A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Who’s Bearing ‘False Witness’ in Arkansas?


In Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Joyce Elliott accuses her opponent, Tim Griffin, of violating the commandment not to bear false witness — but she goes on to make questionable claims herself:

  • Elliott says Griffin “conspired to keep students and soldiers from voting” in the 2004 election, an unproven allegation that has resulted in no charges.
  • Her ad says Griffin “opposes regulating Wall Street.” It’s true he opposes the Democratic financial reform bill, but not all financial regulations.
  • It also says Griffin supports "trade deals that cost us jobs,” but she doesn’t provide any evidence to support that claim.
  • It’s not true that Griffin “supports corporate tax cuts that ship jobs overseas.” Elliott bases her claim on a tax-cut pledge that does not make any reference to outsourcing jobs.

Vote-Caging Allegations

The ad, which first aired Oct. 12, begins with Elliott standing in a church, holding a Bible and reciting the Ninth Commandment, “thou shall not bear false witness.” She says, "It’s clear Tim Griffin didn’t learn this lesson," and begins to tick off a list of Griffin’s "lies."

Elliott says Griffin “conspired to keep students and soldiers from voting.” She bases this on reports that the Republican National Committee may have engaged in illegal “vote caging” in Florida during the 2004 presidential elections. Purportedly, the RNC tried to keep minority Florida voters from casting ballots in 2004 by sending registered mail to the home addresses they gave to election officials, then getting them removed from voter rolls or challenging them at the polls if the letters were returned (which would supposedly indicate that they were using a phony address). This approach to voter verification is illegal if it targets a specific group of voters, such as minorities.

There is evidence that the RNC was involved in vote caging and there is evidence that Griffin participated in it. His involvement first surfaced in 2007 during a congressional investigation into the firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006 by then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Griffin was appointed U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Arkansas in 2006 to replace Bud Cummins, one of the attorneys general removed by Gonzales.

The congressional investigation turned up e-mail exchanges about vote caging involving Griffin, then the RNC’s research director and deputy communications director. A staffer at the Republican Party of Florida sent Griffin and others an e-mail with the subject title “caging.” The e-mail included an Excel spreadsheet listing 1,834 voters in Jacksonville, Fla., with notations in some cases about whether the voters responded to the mailings. Griffin responded to the email by writing, “Thx.”

But there is no evidence that the vote caging was illegal. RNC officials said that they were using caging to combat voter fraud, not to disenfranchise minority voters. No charges were ever filed against Griffin or the RNC in this matter.

A ‘Corrupt’ Candidate?

The vote-caging allegation is also central to Elliott’s claim that Griffin is “the 11th most corrupt candidate for Congress.” Elliott bases this claim on a list compiled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. CREW listed 14 congressional candidates it deemed “corrupt,” with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 3 to 1. Two candidates have since been defeated and 12 remain on the ballot for November’s election.

CREW says Griffin — whom it identifies as "a protégé of notorious political operative Karl Rove" —  "may have spearheaded Republican vote caging efforts." It also says he was "most prominently touched by scandal when he was picked to replace a U.S. attorney in Arkansas." A congressional investigation turned up evidence that the firings of Cummins and others were politically motivated. There was also evidence that Griffin was lobbying for the job, and his appointment was supported by Rove. This scandal, however, had little to do with Griffin and everything to do with Gonzales.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Elliott’s ad then makes three questionable statements about Griffin’s proposed economic policies.

First, her ad says Griffin “opposes regulating Wall Street.” That claim is too broad to be supportable. Griffin opposes some specific regulatory legislation; in July, when President Barack Obama signed a bill overhauling financial regulations, Griffin issued a statement critical of the new law. But in that same press release he acknowledged the need for regulations: “We can all agree that we need to address the excesses on Wall Street, but this bill misses the mark."

Elliott then claims that Griffin "supports trade deals that cost us jobs.” The Elliott campaign, however, doesn’t cite trade agreements that Griffin supports. Instead, the campaign says on its website that Griffin "does not talk about reforming past trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA," referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The Elliott campaign equates Griffin’s silence on those trade deals with support for them, which is a fallacious conclusion. And besides, as we’ve noted before, it’s debatable whether the much-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement actually reduced the number of jobs in the U.S. In a 2004 report, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the net effect on jobs in the U.S. was "minuscule" and added: "The best models to date suggest that NAFTA has caused either no net change in employment or a very small net gain of jobs."

Finally, Elliott’s ad claims that Griffin supports “corporate tax cuts that ship jobs overseas.” This is unfounded, as we have noted again and again. The claim is based on Griffin’s support of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. But, as we have written, the pledge protects corporations (and individual taxpayers) from a tax  increase unless it is matched dollar-for-dollar by a tax cut. So, the no-tax pledge is not absolute and it says nothing about protecting U.S. companies with foreign operations that "ship jobs overseas."

— Lauren Hitt