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Anti-Kerry Ad Highlights Changes On Welfare, Death Penalty

Club for Growth PAC ad also recycles some misleading tax claims we've de-bunked before.


A Club for Growth PAC TV ad released July 26 accurately cites Kerry’s changing positions over the years on welfare reform, the death penalty for terrorists, and gasoline taxes.

But it also falsely implies that he’s voted to raise taxes 350 times, a claim we’ve de-bunked before.

And the ad’s main conclusion — that Kerry “has a big problem making up his mind” — is a matter of opinion, not fact. We provide some additional information to help voters put Kerry’s changing positions in context.


The Club for Growth, a Republican-leaning, anti-tax group, said it would spend $1 million on this ad, running it in Boston during the convention and in several Midwestern states afterward. It portrays Kerry as a weathervane, indecisive and “blowing in the wind.”

Club for Growth Ad:
“Blowing in the Wind”

Announcer: John Kerry has a little problem making up his mind. Okay, a big problem.

In 1996 he opposed the death penalty for terrorists. Now he claims to support it. Sometimes he’s for welfare reform, sometimes against it. For a 50-cent gas tax hike, then maybe not. Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times, but now says he’d cut taxes.

John Kerry – blowing in the wind.

Club for Growth PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Death Penalty for Terrorists

It’s true, as the ad states, that Kerry  once opposed the death penalty for terrorists and now supports it. He’s long been an opponent of the death penalty in general. In 1989, he was among a small minority of senators who voted against a bill (S. 1798) to impose the death penalty “for the terrorist murder of United States nationals abroad.” The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 79-20. (Kerry voted for an amendment (S. Amdt. 1068) to the bill that would have imposed life imprisonment without parole for the same crime, in preference to the death penalty. The amendment failed by a 20-79 vote.)

The ad also gets it right when it says Kerry still opposed the policy seven years later in 1996. During a Sept. 16, 1996 Senate campaign debate between Kerry and then-Massachusetts Governor William Weld, Kerry said anti-death penalty countries wouldn’t allow the U.S. to extradite suspected terrorists who could be put to death. As quoted by the Boston Globe:

Kerry: Your policy (the death penalty) would amount to a terrorist protection policy. Mine would put them in jail.

That, of course, was long before September 11, 2001. Kerry now supports the death penalty for terrorists:

Kerry: We are talking about people who have declared war on our nation, and just as I was prepared to kill people personally and collectively in Vietnam…I support killing people who declare war on our country .

So Kerry’s position did change — though he still opposes the death penalty in  other cases. Was Kerry simply “blowing in the wind” of public outrage? His explanation is that he responded to changed facts, not changed public opinion. He told the Boston Globe on Dec. 18, 2002 that anti-death penalty countries would be more willing to turn over terrorists after the 9/11 attacks: “I think 9/11 has changed the capacity for extradition.”

The Club for Growth accurately cites two differing votes by Kerry on welfare-related bills. Kerry has an explanation for that as well.

Both bills emphasized work requirements for welfare beneficiaries. Kerry joined most other Democrats when he voted on June 22, 1993 to table – or kill – an amendment (S. Amdt 489) requiring states to ensure that at least 10 percent of welfare beneficiaries participate in a work program, with a two percent increase each year, or suffer cuts in federal funding. The tabling measure failed 34-64. The so-called “workfare” amendment went on to pass by a voice vote on the same day, but died in the House-Senate conference.

Three years later, on Aug. 1, 1996 Kerry voted FOR a broad-based welfare bill (H.R. 3734) that included cutting benefits for recipients after two years if they didn’t work and setting a five-year lifetime cap on welfare eligibility. The bill passed with a bipartisan majority of 78-21. This time most Democrats supported the measure, and President Clinton signed it into law.

Why the change? Mike Gehrke, a Kerry aide, told FactCheck.org that Kerry voted against the 1993 bill primarily because it didn’t include funding for childcare or other services to help single mothers get back to work. The comprehensive 1996 bill included billions of dollars for childcare.

The Gas Tax

It’s true that Kerry once voiced support for a 50-cent gas tax and no longer does. As we previously reported, the only evidence that Kerry ever supported such a tax comes from two newspaper articles from ten years ago. In fact, Kerry never voted for a gas-tax bill in the Senate, and he didn’t co-sponsor a 1993 bill to raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon each year for five years. So yes, Kerry went from fleeting, weak support for a gas tax to none at all.

“Higher Taxes” 350 Times? Wrong

As we already reported, the ad’s claim that Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is misleading. It is simply false to imply that Kerry has voted that many times to raise taxes above prevailing levels. The Club for Growth is recycling a figure generated by the Bush-Cheney campaign. And as a Bush-Cheney campaign official cautioned when we asked for documentation: “It is important to note that these are votes for higher taxes, not necessarily tax increases, meaning it includes votes against tax cuts.” (emphasis added). Most of the 350 votes the Bush campaign lists are actually votes to keep taxes the same, and against proposed cuts. Some of the 350 votes are actually votes to cut taxes, but because they were votes for Democratic alternatives to Republican-sponsored tax-cut bills, the Bush camp counts them as votes for “higher” taxes — meaning higher than they would have been had he voted the other way.

There is no question, however, that Kerry has voted to increase taxes in the past. He currently supports raising taxes on persons making over $200,000 a year by repealing Bush’s cuts for individuals at that income level. On that issue Kerry isn’t “blowing in the wind” at all — he’s steadfastly against the Club for Growth’s agenda of making those tax cuts permanent.



Watch Club for Growth Ad: “Blowing in the Wind”


S. Amdt 489 to H.R. 2118, Proposed 22 June 1993.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 103rd Congress – 1st Session, S. Amdt 489, Vote #163, 22 June 1993.

U.S. Senate, 104th Congress, 2nd Session H.R. 3734, Proposed 27 June 1996.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 104th Congress – 2nd Session, H.R. 3734, Vote #262, 1 Aug. 1996.

Francis X. Clines, “Clinton Signs Bill Cutting Welfare; States in New Role,” New York Times, 23 Aug. 1996.

U.S. Senate, 101st Congress, 1st Session S. 1798, Proposed 25 Oct. 1989.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 101st Congress – 1st Session, S. 1798, Vote #275, 26 Oct. 1989.

S. Amdt 1068 to S. 1798, Proposed 26 Oct. 1989.

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, 101st Congress – 1st Session, S. Amdt 1068, Vote #274, 26 Oct. 1989.

Jeff Jacoby, “John Kerry’s Shifting Stands,” Boston Globe, 12 Feb. 2004.

Anne E. Kornblut, “Kerry Traces His Shift on the Death Penalty,” Boston Globe, 18 December 2002.

“Kerry Campaign Responds to Club for Growth—Latest Misleading Ad From Bush’s Misleading Allies,” 26 July 2004.

Jill Zuckman, “Deficit-Watch Group Gives High Marks to 7 N.E. Lawmakers,” Boston Globe, 1 March 1994.

George W. Bush “President Bush Energizes Florida Supporters at First Rally of the 2004 Campaign” Transcript of Campaign Speech at Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida 20 March 2004.