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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Labor Falsely Attacks Lincoln. Again.

Two union groups are too slick in their claims about the Arkansas senator and oil companies.


New TV spots from two labor unions try to paint Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas as a slick politician who has done the bidding of big-business donors, such as oil companies. But the claims just don’t stick.

  • One ad claims Lincoln "helped George Bush and Dick Cheney give oil and gas companies over $14 billion in tax breaks." In fact, she voted with a Democratic majority for an energy bill that actually raised the tax burden on oil and gas companies.
  • Another ad claims Lincoln took "millions from big oil" and "millions from big banks." Both claims are false. She has received well under $1 million from each of those industries since she first ran for Congress 18 years ago.


Labor unions have been backing Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who garnered nearly as much voter support in the Democratic Senate primary as Lincoln, forcing a June 8 runoff between the candidates.

The Service Employees International Union continues to play fast and loose with its facts in this extended campaign. In an ad that first aired May 20, the SEIU’s Committee on Political Education says: "Remember when gas was $4 a gallon? What did Blanche Lincoln do? She helped George Bush and Dick Cheney give oil and gas companies over $14 billion in tax breaks." Two things about this are wrong: the timing and the extent to which oil and gas companies benefited from her votes.

[TET ]

SEIU TV ad: "Remember When?"

Announcer: Remember when gas hit $4 a gallon, what did Sen. Blanche Lincoln do? She helped George Bush and Dick Cheney give oil and gas companies over $14 billion in tax breaks. Maybe that’s why Lincoln received over half a million dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. So while ordinary people struggle to pay for gas, Big Oil companies made record profits, and Blanche Lincoln filled her campaign coffers. Isn’t it time Arkansas had a Senator who stands up for us? SEIU Cope is responsible for the content of this advertising.


Let’s take the bigger issue first: Did Lincoln, a Democrat, cross party lines to help the Republican president and vice president give $14 billion to oil and gas companies? As proof, the SEIU cites three votes: Lincoln’s votes on June 28 and July 29 in 2005 for the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and her July 31, 2003, vote for the Energy Policy Act of 2003. Indeed, Lincoln voted yes on all three bills — and so did a majority of Democrats. The 2003 bill passed 84-14, even winning the support of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Why? Because the vote was actually on a Democratic bill, not the Republican bill.

As the New York Times reported on Aug. 1, 2003, the Republicans who controlled the Senate were rushing to pass an energy bill before a month-long summer break and reluctantly agreed to pass the Democratic bill just to get a bill to the next step: a House-Senate conference committee.

New York Times, Aug. 1, 2003: Bogged down in an effort to pass a new energy bill, the Senate tonight hit on a novel solution: It took its energy bill from last year off the shelf and passed it again, throwing a fight over the nation’s energy policy into negotiations with the House. By re-approving the measure adopted on an 88-to-11 vote in April 2002, the chamber now controlled by Republicans gave its blessing to a measure written when Democrats were in power.

So, the SEIU can’t plausibly cite that vote as evidence Lincoln sided with Bush and Cheney. But how about the 2005 bill? That bill, backed by the Bush administration, also was approved with a Democratic majority — by a 85-12 vote in June and by a 74-26 vote in July — including with the support of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. In fact, those 2005 votes now being used against Lincoln were used against Obama during the 2008 primary. Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Obama of supporting "giveaways to the oil companies." At the time, we researched Clinton’s claim and found that the bill actually raised taxes slightly on the oil industry, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Congressional Research Service: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT05, P.L. 109-58) included several oil and gas tax incentives, providing about $2.6 billion of tax cuts for the oil and gas industry. In addition, EPACT05 provided for $2.9 billion of tax increases on the oil and gas industry, for a net tax increase on the industry of nearly $300 million over 11 years.

The 2005 bill, which cost an estimated $14.3 billion over 10 years, provided financial incentives not only for oil and gas, but billions for other forms of energy such as clean-coal technology, wind farms and nuclear power plants. There were even tax credits for hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes and other consumer items. A list of tax credits can be found on the IRS website. So, to claim that the bill gave away $14 billion to oil and gas companies is just wrong.

Secondly, the ad implies that Lincoln was engaged in this conspiracy with Republicans to help Big Oil at the same time that gas was $4 a gallon. But that’s not true. The votes SEIU cites occurred on June 26, 2005; July 29, 2005; and July 31, 2003. The national weekly average retail price of all conventional grades of gas was $2.22 per gallon on June 27, 2005, and $2.28 on July 25, 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration. It was even lower on July 28, 2003, when it was just $1.53. Gas didn’t reach an average of $4 nationally until June 9, 2008, when it was $4.03, according to the EIA.

After accusing Lincoln of siding with Republicans and helping Big Oil, SEIU suggests that she did so because of campaign contributions. The ad says of Lincoln’s vote: "Maybe that’s why Lincoln received over half a million dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. So, while ordinary people struggle to pay for gas, big oil companies made record profits and Blanche Lincoln filled her campaign coffers." It is true Lincoln received over half a million dollars from oil and gas companies in her career in Congress, which began when she successfully ran for the House of Representatives in 1992. The Center for Responsive Politics says she has received $558,375 over the course of her career from oil and gas interests. (Six other industries have given her more.) That’s not surprising, given she comes from an oil-producing state. And it is true that ExxonMobil had record profits in 2008, as the Washington Post reported at the time. But the SEIU has no evidence that her votes were influenced by the campaign contributions or that her votes produced record profits for oil companies.

‘Millions’ Malarkey

Another anti-Lincoln union ad — a minute-long spot from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — describes her as a Washington insider. It says in a graphic that Lincoln took "millions from special interests." Lincoln certainly has amassed millions in contributions from political action committees and the employees of various companies over the course of her 18-year U.S. congressional career. The on-screen graphics take the claim further, though, saying "Blanche Lincoln: millions from big banks … millions from big insurance … millions from big oil," citing the Center for Responsive Politics. But campaign contributions to Lincoln from each of those industries don’t come anywhere close to "millions," and AFSCME’s support makes that clear.

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AFSCME Ad: "Movers"

Announcer: When Blanche Lincoln moved her family full-time to Washington,
D.C., she quickly became part of the place. And that’s the problem. She was on the move all right — cozying up to the lobbyists, their big money and influence.

On-screen graphic: Lincoln took millions from special interests.

Announcer: Goldman Sachs and the other Wall Street Banks… the big insurance companies…like Blue Cross…The big oil insiders…BP, Texaco, Amoco…and the like.

On-screen graphic: Blanche Lincoln: millions from big banks; Blanche Lincoln: millions from big insurance; Blanche Lincoln: millions from big oil.

Announcer: She took their money, did their bidding, moved up. The Washington Way. She then voted to send OUR good-paying Arkansas jobs to places like China and Mexico.

On-screen graphic: 700 Fort Smith workers lose jobs

Announcer: Used OUR money to bail out her Wall Street buddies. The more Blanche Lincoln voted with the Washington insiders, the further she moved away from us. How far away? Just days ago, she couldn’t cast a ballot in
Arkansas ’cause she’d already asked to vote absentee … in Virginia. (Humph) Blanche Lincoln packed up and left us years ago. Maybe it’s time for Arkansas to send her packing…for good.

AFSCME is responsible for the content of this advertising.


Lincoln’s career contributions from oil and gas companies, as we just pointed out, total $558,375, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — well short of even 1 million, let alone millions, plural. (And it should be noted that the total includes money from companies’ political action committees and individuals who work for these businesses.) As for the insurance industry, that total is $607,083. The ad refers to health insurance companies, but this category would include all types of insurance. And "big banks"? Lincoln accepted only $439,337 from commercial banks. Even if we add in donations from "securities and investment" industries, the total is $1.2 million, still hundreds of thousands of dollars short of "millions," as the ad claims.

AFSCME sent us its support for the ad — and it doesn’t even attempt to back-up the "millions" claim. Instead, it lists contributions in the tens of thousands from employees of banks and health insurance companies. For the "millions from big oil" claim, AFSCME points out that "Lincoln received $1,000 from Michael McAdams, a BP employee, in 2002," adding that she received "at least $8,350 from employees of major oil & gas companies." Not only is that a mighty far cry from "millions," but we’re not sure voters would believe eight grand over 18 years could buy much influence in Washington.

Speaking of influence, the ad claims Lincoln "took [special interests’] money, did their bidding, moved up the Washington way." There’s nothing in AFSCME’s support to show Lincoln having any kind of cozy relationship with particular industries. Plus, the assertion ignores some recent actions by the senator that displeased the banking and insurance industries. On the financial regulation bill, Lincoln is responsible for a controversial provision that would require banks to create subsidiaries for part of their derivatives operations — a provision that the big banks are fighting against, (and that could be stripped out of the bill as House Democrats work out a compromise of their legislation and the Senate’s). As we previously wrote, Lincoln voted in favor of the health care bill — not a piece of legislation the insurance companies championed — and she cast a crucial deciding vote at that.

Finally, the ad takes a swipe at Lincoln for voting in favor of trade deals, including her 1993 vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement. It claims that Lincoln "voted to send our good-paying Arkansas jobs to places like China and Mexico," as a graphic pops up saying "700 Fort Smith Workers Lose Jobs."

Once again, even though it is an article of faith among many union members that NAFTA is responsible for massive job losses, several economic studies show NAFTA had a small effect — and possibly a positive one — on U.S. jobs overall. We’ve reported all that before.

The "700 Fort Smith Workers" is a reference to jobs that were lost at a Whirlpool factory in Fort Smith, Ark. But there’s no concrete proof that those jobs were directly affected by NAFTA. It’s true that the company announced in 2003 that it would shift some jobs from the Arkansas plant to a new facility in Mexico, and that a planned expansion to boost employment by 700 positions would be scaled back. In 2004, the company shifted 80 open positions to a subcontractor in China. It’s unclear exactly how many jobs ultimately were transferred to the Mexico plant, but the Arkansas facility has gone from about 4,500 workers in 2003 to about 1,900 today, according to reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Associated Press. The AFSCME ad offers no proof that Whirlpool took these steps because of NAFTA — it’s possible the jobs could have been lost to Mexico even if the trade agreement were never passed.

— by Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely


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