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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

This week, we find guests on the Sunday public affairs shows making false statements about disclosure of political funds, whether a Senate candidate pushed to have terrorists tried in his home state or favored letting states ban private health insurance, and whether middle-income families would pay more if the Bush tax cuts were extended for everybody.

Rove’s Lame Claim

Republican strategist Karl Rove misled viewers of CBS’ "Face the Nation" with a false claim that labor unions aren’t disclosing where they get the millions they are spending in the 2010 elections.

Rove: Four unions alone will — will have — according to their own announcements spent $222 million in — in money on elections this year.

Host Bob Shieffer: But we know who they are.

Rove: No, no, no you don’t, Bob. Here’s the disclosure report for the — for — for one who’s going to spend 87 and a half million dollars — the American Federation of State commun– local and Community Employees. There’s their disclosure where the money has come from. That line — that one line right there. They’re going to take in $190,477,829, and that’s the extent of where you know where it’s coming from. So there’s a lot of money floating around in politics that’s not disclosed.

Rove got it wrong on several counts, including the name of the union and the time period covered. The document he held up was an annual report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor on March 26 by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It does not say how much AFSCME is "going to take in," but rather reports the big labor union’s actual receipts for calendar year 2009. The union’s total receipts were more than Rove said — $202,503,691. The figure he pointed to is a subtotal, reported on line 37.

Most important, though, Rove was wrong to say that the source of the money is "not disclosed." In fact, it is. The very line to which he pointed — line 37 — states that the money is from the "per capita tax" that the national union places on its locals, which in turn comes from the monthly dues — amounting to 2 percent of pay — collected from more than 1.5 million AFSCME members.

The full report to which Rove referred can be found at the public disclosure site of the Labor Department. (Type in 000-289 under "file number," or search by union name.) Since the full report runs to several hundred pages, and the Labor website won’t permit us to provide a direct link, we have posted the first few summary pages and highlighted some of the pertinent entries for the convenience of readers.

Republicans and conservatives have complained for years about the use of union dues money for political purposes, saying it gives Democrats an unfair advantage. That’s a matter of opinion. But Rove is wrong to claim that there’s any mystery about the source.

Full Disclosure

Not to be outdone by Rove, two Democrats on two Sunday shows made false and misleading statements about the Disclose Act, a Democrat-backed piece of legislation calling for greater disclosure in political giving and independent expenditures. On ABC’s "This Week," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said:

Kaine: Every Democrat in Congress has supported the Disclose Act that would require anyone supporting any candidate to disclose.

That’s not true. Thirty-six Democrats in the House voted against the bill. It passed the House by a close 219-206 vote in June. Republicans have successfully blocked a vote in the Senate, where all Democrats did back the legislation.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland, also falsely said on "Face the Nation" that only one Republican supported the legislation. Two members of the GOP voted for it — Anh Cao of Louisiana and Michael Castle of Delaware.

Van Hollen: We had a bill in the House and the Senate, it was called the Disclose Act. It would require all these different interests whether they are left, center or right, to disclose, to tell the voters who they are, so the voters could exercise their own judgment. Every Republican, but one voted against it.

The legislation is more controversial than Kaine and Van Hollen let on. Both conservative and liberal groups opposed some of the provisions. The Disclose Act would require independent expenditures of more than $10,000 to be reported within 24 hours and the identities of those giving at least $600 to be disclosed. It also would ban political spending by government contractors (with at least a $10 million contract), recipients of funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and those negotiating for oil and gas exploration in the outer continental shelf. Corporations and unions would have to disclose their top funders in political ads. The bill would exempt organizations that receive 15 percent or less of their money from corporations and unions, and that have at least 500,000 members. The House version, but not the Senate’s, exempted labor unions from reporting requirements of money transfers to affiliates.

Sestak ‘Advocated’ to Move Terror Trial to Pa.?

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Pat Toomey cited several examples of why he considers Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, his opponent in the Pennsylvania Senate race, an "extreme" liberal. But Toomey went too far when he discussed the controversy over whether the U.S. should try alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian or military court. Speaking of Sestak, Toomey said:

Toomey: He’s even advocated that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of 9/11, be given a civilian trial in Pennsylvania, which is a terrible idea.

As we have reported, Sestak is a supporter of trying Mohammed in civilian court, saying it would "show the strength of the American judicial system." But it is a stretch to say that he "advocated" holding Mohammed’s trial in Pennsylvania. Sestak has said he would accept a civilian trial for the alleged 9/11 terrorists anywhere in America, including Pennsylvania.

Fun with Committee Votes

In another instance, Toomey portrays Sestak as "extreme" because of a committee vote he cast during the health care debate.

Toomey, Oct. 24: The health care bill he voted for — and in committee he voted for a version of the bill that would have allowed states to ban all private health insurance altogether.

That’s true, but misleading. In fact, Sestak voted against an amendment that would have allowed, in Toomey’s words, "states to ban all private health insurance altogether."

Here’s what happened: Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio offered an amendment to America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 on July 17, 2009, that would have given states the option of creating a single-payer health care system run by that state’s government. Sestak voted against the amendment, but surprisingly it passed 27-19 with 13 Republican votes. Sestak later voted to report the full bill out of the Committee on Education and Labor. The single-payer provision was soon stripped out of the version that passed the House, however.

So, Toomey is correct in saying that Sestak "voted for a version" of the health care bill that included a single-payer system, because the bill Sestak voted out of committee included the Kucinich amendment. But it’s simply false to imply that he favored that provision, which he’s on record as opposing.

Is Toomey the DSCC’s No. 1 Target?

In discussing why the Pennsylvania race has begun to tighten, Toomey suggested it was because of the ads being run against him by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Toomey, Oct. 24: You know, the other side has spent a great deal of money. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has spent more money attacking me than any other candidate in the country. That may very well explain part of this tightening.

It’s not quite true, however, that the DSCC is spending the most money attacking Toomey. The Pennsylvania race ranks second behind the Colorado Senate race, according to the Federal Election Commission. As of Oct. 22, the FEC database of independent expenditures shows that the DSCC has spent $6.3 million in Colorado and $5.9 million in Pennsylvania. That’s still a lot, but not the most.

Also, as we have written before, the Pennsylvania race has attracted a lot of money from outside groups on both sides. The Center for Responsive Politics shows that the two campaigns have received roughly the same amount of support from outside groups, including party committees and independent groups.

Florida Senate Debate

CNN’s "State of the Union" hosted a debate between Florida’s three Senate candidates: Gov. Charlie Crist, Rep. Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio. We found all three making questionable or incorrect claims.

Meek, a Democrat, claimed that extending the Bush tax cuts for the most affluent Americans would mean "middle-class families throughout America have to pay $6,000 per year." But that’s not correct, and even the Meek campaign admits it.

According to President Obama’s budget proposal for the 2011 fiscal year, allowing the tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans could raise $678.3 billion in revenues over 10 years. The Meek campaign divided that by 116 million, a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimate for U.S. households, to get almost $6,000 per family. But Meek expressed this as a "per year" cost instead of a 10-year cost. Meek’s camp said that he meant to say "over 10 years."

More important, of course, middle-income families would not pay more at all — at least not immediately. The taxes of families making less than $250,000 a year would remain the same under Obama’s proposal as they would if the cuts are extended for those making more. Meek would have been correct to say that the annual federal deficit would increase by some average amount per family, but they wouldn’t actually "pay" that amount per year.

Crist, a Republican who is now running as an Independent, claimed to have "signed into law the largest tax cut" in Florida’s history. But the fact-checkers at PolitiFact Florida have rated this claim "false" on two previous occasions

Crist is referring to legislation (House Bill 1B and House Bill 5B) that cut property taxes in the state and that he signed into law in 2007. The savings for those bills combined is estimated to be $25 billion over five years. But PolitiFact said that figure is questionable, and that at least one other tax cut is higher:

PolitiFact Florida, March 2: Specifically, the governor’s $25 billion estimate could be accurate only if:

  • Property tax values increased as analysts predicted back when the tax package was passed (3 to 5 percent a year), and;
  • Local governments failed to reduce their tax rates.

We will never know what governments would have done to their tax rates, but we do know about property tax values: They haven’t gone up. They’ve gone down. Taxable property values dropped 15 percent in 2008, according to figures from county property appraisers. Property values dropped again in 2009 and are expected to drop in 2010.

That means the governor’s projections are high.

Furthermore, PolitiFact reported that another tax cutting initiative — Save Our Homes, an amendment to the state Constitution in 1992 — resulted in more savings for state residents. "From 1996 to 2008, almost $1.9 trillion in property value went untaxed because of Save Our Homes," PolitiFact wrote. "Using a conservative tax rate of 17 mills, that equates to $32 billion less in property taxes paid — or about $2.66 billion per year without adjusting for inflation. In 2007, the savings was about $7.27 billion and from 2004 to 2008 the estimated savings was more than $26 billion."

Rubio, the Republican, repeated a GOP talking point that we’ve found to be wrong in the past. He claimed that "even with the president’s massive tax increases, the debt will double by the middle of this decade and triple by the end of this decade."

According to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the debt held by the public was $7.55 trillion at the end of the 2009 fiscal year, and is projected to climb to $11.95 trillion in 2014, $12.54 trillion in 2015, $13.21 in 2016, $15.28 trillion in 2019 and $16.07 trillion in 2020. None of those estimates amounts to a doubling by the middle of the decade, or a tripling by the end of it. Of course, we can’t say for certain what will happen in the future, but that’s not the current projection.

In the past, Republicans have used the end of fiscal year 2008 — when the debt held by the public was $5.8 trillion — as their starting point. But that was during George W. Bush’s presidency. Before Obama was sworn in as president, the CBO was already projecting that the debt held by the public would be $7.19 trillion for FY 2009, which began on Oct. 1, 2008.