated. The lawsuit accused the firm of an actuarial error in 2002 — six years before the financial crisis occurred in 2008.
  • The teacher also boasts that Sullivan stood up for “every Alaska teacher” by forcing the firm to return “almost half a billion dollars into the retirement fund for Alaskans.” But the Teachers’ Retirement System received only $44 million of the $500 million.
  • A Begich ad says Sullivan’s settlement is “putting the permanent fund at risk,” suggesting every resident who receives a dividend from the Alaska Permanent Fund may have to pay for Sullivan’s actions. The state this year added $3 billion to its pension system without tapping into the permanent fund. Also, there are other factors — not just the actuarial errors — that caused the pension shortfall.

The Alaska Senate race — one of several highly competitive elections that could decide control of the Senate — has focused of late on Sullivan’s record as attorney general. Earlier this month, we wrote about a Begich TV ad that claimed Sullivan let a sex offender now accused of murder get off with a “light” sentence. The ad, which was pulled because of complaints by the victims’ families, exaggerated Sullivan’s role in mistakes that were made that resulted in a shorter sentence than could have been handed down.

Standing up for Teachers?

This time it’s Sullivan who made an issue of his experience as attorney general when he aired a TV ad called “Alaska’s Teachers.” The ad, which aired from Sept. 4 to Sept. 13, features Anchorage teacher Leslie Moore, who leaves the false impression that the Teachers’ Retirement System was victimized by a “Wall Street firm” during the recent financial crisis.

“After the financial crisis, my pension took a big hit. It was a difficult time for all of Alaska’s teachers,” Moore says. “But Attorney General Dan Sullivan fought back, forcing a Wall Street firm to pay for their malpractice – returning almost half a billion dollars into the retirement fund for Alaskans. Dan Sullivan stood up for me and every Alaska teacher.”

The fact is that the lawsuit had nothing to do with the recent financial crisis, and the teachers’ fund got far less from the $500 million settlement than suggested by the ad.

Here are the facts: The Alaska Retirement Management Board filed a negligence suit in December 2007 against Mercer — a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Companies — for $1.8 billion in damages. (The damages amount was later increased to $2.8 billion.) Mercer was the state’s longtime actuarial firm for both the Teachers’ Retirement System and the Public Employees Retirement System and, as such, was responsible for determining assets and liabilities and calculating the state obligation to adequately fund the pension accounts.

The lawsuit, as the New York Times explained in a 2009 story, accused Mercer of making errors in the 2002 report, understating the pension fund liabilities by as much as $1 billion.

New York Times, Dec. 19, 2009: The error was compounded in 2003 because Mercer continued to use an artificially low number for pre-retirement-aged beneficiaries. If the firm had corrected the earlier mistake, an actuary said in a deposition, “It would have been difficult to explain.”

Because of the errors and cover-up, the lawsuit said, Mercer underreported by more than $2.8 billion the contributions required to fund the plans.

So, the alleged mistakes were made in 2002 and 2003 — at least five years before the financial crisis caused steep stock market losses that are still fresh in voters’ minds. Stock prices fell 50 percent from October 2007 to March 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Sullivan, who was nominated attorney general in June 2009, settled the suit on June 11, 2010, for $500 million, as the ad states, about a month before the trial was supposed to start. Despite the impression left by the ad, the teachers’ fund got a relatively small percentage of the $500 million.

After court costs and legal fees, the pension funds received $403 million. Most of that money — $359 million — went to the Public Employees Retirement System. The teachers’ fund received only $44 million.

Response Ads

The NEA Advocacy Fund, which is the super PAC of the National Education Association, and the Begich campaign responded to Sullivan’s ad with ads of their own.

The NEA fund went up with an ad on Sept. 10 that expressed the opinion that Sullivan “sold Alaska’s teachers out.” The ad, which is still on the air, says, “Instead of recovering what could have been nearly $3 billion, he cut a deal for just pennies on the dollar.” The text on the screen shows “20 cents on the dollar.”

Whether the deal was good or bad for the state’s retirement funds is a matter of opinion, so we won’t take a position on that. However, the Begich campaign goes too far in its ad, which also accuses Sullivan of cutting a bad deal.

The Begich ad, called “Reprise,” deals largely with the differences between Begich and President Obama. But at one point in the ad, the narrator says Sullivan “let Alaska’s pension fund get ripped off by a New York financial firm, putting the permanent fund at risk.”

We should first note that “ripped off” implies that Mercer stole money from the fund. That was not the case.

But, more to the point, the ad suggests that all residents — not just teachers and public employees — may have to pay for Sullivan’s settlement when it claims that his decision to settle is “putting the permanent fund at risk.” That’s an exaggeration.

Gov. Sean Parnell in June signed legislation that transferred $3 billion from the state’s rainy day fund, known as the Constitution Budget Reserve, into the state’s pension funds. In signing the legislation, Parnell said the infusion of cash will allow the state to reduce future annual pension payments and help preserve the state’s AAA bond rating. Fitch Rating indeed affirmed the state’s AAA rating for its general obligation bonds on Aug. 11.

Parnell notably did not tap the Alaska Permanent Fund. And there was no legislation proposing to take money from the permanent fund to cover pension costs, according to Laura Achee, the director of communications for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. Why? The permanent fund, which is funded with lease agreements and royalties received from production of oil, gas and other minerals, will pay a dividend of $1,844 this year to every Alaska resident who lived in the state all of last year. It would be politically unpopular to divert money from the permanent fund and reduce future dividends.

Yes, it’s legally possible that the permanent fund can be used this way, and some have suggested that it may need to happen in the future. The Begich campaign points to some speculative statements — including one from Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze, who in April said the state would have no choice but to use the permanent fund if it was the only available funding, since the state is constitutionally obligated to meet its pension payments. But such speculation has existed for years.

At a legislative hearing in 2005, Larry Semmens, the then-finance director for the city of Kenai, suggested using the permanent fund to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. The meeting minutes paraphrased him as saying, “There will be little public support to use the permanent fund to pay down the debt but it may make sense in this case.” It didn’t happen.

In 1999, then-Gov. Tony Knowles proposed using the permanent fund to close a budget gap. Although he didn’t need it, Knowles sought voter approval in a nonbinding referendum, because, as the Associated Press wrote, “touching the permanent fund is widely considered political suicide.” A whopping 83 percent voted against using the permanent fund to balance the budget. A post-election poll showed that half of the voters “would never agree to use the Permanent Fund money for government,” according to a 2012 book titled “Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend: Examining its Suitability as a Model.”

Achee told us it is still considered “the third rail of Alaska politics” to use the fund for anything other than dividends or expenses related to the fund’s management.

Although the fund ended fiscal year 2014 with a balance of $51.2 billion, Achee said only $6.2 billion of that was available to state legislators after paying the 2014 dividend and accounting for the effect of inflation on the fund’s principal (see “end assigned balance” for fiscal year 2014). But, she said, “it could be potentially career-ending for an elected official to vote to spend from the earnings of the permanent fund.”

The 2012 book on the permanent fund noted that the state spent $210 million from the APF in fiscal year 2010 to cover expenses related to the fund that were once covered by the general budget — such as Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s operating costs, contract investment managers and investment management fees. The fund is also used to help pay for inmates’ health care “based on the number of inmates ineligible to receive a Permanent Fund dividend,” according to a House Finance Committee budget document. Inmates are not eligible for a dividend.

If the $210 million had been paid with general funds, instead of permanent funds, the individual dividend for 2010 “would have increased by $316 (by 25 percent), to $1,597,” the book said.

Even if the fund is tapped for pension costs in the future, Sullivan’s settlement wouldn’t be the sole or even primary reason for such a “raid,” as the Begich campaign calls it.

The ad cites an Alaska Dispatch News article from April 18, 2014, as evidence that Sullivan’s settlement is “putting the permanent fund at risk.” That’s the article that included a quote from Stoltze, the GOP state legislator, speculating about the permanent fund. At the time, the state’s unfunded pension liability was about $12 billion — far more than the $2.3 billion difference between the lawsuit and the settlement — and the Legislature was considering Parnell’s $3 billion cash infusion plan. The article blamed the $12 billion in unfunded liabilities on legislative inaction — not on the $500 million settlement. “Alaska leaders have not dealt with the state’s growing retirement debts, making minimum payments in years of oil-fueled surplus so they could have more money available for more popular programs,” the article said.

There was also the matter of the stock market collapse in 2008 — six years after the actuarial errors were made. In a segment last year on Parnell’s $3 billion pension rescue plan, Alaska Public Radio noted that “the retirement burden really grew in 2008, when the state lost a fifth of the money it had saved because of the recession.”

In announcing the settlement, Sullivan also said the unfunded liabilities were not caused just by the funds’ actuarial firm. “The unfunded liabilities were caused by stock market declines, significant increases in health care costs and, as alleged by the ARM Board, Mercer’s negligence,” the June 11, 2010, press release said.

We take no position on Sullivan’s decision to settle the case before it went to trial. There is no way to know if the state could have done better if the case went to trial, or whether Sullivan could have negotiated a better deal.

But the facts show the ads by both candidates exaggerate the impact of the $500 million settlement on the lives of teachers and all Alaskans.

– Eugene Kiely

False Choice: Veterans vs. Immigrants http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/false-choice-veterans-vs-immigrants/ Fri, 19 Sep 2014 20:17:55 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88600 An ad from Rep. Bill Cassidy attacks his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mary Landrieu, for not “fully funding veterans benefits,” even though he voted for the House version of a bipartisan budget bill that included those very same cuts. Cassidy even defended those reductions in a national radio interview.

Moreover, less than two months later, both Cassidy and Landrieu voted in favor of stand-alone legislation that ended up restoring the cuts before they ever had a chance to kick in at the end of 2015.

The Cassidy ad also sets up a false choice, claiming Landrieu voted to fund benefits for “illegal immigrants ahead of veterans.” Landrieu never voted to fund benefits for those living in the country illegally.

Cassidy is referring to a procedural vote that blocked Republican amendments to a bipartisan budget bill that avoided a looming government shutdown. That procedural vote prevented Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions from offering an amendment that would have restored a politically sensitive cut in the pensions of working-age military retirees and paid for it by closing a loophole that allows some immigrants living in the country illegally to receive child tax credits.

That amendment on military pensions never got a vote. And as we said, the point became moot when, in February, Landrieu joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and Senate to restore the military benefit reductions contained in the budget deal.

Confused? Let us walk you through the legislative history that underpins this bogus attack.

Cassidy’s Attack

Cassidy’s ad continues his push on the immigration issue, some of which we dealt with in the fact-check of a previous ad.

The latest ad features Cassidy speaking direct-to-camera:

Cassidy: What would you choose? To fund benefits for veterans or for illegal immigrants? I would never put illegal immigrants ahead of veterans. But Mary Landrieu did. Instead of fully funding veterans’ benefits, she voted to give benefits to those here illegally. No wonder she supports Barack Obama and his amnesty plan. She votes with him 97 percent of the time. Mary Landrieu represents Barack Obama. I represent you.

The legislation at the heart of this issue is the two-year bipartisan budget deal negotiated by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, chairs of their chambers’ budget committees. The bill, called the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, avoided any tax increase or revisions to Social Security, Medicare or other major entitlement programs, and restored some earlier “sequester” cuts to the military budget.

But to reach balance, the bill also included a provision that would have reduced of the cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under the age of 62 to inflation minus 1 percent.

Summary of Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, Dec. 10, 2013: This provision modifies the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees by making the adjustments equal to inflation minus one percent. This provision would go into effect in December 2015. At age 62, the retired pay would be adjusted as if the COLA had been the full CPI adjustment in all previous years, and the service members would receive the full COLA from then on. Service members would never see a reduction in benefits from one year to the next and it will save approximately $6 billion over ten years.

The cut would have affected about 750,000 working-age military retirees, only a small fraction of the roughly 22 million that the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates have served in the U.S. armed forces.

After some military and veterans groups objected to the cuts, Sessions went on the Senate floor in an attempt to reopen the amendment process in hopes of proposing an amendment he co-sponsored that would have restored the pension cuts for military retirees. His amendment would have paid for restoring the cuts by closing a loophole that allows some immigrants in the country illegally to receive child tax credits by using a tax identification number rather than a Social Security number.

In other words, Sessions attempted to set up just the choice — veterans vs. immigrants — used in the Cassidy ad. Sessions’ efforts to change the amendment process failed 46-54. Landrieu was among those who voted against it.

There’s a bit of political history to Sessions’ amendment related to the immigrant tax credits, though, that requires explanation.

In 2011, the inspector general for the U.S. Treasury released a report stating that people “who are not authorized to work in the United States” were paid $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits. (Refundable means parents may receive refunds even when they do not owe any tax.) The IG report stated that more than 2.3 million people who did not have Social Security numbers got an average of about $1,800 each in 2010 in child tax credit refunds. (We wrote about this issue in our 2012 story “Tax Credits for Illegal Immigrants.”)

Republicans have repeatedly tried to end that practice by requiring taxpayers who collect the Additional Child Tax Credit to prove they are in the country legally. Many Democrats have 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. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has successfully blocked a vote on the Republican proposals so far, summed up his opposition in an interview with the Associated Press in February 2013: “I just think the child tax credit is working just fine, and there’s no need to punish children.”

But as we said, Sessions’ amendment to the Murray-Ryan budget never actually came to a vote. A procedural vote blocked it — and perhaps other Republican amendments — from being considered. For what it’s worth, while it never came to a vote, a Landrieu campaign official told us, “Senator Landrieu obviously believes that people getting tax credits illegally is wrong and we should try to stop that. This should be easy to identify and stop.”

So why would Landrieu and other Democrats have blocked consideration of Sessions’ amendment?

Murray argued that Sessions’ motion “jeopardized” passage of the larger bipartisan budget agreement, telling The Hill that she viewed it as “an effort to bring down this bill.”

In the floor debate, Republicans and Democrats expressed a willingness, even an eagerness, to fix the military benefit issue after passage of the budget, but long before the reductions would take effect.

Murray, Dec. 17: As is true with any very difficult compromise, there are certain policy changes in this bill I would never have made on my own. Thankfully, though, we wrote this bill in a way that will allow two years before this change is implemented — two years –so that Democrats and Republicans can keep working together to improve this provision or find smarter savings elsewhere.

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss: The budget deal before us is not perfect. There is a lot in this proposal to like and there is a lot in this proposal to dislike. But there is one provision related to military retirement pay that will certainly have to be addressed after the passage of this bill, and it is one of the provisions that, frankly, I don’t like. I am told by Pentagon officials that this provision basically came out of nowhere. I think it is terribly unfair to our men and women in uniform. They should not have a disproportionate share in our deficit reduction measures. However, I feel confident this issue will be resolved in the near term.

And that’s exactly what happened. On Feb. 11, the House voted to restore the old cost-of-living formula for all who had signed up for military service prior to 2014. The vote was 326 to 90, and Cassidy was among those who voted in favor. The next day, the Senate voted 95 to 3 for final passage — with Landrieu among those who supported it — and the president signed the repeal into law on Feb. 15.

What’s interesting about the Cassidy ad attack is that Cassidy was among those who voted on Dec. 12, 2013, to pass the Murray-Ryan budget in the House. It passed by a vote of 332-94. While the military pension issue never arose in House discussions, Cassidy was well-versed on the issue when it was raised in a radio interview with Laura Ingraham on Dec. 18, 2013, the day the budget passed the Senate. In fact, he defended the reduction.

Ingraham: You supported this budget deal and now we find out that military folks who have sacrificed so much, are being asked yet again to sacrifice — this in terms of their pensions — and yet we can’t seem to close loopholes for welfare benefits going to illegal aliens and yet you supported this, why?

Cassidy: Well, a couple of things, one there are no benefit cuts to people who are retiring, there is an adjustment to their cost of living, which starts off not for all, but those who retire before age 62. … Once you get to 62, you actually get a one-time payment that bumps you back up. But if someone retires at age 45, and she goes out and works a second job, she’s getting in her current retirement – and I’m not arguing with it, I think this is good — but to put this in perspective, 50 percent of her base pay and full medical benefits, which is probably worth another $15,000 a year for a family, and then other benefits as well. And the rationale is, she’s probably going to work, she’s only 45, and that this merely decreases her cost of living increases by .25 percent. That begins in 2015, and the next year by .5 percent, and the next year by 1 percent. So there’s no cut in benefits, there’s a cut in cost-of-living increases for those who retire when most likely they’ll still work. And their base retirement is 50 percent of their pay upon retirement. … Now, would I love it if we had to make no cuts whatsoever? That would be fantastic.

Cassidy campaign spokesman John Cummins noted that the Murray-Ryan budget passed the House under a structured rule, meaning an individual member could not amend the bill. Nonetheless, the reduction in the pensions of military retirees was a part of the bill, and Cassidy voted for the bill.

In fact, Cassidy also voted in 2011 for an alternative Republican budget plan that would have cut military pensions even more. The Republican Study Committee budget that year sought to “prevent [federal employee] early retirees from receiving COLAs until they reach age 62. This would result in a savings of $17 billion over ten years.” That was based on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan that made clear the reduction applied to both “civilian and military retirees who retire well before a conventional retirement age.”

For Cassidy to accuse Landrieu of short-changing veterans when he voted for two budgets that included similar, or deeper, cuts — especially since Landrieu later voted to restore those cuts — is rich indeed.

We’d like to quickly address two other points made in the Cassidy ad. One is the ad’s claim that Landrieu “supports Barack Obama and his amnesty plan.” As we wrote recently in the article “Playing Politics With Immigration,” the Senate immigration bill Landrieu supported in 2013 included an earned path to citizenship, not blanket amnesty. And while Obama said the plan was “consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform,” it was a bipartisan Senate proposal, not Obama’s.

Cassidy also says Landrieu “votes with [Obama] 97 percent of the time.” That’s accurate. Congressional Quarterly did, in fact, conclude that Landrieu backed Obama 97 percent of the time in 2013. CQ found that Landrieu voted along with fellow Democrats in the Senate 90 percent of the time (a little less than the Democratic average of 94 percent), while Cassidy voted with the GOP caucus in the House 96 percent of the time (a little higher than the House Republican average of 92 percent).

So while the candidates demonstrated a largely partisan voting record, Cassidy bucked his party’s position in Congress slightly less often than Landrieu bucked hers — something, perhaps, to consider when Cassidy concludes, “Mary Landrieu represents Barack Obama, I represent you.”

– Robert Farley

No Cuts for Military Vets http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/no-cuts-for-military-vets/ Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:36:41 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88551 A Republican TV ad in Illinois features indignant veterans scolding a Democratic House member about cuts to “veterans benefits” that never happened.

The ad features four men it identifies as Army and Navy veterans. “We risked our lives. … We put it all on the line. … How could you cut our benefits?” they ask of Rep. Cheri Bustos, after chastising her for voting for a $6 billion cut in “veterans benefits.” They add, “How could you? Shame on you.”

In fact, the cut in question was not a reduction in veterans benefits at all, but rather a cut in the pensions of military retirees. Further, the reduction was one part of a bipartisan budget deal that averted another government shutdown last December. And more important, Bustos was among the many House and Senate members of both parties who voted to repeal the cut a few weeks later, a fact the ad fails to mention.

The ad began running Sept. 16 and is sponsored by former Rep. Bobby Schilling, the Republican whom Bustos defeated in 2012 and who is now trying to reclaim his old seat in the 17th Congressional District.

The ad refers to the bill introduced last Dec. 10 by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chairs of their respective budget committees in the House and Senate. Ryan, who was also the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, said at the time: “I’m proud of this agreement. It reduces the deficit — without raising taxes. … I ask all my colleagues in the House to support it.”

And the deal was approved overwhelmingly, by a vote of 332 to 94 in the House on Dec. 12, 2013, with 169 Republicans and 163 Democrats voting in favor. The Senate followed suit a few days later, passing the package on Dec. 18 by a vote of 64 to 36. This time, all 55 members of the Democratic caucus voted in favor, but only nine Republicans did so.

The deal avoided any tax increase or revisions to Social Security, Medicare or other major entitlement programs, and restored some earlier “sequester” cuts to the military budget. But one of the offsetting cuts was a reduction in future cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of military retirees that would cut spending by an estimated $6.2 billion over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016.

That would have affected about 750,000 military retirees, only a small fraction of the roughly 22 million that the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates have served in the U.S. armed forces. So the large majority of veterans would not have been affected.

Nevertheless, the pension cut quickly drew fire from military and veterans groups, prompting a rapid retreat by Congress. The House voted Feb. 11 to restore the old cost-of-living formula for all who had signed up for military service prior to 2014. The vote was 326 to 90, and Bustos was among the 120 Democrats who voted in favor. The next day, the Senate voted 95 to 3 for final passage, and the president signed the repeal into law on Feb. 15.

Given all that, we find the ad to be shamefully misleading. The man in the ad who says, “Shame on you, Congresswoman Bustos,” might accurately have said instead, “Thank you, Congresswoman Bustos, for restoring our full military pensions.”

– Brooks Jackson

Playing Politics With Immigration http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/playing-politics-with-immigration/ Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:33:06 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88387 Competing ads from the leading candidates in the Louisiana Senate race play politics with the immigration issue and leave misleading impressions about the candidates’ positions.

  • Rep. Bill Cassidy’s ad criticizes Landrieu for supporting “amnesty” based on her vote for a bipartisan immigration bill in 2013. The bill included an earned path to citizenship, not blanket amnesty — a distinction Cassidy himself made in a 2013 interview.
  • An ad from Sen. Mary Landrieu quotes Cassidy out of context to suggest he’s weak on border security. He is heard saying, “Our threat is not the folks coming across the border.” Actually, Cassidy was talking about the biggest threat to Louisiana jobs, which he said was a moratorium on offshore drilling, not illegal immigration.
  • Landrieu’s ad also boasts of her support for triple-layer fencing. She did support hundreds of miles of it in 2006, but seven years later she called that vote a “mistake.”
  • That same ad falsely claims Landrieu “voted nine times to block amnesty.” There were no votes on amnesty. Her tortured logic: The immigration system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” so her votes to change it were votes to “block amnesty.” That’s right, Landrieu argues her support for the same bill derided by Cassidy as “amnesty” was actually a vote to “block amnesty.” Both are wrong.

The immigration volley comes as a Politico poll of likely voters from states with competitive Senate and House races, including Louisiana, found that nearly two-thirds disapprove of the way Obama is handling immigration. The poll also said 66 percent of likely voters support “comprehensive immigration reform” — something Cassidy says on his campaign website that he opposes — though voters were nearly split on the issue of whether such legislation ought to include a pathway to citizenship for immigrants now living in the U.S. illegally.

Cassidy and Landrieu head up a field of nine candidates who are vying for the Senate seat in a Nov. 4 election.

Cassidy: ‘Amnesty’

The opening volley in the immigration ad war came from the Cassidy campaign with an ad attempting to link Landrieu’s position on immigration to Obama’s and labeling her a supporter of “amnesty.”

In the ad, Cassidy says, “The border is a mess. Barack Obama and Mary Landrieu support amnesty, which makes it worse. … I oppose amnesty. We must secure that border now. Mary Landrieu represents Barack Obama. I represent you.”

Cassidy’s claim about Landrieu supporting amnesty is tied to her 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, and then 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.

Moreover, this is a distinction that Cassidy seemed to appreciate back in 2013 when the Senate bill was being considered. In a Legal Lines interview of Cassidy by Locke Meredith in February 2013, Cassidy made clear his secure-the-border-first priority, but he also outlined principles for a path to citizenship and said “that would not be amnesty.”

Meredith: Explain what else needs to take place if and when we clear the border hurdle?

Cassidy: There’s been no legislation introduced. It’s only been principles that have been advanced. And so, if you will, I will reserve final judgment until I see the legislation. It’s one thing to talk, it’s another thing to see what is actually proposed. … Some of the principles that have been discussed is that you first secure the border. …

And so some of the other principles that people discuss are that, ok, once you’ve secured the border, you create a pathway to citizenship where someone may pay a fine, would begin to pay taxes if they are not already doing so … potentially pay back taxes as well … and then they get in the back of the line in the legal process to work though. They don’t bump ahead, they go to the back. …

And you also expect folks to learn to speak English. You want them to integrate into our civic society, not remain without it. And so, those are the principles. Now, whether or not the final package will have that will really determine how much broad support it gets in Congress.

Meredith: Now one other issue that seems to be discussed or raised when you contemplate immigration is “amnesty.” Explain that to the folks , and where do you fall on that.

Cassidy: Well, amnesty, as some people … there are different definitions. But one definition of amnesty is that there’s no penalty to pay, that you immediately become a citizen and there’s no obligation either to return or to do anything to make arrears to make up for what you have not previously paid. I’m opposed to amnesty. That is wrong.

You need to have a process where if somebody comes in, then if those working principles are what are adhered to, that would not be amnesty.

Cassidy’s campaign says he was simply outlining the principles being offered in the Senate at that time, and that he did not endorse any of those positions. When we asked whether Cassidy would support an earned path to citizenship once the border is secure, a spokesman for the campaign responded, “He would not.”

Once the details of the Gang of Eight Senate bill emerged, Cassidy quickly denounced it as inadequate on border security.

“The solution must begin with securing borders,” Cassidy said in June 2013. “As now written, the Senate bill does not secure the border and effectively creates a pathway to amnesty. With this in mind, I cannot support the Senate bill in its current form.”

The immigration effort ultimately died when House Speaker John Boeher announced that he would not allow the bill to move forward in the House, because “the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written.”

We’ll let readers decide whether the ad’s characterization of the Senate bill as “amnesty” contradicts Cassidy’s definition of amnesty in February 2013. Regardless, our position at FactCheck.org is that the Gang of Eight bill did not meet the strict definition of amnesty.

Moreover, the ad’s attempt to link Landrieu’s vote for the Gang of Eight bill to Obama by saying she “represents” Obama is not entirely accurate. It’s true that Obama praised the Gang of Eight’s efforts, and endorsed the bill’s “key principles,” but he also made clear that it was a political compromise — not his preferred plan.

Obama, June 27, 2013: The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise. By definition, nobody got everything they wanted. Not Democrats. Not Republicans. Not me. But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.

As the name suggests, the Gang of Eight bill was proposed by eight senators, four Democrats and four Republicans. The Republicans were Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio. In other words, instead of saying Landrieu “represents Barack Obama” on the immigration issue, the Cassidy ad could just as easily have said her vote “represents” Graham or Rubio.

We should note that Louisiana isn’t the only state where Republicans have used the Gang of Eight bill to link their Democratic opponents to Obama. In Kentucky, for example, the Kentucky Opportunity Council is running an ad that labels Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes as a “proud supporter of Obama’s amnesty plan” based on her support for the bipartisan Senate bill.

The Landrieu Spin

Days after Cassidy’s immigration ad began airing, the Landrieu campaign responded with an ad featuring a trifecta of misleading claims, highlighted by an out-of-context quote from Cassidy that leaves the misleading impression that he doesn’t think border security is a problem.

The ad’s narrator begins by referencing the earlier Cassidy ad, saying, “Bill Cassidy is attacking Mary Landrieu on illegal immigration? Listen to why he opposed a border fence. …”

The ad then cuts to a clip of Cassidy saying, “Our threat is not the folks coming across the border.”

“Really?” the narrator asks incredulously. “Mary Landrieu thinks that is the threat. The chairman of Homeland Security Appropriations, she voted to double the border patrol, build triple-layer fencing, and voted nine times to block amnesty.”

The Cassidy quote comes from an August 2010 town hall meeting in which Cassidy was discussing Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The quote in question was a setup to Cassidy’s larger point that a federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling posed the biggest threat to Louisiana job creation. You can listen to his fuller answer here.

Cassidy, August 2010 town hall meeting: We applaud the people of Arizona. We need to have enforcement of the laws that are on the book and we need to make sure that the folks that are here are here legally. That said, in our state, our threat to us – and I’m just going to editorialize here, because I’m so passionate about it – our threat’s not the folks coming across the border. Our threat to our jobs is the fact that we have a moratorium on our continental shelf drilling, which the scientists have said does not make sense and will not improve safety. But the 23,000 jobs [from] the most conservative estimates are going to be lost if it continues. So there’s other issues where we need to force the hand of the federal government.

As the fuller context makes clear, Cassidy 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” also belies Cassidy’s history of supporting enhanced border security. In June, Cassidy co-sponsored H.R. 2220, a Republican bill that sought to “take actions to achieve and maintain operational control of the U.S.-Mexico border.” In July, Cassidy introduced a bill that sought to expedite the deportation process. And his opposition to the bipartisan Senate immigration plan was primarily based on the belief that it did not do enough to ensure border security.

Border Fencing

Landrieu also boasts in her ad that she “voted to … build triple-layer fencing.” True, but that may come as a surprise to those who recall her deriding an amendment to the Senate immigration bill last year that would have required 350 miles of new double-layer fencing along the southern border before any path to citizenship provisions could begin. In a floor speech opposing the amendment, Landrieu said she “voted for the dumb fence once” and wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

The small print in the ad instead cites two votes going back to 2006.

The first was a May 17, 2006, vote in favor of an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which called for construction of at least 370 miles of triple-layered fencing along the southwest border, as well as 500 miles of vehicle barriers. The amendment passed 83-16. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act passed the Senate, but never received enough support in the House. The second was a vote in August of that year in favor of an amendment to a defense appropriations bill to provide $1.8 billion to the Army National Guard to construct 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 461 miles of vehicle barriers along the southwest border. The amendment passed 94-3.

That same year, on Sept. 29, Landrieu also voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act. The bill, signed by President George W. Bush, called for “at least two layers of reinforced fencing” stretching nearly 700 miles.

So Landrieu voted for triple-layer fencing, as the ad says. But there’s more to the story.

The following year, in 2007, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison proposed an amendment giving the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to decide what type of fencing was appropriate for different regions along the border. It passed the Senate by a voice vote. As a result, while U.S. Customs and Border Protection boasts 650 miles of border fencing, only a fraction of that, about 35 miles, is double- or triple-layer fencing, said Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Double-layer fencing is mostly used in urban areas where an illegal border crosser could otherwise quickly blend in to the adjoining community, such as at a nearby shopping center, Friel said. Most of the 650 miles of fencing is pedestrian or vehicle fencing at strategic points along the border. Other portions of the 1,900-mile border are policed by electronic surveillance.

In June 2013, as the Senate immigration bill was being debated, Sen. John Thune proposed an amendment that would have required the completion of 350 miles of reinforced, double-layer fencing before provisional status would be granted to any immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.

Landrieu took to the floor to denounce Thune’s proposed amendment, referring to it as a “dumb fence.”

Landrieu, June 13, 2013: I will vote against Senator Thune’s amendment because I am not going to waste taxpayer money on a dumb fence, and that is what his fence would be. We need to build a smart fence. A fence is not just a physical structure which can be built out of a variety of different materials with or without barbed wire on the top. …

It is not correct for anybody listening to this debate to think that people on the Democratic side of this aisle or people supporting this bill do not want to secure the border. Nothing could be further from the truth. I may be overridden, and people may vote against it, but I am going to hold the position that we cannot waste billions and billions of dollars building a fence that doesn’t hold anybody on one side or the other. We have wasted enough taxpayer money. …

So we are going to put money in this bill to build a smart barrier that is going to have all the new technology we need to track down illegal immigrants and close that off. …

I voted for the dumb fence once. I am not going to do it again because I learned from my mistake. I went down there to look at it and realized we could build two dumb fences or three dumb fences and it would not work. I am simply not going to waste the money to do something I know will not work. So if somebody else wants to vote for the dumb fence for the second or third time, go right ahead. But I was raised such that when you make a mistake, admit it and then fix it. I intend to fix it.

The fence we are going to build — Senator Carper, Senator Coburn, Senator McCain and I — is a real and virtual fence that is actually going to work.

Landrieu’s campaign points out that while Landrieu did not support Thune’s amendment, she did support the border security measures included in the final version of the Gang of Eight immigration bill, which including more fencing, including double-layer fencing where appropriate. The bill, which required 90 percent effective control of the border, included adding 3,500 border patrol officers, funding additional surveillance and advanced technologies, and adding hundreds of miles of new fencing, “including double-layer fencing.” In other words, Landrieu supports the construction of double-layer fencing, just not as much as some Republicans like Thune would like.

Votes Against Amnesty

Perhaps the most curious claim in the Landrieu ad is that she “voted nine times to block amnesty.” The 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.

So how were votes for the Senate immigration bill — which Cassidy called votes for “amnesty” in his ad — actually votes to “block amnesty”?

In its backup material, the Landrieu campaign quotes a handful of Republicans who argued that the existing, broken immigration policy amounts to “de facto amnesty.” Among those who called the existing policy “de facto amnesty” are Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander, Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte — all of whom supported the Senate bill — as well as Republican Reps. Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. In a campaign radio ad this summer, Alexander went so far as to claim, “Last year I voted to end amnesty” — a reference to his vote for the Gang of Eight bill.

Although Landrieu points to some Republican rhetoric to back up her claim, the fact is those who live in the U.S. illegally were not granted amnesty, and there have been no votes to do so. And it is misleading, therefore, for Landrieu to claim that support for the Gang of Eight bill was a vote to “block amnesty.”

– Robert Farley

Doubling Down in West Virginia http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/doubling-down-in-west-virginia/ Tue, 16 Sep 2014 21:23:05 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88466 Rep. Nick Rahall’s latest TV ad doubles down on the deceptive claim that Republican Evan Jenkins has pledged to “take away” black lung benefits from coal miners.

In the latest ad, a coal miner by the name of Jackie Counts Jr. says, “When I hear Evan Jenkins say that he’s gonna take away our black lung benefits, it just bothers me to no end.” Jenkins said no such thing. To the contrary, Jenkins says he is “firmly opposed to any cuts to the Federal Black Lung Benefit Program.”

Counts also says in the ad, “If I lose my black lung benefits, I don’t know what I’d do.” But Counts is in no danger of losing his benefits. The Rahall campaign is talking about Jenkins’ support to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which included two amendments to the Black Lung Act that make it easier for miners and surviving spouses and dependents to claim black lung benefits. Repeal of the ACA may make it harder for Counts’ wife to obtain survivor benefits upon his death, if there is no attempt to preserve the ACA amendments in new legislation. But it would not take away black lung benefits from him or any other miner currently receiving such benefits.

We’ve explored this issue once before in a March 19 item titled “Bogus Attack in Coal-Mine Country.” But this new ad is even more deceptive by putting words in Jenkins’ mouth and using a coal miner to make an emotional plea about losing his benefits.

Rahall’s ad starts with an accurate statement: “Nick Rahall helped expand and improve black lung benefits.” The ad, in small print at the bottom left corner of the screen, cites Rahall’s vote on H.R. 3590 on March 21, 2010. The ad doesn’t mention the name of the bill, but H.R. 3590 is the Affordable Care Act, which Rahall supported. As we explained in March, the ACA included two provisions sponsored by former Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia that amended the Black Lung Benefits Act.

The benefits program, which was established in 1969, provides compensation to miners totally disabled by pneumoconiosis and, upon their death, to their eligible survivors. Currently, it pays a miner or surviving spouse $625 per month — less any money that “a miner or surviving spouse is receiving [in] workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, or disability insurance payments under state law,” according to the Social Security Administration’s history of the law. The monthly amount is higher if the miner or widow has dependents, up to a family maximum of $1,251 per month.

The Byrd amendments made it easier for coal miners and their eligible survivors to qualify for black lung benefits. One amendment requires the mining company to prove that coal dust was not a significant factor in the miner’s disease, shifting the burden of proof from the miner to the company. The other amendment prevents surviving spouses and dependents from having to file a new claim for survivor benefits, if the miner had been deemed eligible for benefits upon his death.

The ad makes no mention of repealing the Affordable Care Act. Instead, it leaves the false impression that Jenkins has pledged to repeal the Black Lung Benefits Act and leaves the false impression that miners will lose their current benefits if Jenkins is successful. After all, Counts says he heard it from Jenkins himself.

When we asked the Rahall campaign about the claims in the ad, campaign manager Sam Raymond quoted our March article. “FactCheck.org wrote that Evan Jenkins’ position on black lung benefits ‘would make it more difficult for some miners and surviving spouses to prove eligibility for the Federal Black Lung Benefits Program.’ ” But that’s not exactly what we wrote.

FactCheck.org, March 19: A repeal of the ACA would make it more difficult for some miners and surviving spouses to prove eligibility for the Federal Black Lung Benefits Program. But that would not repeal the benefits, which were created under a separate law.

Furthermore, Jenkins is on the record repeatedly saying he would replace the ACA — not just repeal it. And the Jenkins campaign now says on its website — in response to this ad — that “he is firmly opposed to any cuts to the Federal Black Lung Benefit Program.”

We went on to write, “Black lung benefits would continue — although some miners and surviving spouses would be denied benefits and some would find it harder to obtain benefits. And that assumes that there would be no attempt to preserve the Byrd amendments either in a replacement health care bill or a standalone piece of legislation.”

There is no question that repealing the Affordable Care Act would have repercussions far and wide, and it is legitimate to debate what will happen to miners and their families if the law is repealed. But this ad does not address those points. Instead, it distorts the facts and misrepresents Jenkins’ position on black lung benefits.

– Eugene Kiely

Colorado’s Contraception Controversy http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/colorados-contraception-controversy/ Tue, 16 Sep 2014 15:57:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88368 Both sides in the Colorado Senate race are misleading voters in TV ads on Republican Rep. Cory Gardner’s proposal to allow the sale of birth control pills over-the-counter.

  • Gardner says in a TV ad that he has a plan to sell oral contraceptives, or the pill, over-the-counter without a prescription. But Congress has nothing to do with the process for making drugs available over-the-counter. That’s done by the Food and Drug Administration if petitioned by the drug manufacturer.
  • Gardner’s ad also says his over-the-counter plan would be “cheaper and easier, for you” than Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s plan. But the Affordable Care Act — which Udall voted for and which Gardner voted to repeal — already requires insurance companies to fully cover birth control costs, including the pill. It’s also unclear whether birth control pills would be cheaper if they were available over-the-counter.
  • A Planned Parenthood Votes ad claims that Gardner wants to “take away” insurance coverage for birth control pills and have “women pay for all of it.” Yes, he supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and, absent any replacement bill, insurers may well revert to covering some – but not necessarily all – of the cost. But Gardner hasn’t called for a ban on insurance coverage of the pill.

Gardner’s Plan

Gardner’s TV ad begins with the candidate saying, “What’s the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception?” There are differences between the candidates on birth control, but the political claims from both sides leave voters in the position of having to hunt for them.

Mainly, Gardner wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Udall doesn’t. Repealing the law would make a range of birth control more expensive for women with private insurance, but Gardner doesn’t mention that in his ad. Instead, Gardner says in the ad that his plan would make the pill “cheaper and easier, for you.”

The Affordable Care Act requires most private insurance plans to cover the pill, and other methods of female contraception, including sterilization, IUDs, sponges and spermicides, with no cost-sharing. There is an exemption for nonprofit religious employers, and the Supreme Court ruled in late June in the Hobby Lobby case that for-profit, closely-held companies couldn’t be required to pay for contraception coverage because of a federal religious freedom law. Hobby Lobby and another company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, objected to covering IUDs and emergency contraception on religious grounds.

Gardner praised the Hobby Lobby ruling in a statement and called for the FDA to “move quickly to make oral contraceptives available to adults without a prescription.” In July, Udall co-sponsored a Senate bill to prohibit employers from not covering contraception, but the measure failed.

Birth control has emerged as a key issue in the race. Gardner had first proclaimed his support for over-the-counter birth control pills in a June 19 op-ed published in the Denver Post.

It came after Udall had aired numerous ads criticizing Gardner’s past support for state personhood initiatives, which are anti-abortion measures that could lead to some hormonal forms of birth control, including the pill, being outlawed. Gardner withdrew his support for the latest state initiative this year, but still supports a similar federal bill. (See our Aug. 15 article “A Fight Over Birth Control in Colorado” for more on this issue.)

Gardner’s June op-ed called for birth control pills to be sold over-the-counter without a prescription and touted the convenience and potential cost savings of the idea. He wrote: “Since it makes so much sense, you might wonder why this change has not happened yet. It’s because too many people in Washington would rather play politics with contraception instead of actually making life easier for women.”

But an act of Congress couldn’t move the pill to over-the-counter status. In fact, what Gardner — and other Republican Senate candidates, including Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Ed Gillespie in Virginia — is suggesting wouldn’t happen quickly or easily. A drug manufacturer would submit an application to the FDA, and the FDA would then have to review and approve it. “This is a decision-making process that’s driven by the FDA, it’s not driven by Congress,” Sneha Barot, senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, told us in an interview. “It can be a fairly long and expensive process.”

Plus, if the FDA were to approve one brand of the pill, there are dozens more that would need to go through the same process to make all oral contraceptives over-the-counter. A Senate bill introduced by Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte in July included a “sense of the Senate,” basically a suggestion, that the FDA “should study whether contraceptives that are available with a prescription … would be safe and effective for adults if available without a prescription.”

Making the pill OTC isn’t a new idea, either. The OCs OTC Working Group — that’s oral contraceptive (OC) and over-the counter (OTC) — was established in 2004 to explore the issue. It’s made up of reproductive health and advocacy groups, researchers and clinicians. The Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health issues, is part of it.

However, let’s set aside the logistics and look at the claims about what would happen if oral contraceptives were available over-the-counter. Gardner says in his TV ad, “I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you.” His campaign says he also wants to “allow for women to be reimbursed for it through their insurance.”

It’s unclear whether birth control pills would be cheaper if they were available over-the-counter. The available research is mixed, and it’s not specifically about the pill.

A 2012 study funded by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group for manufacturers of over-the-counter drugs, said there were savings from having common ailment drugs over-the-counter — including allergy, cough/cold and anti-fungal medications — and that most of the savings came from not needing an office visit to get a prescription. But the study, which looked at drugs that were already available OTC, cautioned that its findings were limited to the medications it analyzed. The OCs OTC Working Group cites two conflicting studies: A 2002 study published in the journal Drug Benefit Trends that found out-of-pocket costs for consumers went up when certain drugs moved from prescription to OTC status, and research from 2005 that found out-of-pocket costs decreased for antihistamines and gastritis medication.

“It’s very unclear what would happen to the price of an oral contraceptive if it went over the counter,” said Barot, who told us the cost of emergency contraception — which is essentially a high dose of the birth control pill — went up a bit when it became available without a prescription.

Barot co-wrote a blog post for the journal Health Affairs on Sept. 10 in support of OTC contraceptives paired with the ACA’s requirement for private insurance to fully cover all methods of birth control for women without cost-sharing. A July 30 opinion piece, written by members of Ibis Reproductive Heath, a research and advocacy group that coordinates the OTC working group, and published in The Hill newspaper also argued that: “For an over-the-counter pill to have the most positive impact on access to contraception, it must be covered by insurance.”

So would the pill be “cheaper” over-the-counter? Not for women with most private insurance coverage, who get full coverage of the pill and also get a fully covered annual “well-woman” office visit during which time they can get a prescription. Both benefits are mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Those without insurance coverage could save money, since they won’t have to go to a doctor for a prescription. And even those with insurance may feel the convenience saves them money in terms of not having to miss work or arrange child care to go to a doctor. “The impact would be different depending on the group of women we’re talking about,” Barot says.

As for getting the pill over-the-counter being “easier,” that, too, depends on the person. Women without insurance wouldn’t have to get a prescription, but if the cost were covered through a reimbursement system, as Gardner proposes, they’d have to spend time taking whatever steps were required to get their money back. Women in rural areas, as Gardner points out in his op-ed, may drive long distances to see a doctor and would likely find an OTC option easier.

Gardner further claims in his ad that Udall “wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your health care plan.” It’s true that the ACA places new requirements on insurance companies — such as covering contraception without cost-sharing. But if Gardner’s plan occurred in conjunction with the ACA, that would still be the case. In fact, in his op-ed, he proposed changing the ACA to allow insurers to cover OTC drugs obtained without a prescription.

And some federal regulation might have to be enacted for Medicaid. The OCs OTC Working Group says it’s “unclear” how Medicaid recipients would be affected, since federal Medicaid funds can’t pay for over-the-counter drugs obtained without a prescription, though some states do cover OTC emergency contraception.

There are missing details to Gardner’s proposal, which, as we mentioned, would have to start with drug manufacturers and the FDA, not Congress. With or without the ACA, he’s still advocating insurance coverage of OTC oral contraceptives, which would presumably require some government regulation. We asked his campaign whether he would require insurers to fully cover birth control pills purchased over-the-counter if the ACA were repealed, or would he allow insurers to make decisions about the level of coverage, as they did before the health care law was passed. We did not receive a response to that question.

 Would Gardner ‘Take Away’ Insurance Coverage?

Planned Parenthood Votes jumped into the debate with an ad launched Sept. 12 that says on screen, “Gardner’s over-the-counter proposal would TAKE AWAY insurance coverage for birth control,” with a drawing of a pack of birth control pills. Another on-screen graphic reads, “Gardner’s plan: Women pay for all of it.”

Similarly, the Udall campaign has criticized Gardner’s OTC proposal by saying on its website that he had a “radical position on ending insurance coverage for the pill.” Another posting on the campaign website says Gardner “has said that we should remove insurance from the process of purchasing birth control altogether.”

As we’ve said, Gardner’s campaign says he wants to allow women to be reimbursed for OTC oral contraceptives. His campaign spokesman Alex Siciliano told us that Gardner’s plan is different from many other over-the-counter proposals in this regard. “Cory understands the problem associated with potential out-of-pocket cost increases if insurance coverage is lost,” he wrote in an email. “That’s why Cory has called for a change to Obamacare that will permit the coverage of OTC medication like oral contraceptives without a prescription.”

Gardner’s original June op-ed on the idea didn’t fully explain the insurance-reimbursement proposal, but did allude to insurance coverage for OTC oral contraceptives. He wrote in that piece: “Since January 2011, an obscure provision of Obamacare has blocked insurers from covering OTC medicine without a prescription. If Democrats are serious about making oral contraception affordable and accessible, we can reverse that technical provision.”

The provision bars reimbursement from a Flexible Spending Arrangement or Health Savings Account for over-the-counter medications obtained without a prescription (excluding insulin and medical devices). The ACA does require private insurance plans to cover over-the-counter contraceptives including sponges and spermicides, but only with a doctor’s prescription.

Gardner’s camp hasn’t provided more specific details on how his plan would work in terms of insurance reimbursement. But that’s still no reason for Udall and Planned Parenthood Votes to misrepresent his over-the-counter proposal.

When we asked Planned Parenthood Votes about its ad, a spokeswoman told us that Gardner’s plan was to repeal the ACA and its full coverage of a range of birth control methods, plus a “vague” over-the-counter proposal for the pill. And since it would take years before any brand of birth control pill was available over-the-counter, women would go back to paying out-of-pocket for contraception in the absence of the ACA, she said.

Fair enough — but that’s not what the ad says. Instead, it says Gardner wants to “take away” insurance coverage and have “women pay for all of it,” and it specifically references the pill. Gardner hasn’t called for any kind of ban on insurance coverage of the pill, or birth control in general. If the ACA were repealed, insurers may well revert to life before the health care law, when many private plans covered some of the cost of prescription contraceptives, according to a 2002 Guttmacher Institute survey of insurers’ on employment-based plans. (In fact, more than half of the states, including Colorado, require insurance plans that include prescription drug coverage to cover contraception. Colorado passed its contraception law in 2010. Gardner voted against it.)

The Udall camp points to a brief interview Gardner gave to Fox News in July, when he said “let’s take out the insurance” in regards to his OTC plan. The full quote: “I support a birth control policy that will allow us to have common forms of oral contraception available over-the-counter without a prescription. Let’s take out Obamacare. Let’s take out the insurance.”

We’re not sure what Gardner meant by that, but it contradicts what his campaign has said since then.

Planned Parenthood Votes and the Udall campaign would be correct to say that Gardner wants to repeal the ACA, and with it the law’s requirement of full private insurance coverage of women’s contraception. But both twist Gardner’s position into something more extreme. Gardner, meanwhile, tries to sell voters on a plan he himself — or Congress — can’t implement. And he glosses over his support for repealing the ACA, a move that, absent additional health care legislation, would increase the cost of a range of birth control methods for many women with private insurance plans.

– Lori Robertson

Perdue Distorts Nunn Campaign Memo http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/perdue-distorts-nunn-campaign-memo/ Fri, 12 Sep 2014 23:04:00 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88355 Republican David Perdue says in a TV ad that Michelle Nunn, his opponent in the Georgia Senate race, “admits she’s too liberal” and that “her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” Not exactly.

The ad cites the source as “her campaign plan,” but that particular memo — one of several included in a 144-page Nunn campaign document — talked about devising a strategy to push back against “potential Republican attacks” on Nunn. The likely attacks included that “Nunn is too liberal” and that a nonprofit organization that she headed, the Points of Light foundation, gave “grants to problematic entities.” Actually, the grants refer to $13,500 that eBay sellers — not the foundation — donated to the U.S. affiliate of the international charity Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Also, there is no evidence Islamic Relief USA, a federally approved charity, has ties to the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.

Perdue and Nunn are competing for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss. The ad, called “Bringing Common Sense to Washington,” began airing on Sept. 9. It’s Perdue’s first ad of the general election.

On July 28, the National Review ran a story about a leaked Nunn campaign document that had been briefly published online, in draft form, months earlier. The document, covering all phases of Nunn’s Senate campaign, is a compilation of memos from Democratic strategists to Nunn and her senior advisers.

“From all appearances, the document was intended to remain confidential. It outlines the challenges inherent in getting Nunn, who grew up mostly in Bethesda, Md., elected to the Senate in a state with a large rural population,” the National Review article said.

The “Research Plan” portion of the document included an assignment for the Nunn campaign’s research team to “produce a ‘pushback’ document for each identified vulnerability in Michelle’s record, as well as common attacks frequently leveled against Democratic Senate candidates.” The vulnerabilities were identified by the research firm NewPartners, which performed a review of Nunn’s record for the campaign and “pointed out several areas of potential concern in her record,” according to the document.

According to the ad’s narrator, “In her campaign plan, Michelle Nunn admits she’s too liberal and her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists.” But the document doesn’t “admit” to that. The “pushback research” was meant to prepare “responses to potential Republican attacks.” It didn’t say those attacks would be accurate.

“Nunn is too liberal” and “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” were listed in the campaign document as potential attacks on her biography. And “grants to problematic entities” was listed as a potential attack on her work for Points of Light, the volunteer group founded by former President George H.W. Bush and for which she has served as chief executive officer and president since 2007. (Nunn is currently on a leave of absence to run for the U.S. Senate.)

After the National Review published its story, Nunn campaign manager Jeff DiSantis released a statement saying, “This was a draft of a document that was written eight months ago. Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said.”

In fact, the Perdue ad’s claim that Nunn’s “foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists” is largely false.

The National Review reported that “[a]ccording to the IRS Form 990s that Points of Light filed between 2006 and 2011, the organization gave a grant of over $13,500 to Islamic Relief USA, a charity that says it strives to alleviate ‘hunger, illiteracy, and diseases worldwide.’ ” Islamic Relief USA falls under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide, which the National Review article said has ties to the terrorist organization Hamas.

But there are two issues with what the National Review reported.

First, the money that Islamic Relief USA received did not come directly from Points of Light funds. The organization, through its former MissionFish business unit, allowed individuals selling items on eBay to choose whether to donate proceeds from their sales to any of over 20,000 charities, including Islamic Relief USA. So, it was eBay sellers who gave $13,500 to Islamic Relief USA. Points of Light, by way of MissionFish, simply processed the donations.

In fact, Islamic Relief USA is also listed in the Office of Personnel Management’s Combined Federal Campaign catalog as an approved charity to which federal employees can donate through automatic payroll deductions.

Second, it is not clear whether Islamic Relief Worldwide has ties to Hamas. In a statement, the charity denied claims from Israel’s Minister of Defense that it had links to the terrorist group. In June, Israel banned Islamic Relief Worldwide from operating in Israel.

Islamic Relief Worldwide, June 19: On 19 June 2014 the Israeli Defence Minister declared Islamic Relief Worldwide an “unauthorised association” and added it to a list of organisations on the Ministry of Defence website, preventing us from operating in Israel and the West Bank and citing links with Hamas. Islamic Relief Worldwide is extremely surprised and concerned by this, and categorically denies any links with Hamas.

Even so, the donations were for the U.S.-based charity, not the worldwide organization based in the United Kingdom.

Islamic Relief USA, a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt charity founded in California in 1993, says that it “is an independent affiliate of Islamic Relief Worldwide and the Islamic Relief family of charities. We are completely separate legal entities that work together under the Islamic Relief Worldwide umbrella to provide aid.”

The charity also has longstanding ties to U.S. corporations and the U.S. government. Its corporate supporters include the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the GE Foundation, the Cisco Foundation, HP (Hewlett Packard) and Microsoft. And, on its website, Islamic Relief USA notes that it has “an excellent working relationship with the federal government,” including a partnership with the Department of Agriculture on a summer food service program that provides meals to needy children. Plus, Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA’s chief executive officer, served on the 2013 USAID Advisory Committee On Voluntary Foreign Aid.

Also, MissionFish, now known as the PayPal Giving Fund, says it “screens all nonprofits to make sure they are not involved in the promotion of terrorism, hate, racial intolerance, or illegal activities,” according to eBay.

– D’Angelo Gore

NEA Advocacy Fund http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/nea-advocacy-fund/ Fri, 12 Sep 2014 22:29:46 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88425 playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Liberal

Spending target: Unknown

The NEA Advocacy Fund is the super PAC of the National Education Association, the “nation’s largest professional employee organization.” The NEA describes itself as an “advocate for education professionals.”

The NEA created its super PAC in late 2010, and it has been active ever since in congressional and gubernatorial races. From the beginning, the NEA Advocacy Fund spent its money exclusively against Republican candidates and in support of Democrats.

The NEA Advocacy Fund spent $4.2 million in the 2010 election cycle in independent expenditures. All of it to defeat Republican Senate candidates. The super PAC focused on the Colorado and Washington races, spending nearly $1.9 million against Ken Buck in Colorado and $1.4 million against Dino Rossi in Washington. Both lost. The super PAC spent the $900,000 in losing causes against Pat Toomey and Rand Paul, both of whom won their races.

In the 2012 cycle, NEA Advocacy Fund nearly doubled its spending to $9.1 million, but only $1 million in independent expenditures. Half of that money was spent against a Republican House candidate, Richard Tisei of Massachusetts, who narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. John Tierney.

Gearing up for the 2014 election cycle, the NEA parent organization gave its super PAC $5.3 million in a few installments last year. As of mid-September, the Advocacy Fund had spent $3 million of that, all against Republicans in senatorial races, currently making it the ninth highest-spending super PAC in the cycle. Most of this money has been spent on the North Carolina, Arkansas, and Alaska Senate races — all considered “toss-ups” by RealClearPolitics. Of these races, the super PAC focused most of its attention (to the tune of $1.7 million) in North Carolina in the hope of preventing Republican Thom Tillis from taking Sen. Kay Hagan’s seat.

Fact-checking NEA Advocacy Fund

Tillis: An Education Budget Backer or Hacker?” Sept. 11, 2014

Sept. 12: Jobs, Education, NEA Advocacy Fund http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/sept-12-jobs-education-nea-advocacy-fund/ Fri, 12 Sep 2014 20:07:49 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88672
Tillis: Education Budget Backer or Hacker? http://www.factcheck.org/2014/09/tillis-an-education-budget-backer-or-hacker/ Thu, 11 Sep 2014 22:01:15 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=88298 A North Carolina public school teacher says in a TV ad that she tells her students to “start with facts,” but she begins attacking Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis with an exaggerated claim about Tillis’ education “cuts.”

In the NEA Advocacy Fund ad, the teacher says Tillis, while state House speaker, “cut $500 million from our budget.” That’s not true. We found total state education spending increased by more than $700 million from the 2012-13 school year to the 2014-15 school year, but it hasn’t kept pace with enrollment. If one factors in enrollment, education funding is $368 million less than what a state funding formula says it should be — but not $500 million.

The ad also leaves the false impression that the $500 million “cut” came from the K-12 public school budget. The actual $368 million funding gap is in the total education budget — including community colleges and universities. The two-year gap for K-12 schools is $121 million — not $500 million.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running a similar ad at the same time that features a mom with kids in grade school talking about the impact of the same cuts.

Voters in North Carolina are being bombarded with confusing and contradictory claims about Tillis’ record on education funding.

According to the NEA Advocacy Fund ad — and numerous attacks from inside and outside Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign — Tillis cut $500 million from North Carolina’s education budget.

Tillis, meanwhile, claims on his website that education funding is up $660 million since he was elected House speaker in 2011.

So is Tillis an education budget backer or hacker? Seems like a pretty straightforward question, right? Not necessarily. For starters, it depends on how one defines “education” — just K-12 public school funding, or also community college and university dollars — and how one defines “cuts.”

Let’s start with the version in the NEA Advocacy Fund ad featuring Vivian Connell, who teaches English as a Second Language at Chapel Hill High School. The National Education Association Advocacy Fund is a super PAC funded by the NEA, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.

“I always want my students to start with facts and the fact is, Thom Tillis is terrible for education in North Carolina,” Connell says. “He cut $500 million from our budget. His cuts go so deep, there are no longer enough textbooks to go around. Tillis even voted to increase class sizes — so kids don’t get the attention they need. The fact is: Thom Tillis hurts North Carolina students.”

Did Tillis “cut $500 million” from the education budget? As we often ask here at FactCheck.org: Compared with what?

Total education funding has gone up every year under Tillis’ House leadership in the state House of Representatives. But critics say it hasn’t kept pace with student enrollment growth.

Every year, the state puts out what it calls a ”continuation budget” — a budget prepared by the state’s Department of Public Instruction that projects the expense of keeping programs and salaries at current levels. The continuation budget accounts for such factors as student enrollment — including 10,000 new students this year — rising average teacher salaries and the changing cost of gasoline for buses.

In 2013, the continuation budget called for $23.6 billion in total education spending over two years (including K-12 public schools, community college and higher education). The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a budget that included $23.1 billion. In other words, the enacted budget fell nearly $482 million short of the two-year continuation budget — even as the state spending for education increased.

The state education budget grew in raw dollars — from $11 billion in 2012-2013 to nearly $11.8 billion in 2014-2015 — but just not as fast as deemed necessary to maintain the current level of service. Tillis voted for the 2013 biennial budget, which passed the House 65-53, and defended it on the floor. The budget also passed the Senate and was signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

So the NEA ad hinges on whether one considers the difference between those budgets as underfunding or cuts.

But even if one considers the difference between the continuation budget and the enacted budget to be a “cut” — even though in raw dollars the budget grew — the $500 million figure used in the ad is outdated and exaggerated. That’s because in 2014, Tillis supported a budget adjustment that added in more education funding in the second year. So the gap between the two-year continuation budget and the actual funding ended up being $368 million.

The ad also leaves the false impression that the $500 million cut is from the K-12 public education budget.

The ad shows Connell in what is clearly a grade-school classroom and mentions the effect of budget cuts on K-12 public school education, such as cuts to textbook funding and larger classroom sizes. But the $500 billion figure used in the ad includes funding for community colleges and universities.

The two-year combined difference between the continuation budget and the actual budgets enacted under Tillis was $121 million for K-12. That’s far less than the $500 million cited in the ad and by the Hagan campaign.

Another ad currently on the North Carolina airwaves, from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, makes an even more explicit attempt to link the $500 million figure to K-12 public education. It features a young mother talking about her two children — a son in kindergarten and a daughter in fourth grade — and displays text on the screen that says, “Cut Nearly $500 Million from Public Schools,” while showing a photo of a grade-school classroom. The DSCC is spending $9.1 million on ads attacking Tillis’ legislative record, including on education.

Tillis’ claim on his website about increasing education spending focuses solely on state funding for public schools (K-12). The state’s contribution rose from $7.15 billion in 2010-2011 to $7.81 billion for 2013-2014. That’s how the Tillis campaign backs up the claim that education funding is up by $660 million since he was elected House speaker. That’s an increase in spending, but it doesn’t mean schools haven’t felt the effects of slow growth.

Enacted budget increases haven’t kept pace with a rising student population, said Eric Moore, a fiscal analyst in North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction. In addition, he said, increased spending on benefits has cut into classroom spending.

Those are all concerns worthy of political debate, but as Connell says in the NEA ad, it’s best to “start with facts.” And in this case, the facts are being twisted. The NEA says it’s spending “north of seven-figures” to air the ad across 95 percent of the state, ending Sept. 12.

– Robert Farley