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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Misleading Attack on Binnie in N.H. Senate Race

An attack ad goes too far when accusing GOP Senate candidate Bill Binnie in New Hampshire of supporting abortion rights "to avoid the expense of disabled children," and claiming Binnie is "excited about imposing gay marriage" on the state. These and other charges in the ad are rooted in true statements, but taken out of context.

Pro-choice to Avoid ‘Expense of Disabled Children’?

The ad is sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, in cooperation with Cornerstone Action, a group that says it is "dedicated to the preservation of strong families" and limited government. The ad first aired Aug. 3. It describes Binnie, a businessman, as "shockingly liberal," beginning with his position as a supporter of abortion rights.

As the words “I’m pro-choice” flash across the screen, a voiceover claims that Binnie “supports abortion to avoid the expense of disabled children.” It is a shocking statement that requires some context.

The ad cites a YouTube video of Binnie speaking to a small crowd in Hillsborough County, N.H., on Jan. 16. Binnie tells the group that he is “pro-choice,” and explains how he came to that position. Binnie told the audience that a false positive amniocentesis test led Binnie and his wife to believe that they were going to have a special needs child. Although the child was born healthy, Binnie said the experience made him a supporter of abortion rights.

Binnie, Jan. 16: I don’t tell this story publicly as a rule. I’ll tell it now. It’s a small group. I’m pro-choice because we had a positive amniocentesis test. We were going to have a special needs child. … One of the things that happens when you realize you’re going to have a special needs child is that they sit you down and you learn [how] it impacts the other children in your family. Who’s going to take care of that child? … Now in my wife’s case, in my case, we could afford it and I thought about it and we had that child… [But] it made me come to that other intersection of what matters. I’m pro-choice. I think that a woman and a family need to have that decision to themselves, and that the government has no place in that decision.

Binnie does mention that he and his wife "could afford" a special needs child and that was a factor in their decision to go ahead and have the child. But  his larger point is this: He opposed abortion until he and his wife were faced with this decision. He and his wife weighed such factors as the impact it would have on their other children and who would care for the special needs child in adulthood. When faced with such a personal choice, he was glad that he and his wife had the legal right to make that decision — concluding that "government has no place in that decision."

It’s a conclusion that others oppose, believing that the fetus has the right to be protected. That’s fair. But to say he "supports abortion to avoid the expense of disable children" isn’t fair. It goes beyond what he said. He never said that poor families should have the choice to abort a special needs child to avoid the expense; he said all families should have the choice to make personal family decisions.

Views on Gay Marriage

Next, the ad claims that Binnie is “excited about imposing gay marriage on New Hampshire,” citing a Concord Monitor article from Nov. 5, 2009. We found this claim to be exaggerated.

The claim refers to a statement that Binnie’s spokesman made after New Hampshire passed a law to allow gay marriages. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2010, permits gay couples to enter into a civil marriage, but also offers legal protections to churches and clergy members who choose not to perform same-sex marriages. According to the article, Binnie offered conflicting statements about the law:

Concord Monitor, Nov. 5, 2009: When the Monitor asked him about his views on gay marriage, which New Hampshire passed into law this year, Binnie offered two seemingly contradictory statements. "Marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman," Binnie said. "The laws of New Hampshire as they exist today are appropriate."

Asked by another reporter to explain the contradiction, Binnie responded that there is a difference between a civil union and being able to marry in a church. "A church should have the right to say who should be married under scripture," Binnie said.

Asked to clarify Binnie’s position on gay marriage, spokesman Colin Maynard told the Monitor that Binnie was "excited [the law] chose to give an option for gay couples to identify themselves as married within the law, but also having an opt-out for churches." He emphasized that Binnie supports the new law because it "allows churches to do what they are comfortable with."

Binnie clearly supports the right of same-sex couples to enter into a civil union, and perhaps even to marry, as long as religious groups are not forced to perform the ceremonies. (We say "perhaps even to marry" because Binnie really isn’t clear on that. His website says that a marriage "should be between a man and a woman," as he told the Monitor.) But it is a stretch to say that Binnie is "excited" about "imposing" gay marriage on the state. Despite the murky quote from his spokesman, Binnie himself hasn’t said clearly whether or not he even supports same-sex marriages, much less that he’s "excited" about legalizing them.

‘European-style Value-Added Tax’

The spot accuses Binnie of saying that he was open to imposing a "European-style value-added tax on working families." It is true that Binnie has said he would consider looking into new ways to simplify the existing federal income tax code. He mentioned the value-added tax as a possibility. But he makes clear that this would be a replacement for the current system — not an additional new tax. And the VAT — if it ever happened — wouldn’t just be on "working families," but on all consumers.

The ad cites a YouTube video posted on May 20 in which Binnie is speaking in Windham, N.H. In response to a question about how to get Americans to pay income taxes, Binnie said that he is in favor of "dramatically simplifying the tax system" through exploring several options, including "a fair tax" — a broad national consumption tax on retail sales — and "a value-added tax."

A value-added tax, or VAT, is a tax on the estimated market value added to a product at each stage of the manufacturing process. Because it touches every transaction, a VAT is very efficient at raising money. The Congressional Research Service estimated in a 2009 report that for calendar year 2005, a broad-based VAT would have raised an estimated $50 billion for each 1 percent levied.

In the video, Binnie doesn’t mention the European Union or how he would like to see such a tax structured. The European Union’s VAT Directive does not set out the rates of VAT to be applied in member states, only a minimum rate of 15 percent fixed until Dec. 31, 2010. This means that VAT rates differ widely across Europe, although most countries apply a standard rate of between 15 percent and 25 percent.

Shockingly Liberal?

Finally, the ad makes two misleading claims that align Binnie with the Democrats. It accuses Binnie of supporting some elements of the new federal health care law, as well as voicing his dislike of the Republican Party itself. We found both claims to be technically true, but taken out of context.

In one spot, a voice accuses Binnie of praising "key elements of Obama’s health care bill," while the words "saw elements [of Obamacare] that he liked” appear on the screen. The ad cites an article in the National Journal‘s blog, Hotline On Call. Binnie did praise some aspects of the bill, but the ad misleads the viewer to think that Binnie supports the bill as a whole. In fact, the article says that Binnie has said he would work on legislation to repeal the law and replace it with a more affordable bill. It also says Binnie would not have voted for the health care bill, although he saw "elements that he liked," such as insurance exchanges — a marketplace created by states to allow consumers to comparison shop for the best plans and cheapest rates.

In its final attack, the ad claims that Binnie said he doesn’t like the Republican Party. It cites a Chicago Tribune article that appeared on Nov. 7, 2003. We found this claim to be true, although the ad doesn’t disclose the full context of the quote. At the time, Binnie was a commercial real estate agent simply weighing in on the 2004 New Hampshire GOP primary. In the article, he said that he views himself as an independent, because there are aspects of both parties that he doesn’t like.

Binnie: I don’t like the Republican Party because I’m pro-choice. I don’t like the Democratic Party because I think they waste and squander our resources and get sucked into class warfare all the time, which I find reprehensible. That’s why I find myself sitting and straddling the fence.

So, while it is true that Binnie said he doesn’t "like the Republican Party," he also said that he doesn’t "like the Democratic Party," either.

— Lara Seligman