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Misleading Mailer in NJ

In New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district, Republican candidate Jon Runyan made an early attack on Democratic incumbent John Adler in a campaign flier he released June 1. The flier exaggerates when it says Adler “created” the state’s estate tax, and makes true, but misleading, claims about the congressman’s votes on taxpayer funding for needle exchange programs and the repeal of the state’s death penalty. The flier also provides no specific citations to backup any of its statements.

Campaign mailers and fliers are notorious for providing false and misleading claims, and voters should be especially wary of those that provide little or no support for their claims. Runyan’s campaign flier listed these broad sources: "Official Records from the NJ Office of Legislative Services, NJ State Senate, US House of Representatives & Cherry Hill Township, 1987-present." The campaign also failed for a week to respond to our repeated requests for supporting documentation.

In a section on taxes, the campaign flier claims that Adler “created a state ‘death tax,’ " referring to a tax imposed on inheritance. That’s an exaggeration. The state’s estate tax was created in 1892 — exactly 100 years before Adler began his service in the legislature. However, Adler did vote for legislation in 2002 that changed how the New Jersey estate tax was calculated. New Jersey’s tax structure was based on the federal estate tax law, which was phased out and ultimately repealed by 2010 — although it will return in 2011. The change in New Jersey estate tax law added no new taxes, but it allowed New Jersey to "effectively be ‘held harmless’ from results of the changes to the federal tax code." To be sure, New Jersey would have seen its estate tax revenue decline and then disappear entirely for one year, if the state law wasn’t changed. But that’s not the same as creating an estate tax.

In a section headlined “Took Radical Positions on Issues,” the Runyan campaign says Adler voted to “spend our tax dollars to give free hypodermic needles to drug addicts.” There is no question that Adler supports needle exchange programs. But Adler’s voting record is not as explicit on the funding of such programs as the flier suggests. As a state senator, Adler voted for the “Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act” in 2006, which allowed a limited number of municipalities to set up needle exchange programs, which allow drug addicts to trade dirty syringes for clean ones. Up until 2006, it was illegal in New Jersey to run needle exchange programs. The law also appropriated $10 million. However, none of that money went to the needle exchange programs. The money went for “inpatient and outpatient drug abuse treatment program slots and outreach,” the law says.

Roseanne Scotti of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, a private nonprofit, told us: “There is not one penny of New Jersey state money going to any of the five needle exchange programs. They are running on small grants from private organizations.” In Congress, Adler voted last year for a $730 billion omnibus spending bill in the House of Representatives that did not contain — unlike previous years — specific language banning the use of federal funds for state and local needle exchange programs. GOP Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana tried to keep the ban in place, but his amendment failed by a 211-218 vote. Adler voted against Souder’s amendment. The spending bill did not create a federal needle exchange program nor did it designate funds to be used for needle exchange programs. By only restricting the use of these funds in certain areas — for example, within 1,000 feet of a school — Congress made it possible for states to put federal aid toward these programs, if they so choose. So, while it’s true Adler’s vote lifted the ban, it did not directly give “free hypodermic needles to drug addicts.”

Another “radical position” cited in the mailer: Adler “voted to eliminate the death penalty for terrorists, cop killers and sexual predators who murder a child.” That’s misleading. While New Jersey hasn’t carried out an execution since 1963, it still permitted death sentences until the law was repealed in 2007. Adler voted in favor of the repeal while a member of the state Senate. It is true, as Runyan campaign consultant Chris Russell pointed out, that Adler voted to block consideration of an amendment that would have retained the death penalty for terrorists and those who kill corrections officers, law enforcement officers, and children under 14 years old who were also sexually assaulted. But Adler did not vote specifically to eliminate the death penalty only for “cop killers and sexual predators who murder a child,” which the flier says. Furthermore, terrorism is a federal crime and repealing the death penalty in New Jersey would have no effect on suspected terrorists or anyone else tried, convicted and sentenced in a federal court.

Correction, June 10: A week after our request to backup the claims made in this flier, Runyan campaign consultant Chris Russell got back to us with information on three of the claims we discuss here. As a result, we rewrote the article to include the votes on which Russell now says the claims were based. We also revised our judgment of the needle exchange claim, which we had previously characterized as false.

– by Joshua Goldman

Did you get campaign material in the mail (snail mail or e-mail) that you think may be wrong or misleading? E-mail it to us at editor@factcheck.org, fax it to us at 202-879-6707, or send it to us at FactCheck.org, Suite 320, National Press Building, Washington DC, 20045.