Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Accusations Fly in Senate Squeakers

Misleading charges abound in Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee.


Voters in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia – three states where polls have shown the Senate candidates to be neck-and-neck – have been particularly swamped with ads.

A Tennessee ad falsely implies tax dodging on the part of Republican Bob Corker, while Republicans leave out context while accusing Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. of condoning President Clinton’s pardon of 16 individuals associated with a 1970’s Puerto Rican terrorist group. In Missouri, Republicans accuse Democrat Claire McCaskill of failing to act against a nursing-home rape when she had no authority to do so. And Democrats accuse Republican Sen. Jim Talent of favoring tax incentives for shipping jobs overseas, when Missouri has actually gained jobs. In Virginia, Republicans quote Democrat Jim Webb out of context regarding an old Navy sex-harassment scandal, and a Democratic ad falsely implies that Republican Sen. George Allen opposed all stem-cell research.


On Nov. 4, The Washington Post reported that political analysts on both the right and the left “agreed that Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee are the keys to controlling the 100-member Senate.” We look at ads on both sides. Some pay about as much attention to the truth as the candidates pay to voters from the Lesser Antilles.


In Tennessee, the Corker campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign committee sparred with misleading attacks.

Corker the Tax Dodger?

“Tax Free”

Announcer: Bob Corker makes the system work. For himself. He admits there have been years when he paid no taxes at all. Not surprising Corker won’t release his taxes, but he’s seen our go up. First, Corker was Don Sundquist’s Finance Commissioner, then came Sundquist’s plan to raise income taxes. Then Mayor Corker raised property taxes 24%. Bob Corker, taxing Tennessee after he went tax free.

An Oct. 25 DSCC ad claims Corker, “admits there have been years when he paid no taxes at all” and that it’s “not surprising Corker won’t release his taxes.” In fact, as we stated in an earlier report when this deceptive line of attack was first used by one of Corker’s Republican primary opponents, there’s no evidence that Corker illegally evaded taxes, cut any ethical corners or paid one dime less than he owed. And while Corker hasn’t made a general public release of his income-tax returns, he has allowed reporters to review copies of the basic returns.

The reason Corker “paid no taxes” in some years is that he didn’t owe any. Those were years he could claim sizeable, legal deductions resulting from his real-estate ventures. According to a Sept 29 report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which the ad cites, “Corker owed no taxes in 1985, writing off all of his $326,700 in income, and also in 1989, when he generated $344,600 in income.” And as we noted before, in those years Corker voluntarily paid the IRS several thousand dollars which he earmarked for reducing the national debt.

The claim that Corker “won’t release his taxes” is not exactly true. The fact is Corker has made 29 years worth of his basic IRS Form 1040s available to Tennessee reporters for review, though he hasn’t allowed the documents to be copied and distributed. He has also withheld the schedules to those tax returns, which cover such things as details of his capital gains and losses and specific business expenses for which he claimed deductions.

On another matter, the ad also claims “Corker was Don Sundquist’s Finance Commissioner, then came Sundquist’s plan to raise income taxes.” It’s true that then-Tennessee Governor Sundquist proposed to raise Tennessee income taxes, but that was three years after Corker left the finance commissioner post.

Ford & Terrorist Pardons

Corker for Senate Ad : “Terrorism”

Announcer : Harold Ford, Jr. tough on terrorism? When Bill Clinton pardoned 16 members of a terrorist group, responsible for 150 bombings and 6 US deaths, the Director of the FBI, Mayor Giuliani and the Tennessee Congressional delegation all opposed the pardons. Well, all but one. Guess who? Harold Ford, Jr. That’s the real Harold Ford, Jr.

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

An ad aired by the Corker campaign on Nov. 1, accuses Ford of not opposing President Clinton’s pardon of “sixteen members of a terrorist group, responsible for 150 bombings and six US deaths.” In truth, none of the 16 pardoned members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) had been involved in any killings, which dated back to the 1970’s and early 1980’s. As The Associated Press reported at the time of the pardons:

AP: The 16 people offered clemency were associated with mostly FALN members , but were neither involved in any killings nor convicted in the bombings. They were found guilty of seditious conspiracy or possessions of weapons and explosives and were sentenced up to 90 years.

It’s true Ford was the only member of his delegation who voted “present” when the House considered a symbolic “sense of the Congress” resolution Sept. 9, 1999, condemning the pardons. All House Republicans supported it, while a total of 71 House Democrats abstained by voting “present.” At the time The AP quoted Ford as saying, “I voted present because it would have been like rebuking the Constitution. . . This was obviously just an effort to embarrass the President.”


In Missouri the DSCC and the Republican National Committee have been running competing ads against incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill.

“Her Mansion”

Announcer: It’s a new low, even for Claire McCaskill — exploiting the medical tragedy of others just to get votes. But when rape, poor care, even wrongful death were going on in her current husband’s nursing homes — nursing homes she pledged to sanction — where was she? And the profit from the family’s nursing homes? She used it to try to buy an election and build her mansion. McCaskill talks big about health care and seniors, but her record is painful.

Bought an Election?

An Oct 31 RNC ad attacking McCaskill claims McCaskill used “profit from the family’s nursing homes” to “try to buy an election.” Loose wording like that could lead some to think McCaskill was being accused of election fraud, which isn’t the case. In 2002 McCaskill married Joseph Shepard, a real-estate developer who co-owned and operated six nursing homes at the time, according to Missouri’s Columbia Daily Tribune. The ad refers to a $1.6 million campaign loan she took from their family assets towards her 2004 campaign for governor. It was perfectly legal.

The ad also implies that McCaskill, a state auditor, failed to act when “rape, poor care, even wrongful death were going on in her current husband’s nursing homes.”

It’s true that a rape occurred in one of Shepard’s six nursing homes, according to a March 2002 report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Shepard is also among those named in a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death in an apartment complex for the elderly (not a “nursing home”) managed by a company in which he is a general partner.

However, McCaskill had no authority as auditor to sanction individual nursing homes. Her job was to examine how well state agencies did their work, and her audits brought to light numerous errors and instances of mismanagement on the part of state nursing-home investigators. She said her husband’s nursing homes “should be sanctioned just like any others if the care is not what it should be,” according to a 2002 AP report.

Helping Ship Jobs Overseas?

“Actually Done”

Talent: A big part of what I do is to try to get things actually done.

Announcer: But Jim Talent’s record tells a different story. Talent voted for tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas. It makes no sense. We’ve lost over sixty thousand manufacturing jobs and Talent’s helping to ship jobs out of the country. He calls that standing up for Missouri values. Is that what you call it? Isn’t it time for a change?

An Oct. 28 DSCC ad claims that Talent “voted for tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas,” and adds that Missouri has lost 60,000 manufacturing jobs. While it’s true Talent voted against an amendment that called for repeal of tax subsidies for companies that move their operations overseas, the ad fails to paint a full picture.

For one thing, Missouri has gained jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri has lost  59,800 manufacturing jobs between Dec 2000 and Sept. 2006, but gains in other job categories have more than offset that. Overall, the state has gained 35,930 jobs during the same period.

Furthermore, the amendment Talent opposed would not actually have repealed a single dollar of tax breaks. It was an amendment offered to a budget resolution (number 210) and simply set a goal for Congress to “to repeal the tax subsidy for certain domestic companies which move manufacturing operations and American jobs.” Actually accomplishing such a feat is not so simple as it may sound. As we reported in 2004, the tax incentives for locating new plants overseas has been a feature of the federal corporate income tax since its inception, and flows mainly from the fact that the US taxes corporations at much higher rates that many other nations. In any case, removing the tax benefit would do little to keep US jobs at home. Economists say lower wages and proximity to overseas markets are much more powerful incentives than taxes to locate plants in other countries.


The NRSC’s ad “Right for 1806,” strafes Democrat Jim Webb for comments about the 1991 Tailhook scandal and for his works of fiction. Meanwhile the DSCC has been attacking the incumbent Republican, George Allen, for hewing close to Bush’s legislative goals.

Webb & Women

NRSC Ad: “Right for 1806”

Announcer: When we first heard of Jim Webb, he sounded too good to be true. He was. Webb called the Tailhook Scandal a ‘feminist plot’ ‘a witch hunt.’ His writing routinely stereotype women as promiscuous objects. And arrogantly and outrageously, Webb refuses to be ashamed of what he’s written. Jim Webb, right for 06, 1806. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is responsible for the content of this ad.

The NRSC ad says Webb referred to Tailhook – in which 83 women and 7 men reported being assaulted or sexually harassed at a wild party for Navy aviators, according to a Pentagon report – as a “feminist plot” and a “witch hunt.” But there’s more to it than that.

Webb did describe the official investigation of the affair as a “witch hunt” in an Oct. 6, 1992 article in The New York Times  headlined “Witch Hunt in the Navy.” But he also called the treatment of the women at the convention “inexcusable harassment.”

Webb was upset that the investigation had dragged out more than a year and had ended the careers of some officers who hadn’t even been at the event. Here’s what he wrote:

Webb: The Tailhook scandal has been “spun up,” to borrow a service phrase, into a crisis that affects the Navy leadership’s credibility on a wide range of issues. A botched internal investigation and the ongoing revelations of inexcusable harassment of women at a Las Vegas convention of naval aviators a year ago have also left in their wake a witch hunt that threatens to swamp the entire naval service.

Careers have been ruined, often on the basis of mere innuendo and without a shred of due process. And on Sept. 25 Acting Navy Secretary Sean O’Keefe made a series of sweeping decisions – and one altogether remarkable pronouncement – guaranteeing that the effects of this scandal will reverberate for years.

The ad also says that Webb called Tailhook “a feminist plot.” But in fact, there’s no record of Webb ever using the phrase “feminist plot” or anything vaguely like it to describe Tailhook. He did say that Tailhook had been “seized upon and used by feminists to attack the military culture.” Here’s the full quote from his piece “The War on the Military Culture” in The Weekly Standard on Jan. 20, 1997:

Webb: Events such as the 1991 Tailhook debacle have been seized upon and used by feminists to attack the military culture and bring about major concessions.

Saying that feminists have “used” Tailhook is a very different thing than saying the scandal itself was a “plot.”

The ad also says Webb’s novels “routinely stereotype women as promiscuous objects.” He’s written six novels, and whether or not any of them “stereotype” women is a matter on which opinions may differ. The books do include sex scenes. The ad shows excerpts but obliterates the passages with the word “Censored.”

Mr. 96 Percent?

“Siding With”

Announcer: What does it mean that George Allen sides with George Bush 96% of the time? It means Allen voted against stem cell research that could provide life saving cures. Allen opposed letting women take unpaid leave after the birth of a child. And 96% means Allen is one of the biggest supporters of Bush’s ‘Stay the Course’ strategy in Iraq. What dose Allen siding 96% with Bush mean? It means he’s not siding with you.

A DSCC ad dating from Oct. 31 announces that Allen voted with George Bush 96 percent of the time. According to Congressional Quarterly, Allen did vote with Bush 96 percent of the time in 2005, the last full year for which data is available; his rate for 2006 so far is 90 percent.

Allen didn’t vote against all stem cell research, however, as one might conclude from the ad. In July he voted against expanded federal support for  embryonic stem cell research, a crucial distinction in this debate. President Bush eventually vetoed the measure.

Allen did, on the other hand, vote against the Family and Medical Leave Act, as the ad says, when he was in the House – twice in September 2002, in fact. He voted against it once when the House passed it 241-161, and again when the House failed to get a two-thirds majority to override the veto of then-President George H.W. Bush, 258-169. Has he supported Bush’s “stay-the-course strategy” in Iraq? Yes, until recently, when he began saying that “progress has been too slow” and “We can’t keep doing things the same way.”


Watch DSCC Ad: “Tax Free”

Watch Corker Campaign Ad: “Terrorism”

Watch RNC Ad: “Her Mansion”

Watch DSCC Ad: “Actually Done”

Watch NRSC Ad: “Right for 1806”

Watch DSCC Ad: “Siding With”


Locker, Richard.  “Sundquist Hints At 4% State Income Tax Plan: Rules Out Lotter In Special Session,” The Commercial Appeal (Memphis). 26 Oct 1999.

“Sales Tax Urged on Now-Exempt Services,” The Associated Press. 6 Nov 1997.

Young, Virginia.  “A campaign of contrasts for Missouri Challenger is known for her zest and her freewheeling style,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 1 Oct 2006.

Ganey, Terry. “Attack ads intensify Senate race: Negative tactics suggest tenor of desperation in Talent campaign,” The Columbia Daily Tribune. 31 Oct 2006.

“Frist, GOP Attack Ford being only Tennessean not to denounce Clinton,” Associated Press.  17 Sep 1999.

Babington, Charles and Jonathan Weisman. “Anxious GOP Focuses on Not Losing Senate: Tight Races in VA., Mo. and Tenn. Seen as Crucial; House Outlook remains Grim,” The Washington Post. 4 Nov 2006.

Perrusquia, Marc. “Corker’s tax details a mystery; Releases basic forms, but won’t disclose accompanying records,” The Commercial Appeal. 29 Sept 2006.

“Frist, GOP attack Ford being only Tennessean not to denounce Clinton,” The Associated Press.  17 Sept 1999.

Young, Virginia. “Governor criticizes rival and her husband,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 31 July 2004.

Young, Virginia. “Magazine Rates 28 Nursing Homes In Area As Substandard; Consumer Reports Used State Inspection Records For Its ‘Watch List,'” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 24 Mar 2002.

O’Connor, Phillip. “Residents Sue Over Deaths At Apartments in Berkeley,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  28 Jul 2001.

“McCaskill: Husband will stop seeking state aid for businesses,” The Associated Press. 27 Oct 2006.

“Freed activist vows to fight for Puerto Rico in ‘humane’ way,” The Associated Press. 20 Sept 1999.

“State auditor says marrying mursing home businessman won’t slow her reform-seeking,” The Associated Press.  11 Feb 2002.

West, Paul. “An Ugly, Unexpected Senate Race in VA,” The Baltimore Sun. 3 Nov. 2006.

“Hollow Assurances on Progress in Iraq,” The Virginian-Pilot. 6 June 2006.

James Webb, “Witch Hunt in the Navy,” The New York Times. 6 Oct 1992.