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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

$8 Million Worth Of Distortions

Two Bush ads full of misleading and false statements ran more than 9,000 times in 45 cities last week.


Two misleading Bush ads accusing Kerry of supporting tax increases on gasoline and middle-class parents were running heavily last week. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group of TNS Media Intelligence, which tracks TV ads in the top 100 markets, the two Bush ads accounted for nearly half of the estimated $16 million spent by Bush and the Republican National Committee during that week alone.

Both ads repeat claims we’ve repeatedly disputed here. They both attempt to portray Kerry as eager to raise taxes on middle-income taxpayers, which Kerry has said consistently he won’t do. One ad characterizes Kerry’s votes against proposed tax cuts as votes to “raise taxes,” an outright falsehood.


A Bush ad called “Thinking Mom” ran at saturation levels last week in 42 cities at an estimated cost of $2.5 million. A parallel ad called “Clockwork” ran even more heavily, in 44 cities at an estimated cost of  $5.4 million. Together the two ads aired 9,118 times on stations monitored by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG.

Two Ads, Several Distortions

Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad: “Thinking Mom”

Announcer: And we’ll be checking traffic on . . .

Woman: 5:30, gotta get groceries, we’re gonna be late.

Announcer: John Kerry and the liberals in Congress have voted to raise gas taxes ten times.

Woman: Ten times? Gas prices are high enough already.

Announcer: They’ve also raised taxes on senior’s Social Security benefits. And raised taxes on middle class parents 18 times. No relief there from the Marriage Penalty.

Woman: More taxes because I’m married? What were they thinking?

Announcer: . . . 350 times. Higher taxes from the liberals in Congress and John Kerry.

Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

 Bush Ad: “Clockwork”

Announcer: They voted to raise our gas taxes ten times. And raised taxes on Social Security benefits. Higher taxes on middle class parents 18 times. John Kerry and the liberals in Congress’s record on the economy:  higher taxes 350 times. An average of once every three weeks for 20 years. Like clockwork. John Kerry and the liberals in Congress on the economy. Troubling.

Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Both ads make statements about Kerry that are misleading or downright false on several counts:

Gasoline taxes: It’s false to say Kerry voted “to raise gas taxes ten times” as stated in the “Thinking Mom” ad. Even the Bush campaign’s own list of votes doesn’t back that up. There has been only one increase — more than a decade ago — when the federal gasoline tax went up just over four cents per gallon as part of Clinton’s 1993 package of tax increases and spending cuts.

The Bush campaign lists ten votes Kerry cast, five of them on the measure that resulted in that 1993 increase. Four others were against Republican proposals to repeal that same 4.3-cent increase after it was already in place — so it’s false to say those were votes to “raise” the tax. The same goes for the tenth vote, which was against temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent federal gasoline gas tax altogether during a spike in prices in 2000.

Social Security benefits: Kerry did vote to increase the amount of Social Security benefits subject to taxation, as stated in both ads, but  not for all seniors. That was also as a part of the 1993 Clinton economic package. The increase was only for those with over $44,000 a year for a married couple. That increase currently affects just over 8 million taxpayers, a fraction of the 47 million who get Social Security benefits. And all the proceeds from the increase go to shore up the Medicare Trust Fund, something the ad fails to mention.

Middle Class Parents: Another falsehood in the “Mom” ad is the claim that Kerry has “raised taxes on middle-class parents 18 times. No relief there from the marriage penalty.” It’s true Kerry often opposed Republican proposals in the past, usually on grounds that they granted more relief to upper-income taxpayers than he would like. And some of those proposals included giving married couples a break, as well as granting or increasing tax credits for dependent children. But those votes wouldn’t have resulted in raising taxes above what they were at the time.

Furthermore, during the Democratic primary contests Kerry fiercely defended keeping the so-called “marriage penalty” relief and increased child tax credits when other Democratic candidates would have repealed them along with the rest of Bush’s cuts. Kerry also would retain Bush’s lower rates for low- and middle-income taxpayers.

Kerry said consistently he wouldn’t raise taxes on anyone making less than $200,000 a year. In an interview on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer Kerry stated:

Kerry: I don’t want to roll back the marriage penalty, I don’t want to roll back the child-care [sic] credit, I don’t want to punish people who got a $300 break at the 10 percent and 15 percent (rate), so I don’t take that back.

That was more than a year ago — July 14, 2003 — and Kerry’s position hasn’t changed since.

The “Clockwork” ad falls short of an outright falsehood on this point. It says Kerry supported “higher taxes on middle class parents 18 times.” Bush officials argue that voting against a tax cut is voting for “higher” taxes — meaning higher than the alternative, not higher than people are actually paying. Still, we find the “Clockwork” ad to be misleading.

350 times: Both these ads repeat the misleading claim that Kerry has voted for “higher taxes” 350 times. See our original article from last March for details on why that’s wrong.



Watch Bush Ad: “Thinking Mom”

Watch Bush Ad: “Clockwork”



US Department of Health and Human Services, “2004 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds,” Table I.C1.-Medicare Data for Calendar Year 2003 Washington DC 24 March 2004: p3.

MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” transcript #7663, 2 July 2003.