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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Context Goes AWOL in Tennessee

A Corker ad omits relevant facts in attacking Ford's record on national security.


Tennessee Senate Candidate Bob Corker joined forces with the NRSC to produce an ad asking Tennessee voters who Democratic Representative Harold Ford, Jr. is “kidding” on national security.

The ad is correct as far as it goes. However it fails to mention Ford voted in favor of a compromise essential to the PATRIOT Act’s reauthorization and that the vote he cast to cut defense spending came well before 9/11 and the war on terror.


On Sept 8 an ad funded jointly by former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker’s Senate campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) was released on Tennessee television stations. It assails the voting record of Democratic Rep. and Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr.

NRSC & Corker Campaign Ad:
“Don’t be Fooled”

Harold Ford Jr. (From TV Ad): Because there’s nothing, nothing more important than our security.

Announcer: Who’s he kidding? Congressman Ford voted against reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, which protects us from terrorists. He voted to cut defense spending by over 16%. Just who does he think is going to provide our security? And get this, Congressman Ford even voted to let liberal judges release felons from jail because of overcrowding. Harold Ford. Ten years in Congress. Tennessee ’s most liberal member.

Bob Corker: I’m Bob Corker, and I’ve approved this message.

Voted to Cut Defense Funding?

It’s true, as the ad says, that Ford voted in favor of an amendment proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus that would have cut defense spending by over 16 percent for fiscal 2001, directing the additional funds to education and working class family safety net programs. What the announcer doesn’t tell us is that Ford cast the vote in March 2000, before the attack on the World Trade Center or the beginning of hostilities in Iraq; the date of the vote does appear in fine print at the bottom of the screen, where you can see it if you squint hard. Since 9/11, Ford has supported rapid increases in defense spending for the war and national security, voting, for example, in favor of the fiscal 2006 defense spending bill as well as the 2003 emergency supplemental funding bill.

The ad also doesn’t mention that on the same day that he voted for the amendment Corker cites, Ford voted in favor of an amendment that would have increased military spending, though only seven-tenths of a percent, which isn’t enough to keep up with inflation. Ford’s senior advisor for policy and communication, Tom Lee, told FactCheck.org that the Congressman believed “either budget resolution would have funded our military at a level appropriate at the time to provide for the defense of the nation, or he would not have voted for them.”

Voted Against Reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act?

Ford had two opportunities to vote directly on the bill reauthorizing the PATRIOT ACT, once on the House committee report and again on the conference report. The ad is correct as far as it goes since Ford voted against the legislation both times. However, in December 2005, after both of those votes, the reauthorization bill stalled in the Senate, hung up on a debate about civil liberties. As we have reported earlier, Republican Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire then introduced a separate bill containing civil liberties provisions on which both Democrats and Republicans could agree. Ford voted for the Sununu bill, without which, it seemed clear at the time, the PATRIOT Act would not have been renewed. After the Sununu measure passed the House and the Senate, the Senate approved the PATRIOT Act legislation. Due to a complex agreement struck by House and Senate leaders, the PATRIOT renewal was not returned to the House for another vote.  It was signed by the president on March 9, 2006.

  Voted to Release Felons from Jail?

The ad claims Ford “voted to let liberal judges release felons from jail because of overcrowding.”  The ad refers to a bill introduced in 1998 by then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas that  would have curtailed judges’ existing right to order the release of prisoners in state lock-ups. However, the Clinton Administration, in a statement of policy addressed to the House, claimed the bill “would raise serious constitutional concerns and dramatically increase litigation over prison conditions.” Ford, we note, did not vote to allow judges to release felons from jail, he voted against restricting their existing right to do so. While the bill passed in the House twice, once as a stand-alone bill and the second time attached to a larger Republican measure, it was never brought to the Senate floor.



Watch Corker/NRSC Ad: “Don’t Be Fooled”


CQ Staff.  “House Passes Limits on Judges’ Influence in State Prisons,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly.  23 May 1998.

“HR 3718 – Federal Court Jurisdiction Regarding Prison Release Orders,” Statement of Administration Policy.  White House Office of Management and Budget.  19 May 1998.

House of Representatives Vote No. 20, March 7, 2006.

House of Representatives Vote No. 627, Dec 14, 2005.

House of Representatives Vote No. 414, July 21, 2005

House of Representatives Vote No. 398, October 24, 2001.

House of Representatives Vote No. 163, May 19, 1998.

House of Representatives Vote No. 70, March 23, 2000.

House of Representatives Vote No. 72, March 23, 2000.