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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Anti-Reid Ad Distorts Truth on Stimulus, Unemployment

American Crossroads — a political committee headed by former Republican National Committee chairman Mike Duncan — once again attacks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in an ad released July 15. The new ad, titled "Really? Harry Reprise," falsely claims that Nevada received less stimulus money than all but one state.

It also misrepresents the state’s first-in-the-nation unemployment rate, making it seem worse than it is.

On stimulus funding, the ad says: "Recent data show Nevada ranks 50th in the money received from Harry’s stimulus bill." Recent data? The ad refers to a story that appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Feb. 23, 2009 — less than a week after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. The paper based the story on spending projections in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., not on actual spending.

ProPublica, an independent nonprofit that does investigative journalism, provides more recent state rankings. It places Nevada at 43 out of 50 states in receiving funds on a per capita basis. (It’s 43rd out of 51, counting the District of Columbia.) That’s still low.

But blaming Reid for Nevada’s share of the stimulus funding is difficult to do. A lot of the money is driven by formulas, such as additional funds for food stamps and Medicaid. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal article cited in the ad, Nevada “extends medical assistance to the smallest proportion of needy people of any state in the country.” Other stimulus spending was decided by competitive bidding, such as the Race to the Top education funds.

The ad correctly says that Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. But, as the announcer makes that point, viewers are shown these words: "joblessness . . . well over 20%." That’s false, and intended to make the state’s situation appear worse than it is.

As of May, the official unemployment rate in Nevada was 14 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ad refers to a May 21 story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that quotes unnamed experts saying that state’s unemployment rate is "likely well over 20 percent" counting persons who have stopped looking for jobs or those working part-time who want full-time jobs. These so-called "discouraged workers" and the "under-employed" are routinely tabulated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but have never been part of what economists and journalists refer to as the unemployment rate.

Both of these charges are designed to question Reid’s leadership and his ability to help Nevada. That’s a fair line of attack, especially since Reid is running a re-election campaign focused on his ability to deliver for Nevada as the Senate’s top Democratic. But the ad does not fairly use the facts — which are bad enough for the state of Nevada and, by extension, Harry Reid.

— by Joshua Goldman