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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

This week, we resolve two disputes about who said what, and find that a government report cited as support for a charge about ineffective government programs is nonexistent.

NBC’s "Meet the Press" hosted a debate between Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and the Republican who is trying to unseat him, tea party favorite Ken Buck. We’re reviewing their exchange, and, if we find they have their facts wrong, we’ll post a piece on Tuesday.

Did He Say That? Yes, He Did.

On CBS’ "Face the Nation," former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean denied that he ever said the Republicans "created a monster" by encouraging tea party activists.

Host Bob Schieffer: Howard Dean, let me ask you, Bill Galston just brought up the tea party. What do you make of the tea party? I think I saw somewhere, where you said the other day that Republicans have — have created a monster.

Howard Dean: I didn’t say that. Somebody did say that. I don’t think it is a monster.

Sorry, Howard, you did say that.

Dean made those comments on Oct. 5 on MSNBC’s "The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell." Politico posted a story and a video about Dean’s remarks under the headline, "Howard Dean: GOP has ‘created a monster.’ "

An MSNBC transcript shows exactly what Dean said:

Dean, Oct. 5: You know, it‘s an interesting thing. The Republicans, actually, are incredibly good on opposition because they‘re so ideological and they have a good, simple disciplined message. Unfortunately, those exact traits make them terrible at governing as we saw for eight years when President Bush was in office.

But what they‘ve done is essentially created a monster. Their rhetoric has been so uncompromising, so inaccurate, so ludicrous, that they have created—they‘ve given permission for this wing of the Republican Party, which is now—this is a tea party group, to say outrageous things. And for the mainstream voter, it is frightening to see that.

Did He Say That? No, He Didn’t.

Also on "Face the Nation," Republican strategist Liz Cheney and Dean disagreed over whether President Barack Obama unequivocally said that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using money from foreign corporations to fund TV ads against Democrats. Cheney insisted Obama did say that; Dean insisted he didn’t.

Liz Cheney: Governor Dean, look. If — if the president of the United States is going to stand up and make a charge, you can try to throw spaghetti here and see what sticks and hits. The president said there is foreign money from the Chamber of Commerce going into this election cycle through Republican Candidates. That’s not true. It’s not fair and it’s an abomination and a shame that he’s attempting to chill First Amendment rights —

Howard Dean (overlapping): What he has said is there’s foreign money going into the Chambers of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce is proudly stood — stood up for giving millions and millions of dollars to the right wing —

Cheney: That’s not what he said.

Dean (overlapping): — of the Republican Party.

Cheney (overlapping): Governor, you can try to clean up what he said. But that’s not what he said.

On this one, Dean is right. The president, as we have written, has been "a bit more circumspect" than other Democrats when talking about the chamber’s TV ads, using words like "maybe" and "could." We previously gave two examples from Obama’s campaign appearances.

This one in Illinois:

Obama, Oct. 7: Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources. So the question for the people of Illinois is, are you going to let special interests from Wall Street and Washington and maybe places beyond our shores come to this state and tell us who our senator should be?

And this one from Pennsylvania:

Obama, Oct. 10: [S]pecial interest groups … are spending unlimited amounts of money on attack ads — attacking folks like Patrick Murphy, attacking folks like Joe Sestak — just attacking people without ever disclosing who’s behind all these attack ads. You don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign-owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.

We reviewed the president’s remarks since then and found repeated examples of Obama being circumspect in what he has said about the chamber’s TV ads, including in his appearances in Boston on Oct. 16, Delaware on Oct. 15 and Washington, D.C., on Oct. 12.

Obama, Oct. 16: Now, let me say this, the same special interests that would profit from the other side’s agenda, they are fighting back just as hard. To win this election, they are plowing tens of millions of dollars into front groups that are running misleading, negative ads all across America. They don’t even have the courage to stand up and disclose their identity. They could be insurance companies, they could be banks, they could be even foreign-controlled corporations. We will never know.

Obama, Oct. 15: Tens of billions of dollars are pouring in. And they don’t have the courage to stand up and disclose their identities. They could be insurance companies, or Wall Street banks, or even foreign-owned corporations. We will not know because there’s no disclosure.

Obama, Oct. 12: And when I say negative ads, there was a recent study done estimating that 86 percent of these ads that are being run by these so-called third-party organizations are negative. Eighty-six percent of them are negative ads that are just bombarding candidates all across the country, and we don’t know where this money is coming from. We don’t know if it’s being paid for by oil companies who don’t like some of our environmental positions. We don’t know if they’re being run by banks who are frustrated by some of our financial positions. We don’t know if they’re being funded by foreign corporations because they’re not disclosed.

Other Democrats have flat-out accused Republican-aligned independent groups of using foreign money to fund their attack ads. We have noted, for example, when White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod did exactly that. (And we’ve explained that the claim that the chamber is using foreign money to fund political ads is unproven.) But the president has been careful — and factual — in his criticism, as Dean said. 

On the Chopping Block

On "Fox News Sunday," Carly Fiorina cited a nonexistent report as evidence of how much government spending could be cut. The GOP Senate candidate from California said:

Fiorina: The GAO just released a report that said 22 percent of federal programs fail to meet their objectives.

We could find no such report on the Government Accountability Office’s website, or any news articles mentioning such a report. So we contacted the GAO’s managing director for public affairs, Chuck Young. He couldn’t find one either. In an exchange of e-mails, he told us:

GAO’s Chuck Young: I’m not aware of what report she might be referring to. … We would not likely make such a blanket statement since there is no consistent definition of a "program."

There is some basis for Fiorina’s basic point, however. A report issued by the Office of Management and Budget (not GAO) concludes that 20 percent (not 22 percent) of federal programs are "not performing." That includes 3 percent that are rated as "ineffective," meaning that they "have been unable to achieve results." The remaining 17 percent are rated as "results not demonstrated." That doesn’t mean they’ve been shown to be falling short of their goals, however. A program in this category "has not been able to develop acceptable performance goals or collect data to determine whether it is performing," according to OMB. Based on this, claiming that 22 percent have been shown to fall short of objectives would be an exaggeration.

Footnote: When we asked the Fiorina campaign about this, spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the candidate "simply misspoke." Saul said Fiorina had meant to cite the conservative Heritage Foundation as the source of the 22 percent figure, not the nonpartisan GAO. It’s true that Heritage uses that figure, saying "22 percent of all federal programs fail to show any positive impact on the populations they serve," for example. It repeated that statement almost verbatim in a "Special Report" dated June 1. But Heritage cites GAO as its source — giving no footnote or citation to a specific report. That leaves us right back where we started. We have contacted Heritage for clarification and will update this article should we receive a response.

Update, Oct. 20: A Heritage spokesman said its figure came from OMB, not GAO, and that Heritage had corrected its website to reflect that. Heritage’s 22 percent figure is based on what it called "Bush era" figures from OMB’s  Program Assessment Rating Tool. But currently, OMB states that "[b]ased on our most recent assessments" 3 percent are "ineffective" and 17 percent have not demonstrated results. That makes a total of 20 percent of federal programs rated as "not performing," not 22 percent as stated by Heritage.