A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

DCCC, Crossroads Usher in 2012 Campaign

The two sides launch a battle of radio ads that include bogus claims.


Summary

Less than a month after the new Congress convened, House Democrats and a conservative outside group traded accusations (some bogus, some not) in the first ads of the 2012 campaign.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started the back-and-forth when it began airing radio ads Jan. 31 targeting 19 Republican members of Congress. The ads accuse most of the Republicans of supporting deep cuts in education and others of ethical lapses, but the DCCC had to stretch the truth to make a couple of its partisan points:

  • The DCCC claims Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania "is under an ethics investigation." Not true. The Office of Congressional Ethics hasn’t said if it is investigating Fitzpatrick, who is merely the subject of an ethics complaint by one group.
  • The DCCC accuses the targeted Republicans of supporting a plan that “would cut education,” as well as science and technology research, by 40 percent. But that estimate assumes the Republican-controlled House will impose cuts equally in all spending programs, and House Speaker John Boehner has said he does not expect that to happen.

Crossroads GPS, a conservative group that spent more than $70 million in the 2010 midterm elections, responded by airing radio ads defending all 19 Republicans. In the process, though, the group also perpetuates one popular misconception about "Pelosi’s gang," as it refers to the Democrats. Crossroads claims the Democratic majority in the last Congress "cut Medicare." The new health care law slows the future growth of Medicare, but does not cut benefits — except for private Medicare Advantage plans, held by one out of four seniors.

Read on for our first analysis of the 2012 campaign.

Analysis

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which ended the year $19 million in debt, started its 2012 media campaign modestly — airing radio ads, not TV commercials. But the ads were notable not for the size of the buy but how early they went on the air, coming just weeks after the 112th Congress began its work.

Most of the DCCC ads deal with the possibility of deep spending cuts, with the exception of two spots that deal with ethical issues.

Wrong on Fitzpatrick

In its ad attacking Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, the DCCC goes beyond the facts when it claims the Pennsylvania Republican "is under an ethics investigation." Yes, a left-leaning good government group filed an ethics complaint against Fitzpatrick. But the Office of Congressional Ethics has not said if it will investigate.

Nevertheless, the DCCC is unequivocal in stating that Fitzpatrick is under investigation.

DCCC, Jan. 31: Did you know Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is under an ethics investigation for skipping his swearing in to attend a fundraiser at the Capitol? Tell Fitzpatrick it’s time to get to work for us.

Here’s what happened: On Jan. 5, Fitzpatrick invited supporters to attend "a swearing-in celebration" in Washington. He charged $30 per person for the roundtrip bus ride. An image of the online invitation (Exhibit C) captured by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) shows that supporters were asked to donate money to the campaign: $30, $60, $90, $120 or another amount. Fitzpatrick met with his supporters at the Capitol Visitor Center at the same time that he was supposed to be on the House floor taking the oath of office, causing him to miss the official swearing-in ceremony.

CREW filed an ethics complaint, claiming that Fitzpatrick’s event was a fundraiser and that it is illegal to hold fundraisers at the Capitol Visitor Center. In a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fitzpatrick said it was "not a fund-raiser of any type."

Fitzpatrick, Jan. 24: It was a reception for the hundreds of constituents who traveled to Washington to watch the transfer of power, and I was proud to host each and every one of them. The event was open and free to anyone who wished to attend. No names were checked and no money was collected.

We take no position on whether it was a fundraiser or not. But the fact is that there is no evidence that Fitzpatrick "is under an ethics investigation."

Omar Ashmawy, the staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, sent a letter to CREW acknowledging receipt of the complaint. His letter said that all complaints by law must be reviewed. But a routine review required by law isn’t the same as an investigation. It’s not even the same as a "preliminary review," which would occur only if two members of the ethics board (a Republican appointee and a Democratic appointee) give written authorization to proceed with a more serious review of the complaint, as Ashmawy explained in his letter.

In the letter, Ashmawy said the OCE is not obligated to investigate and cannot disclose if it has started an investigation.

Ashmawy, Jan. 12: The OCE is not able to provide any further information about whether the Board has authorized a review or whether the OCE has conducted an investigation related to the facts you have submitted.

We spoke to OCE spokesman Bill Cable, who said the office has released no information about Fitzpatrick. He said if the OCE  receives the authority to conduct a preliminary investigation, then the subject of the investigation would be notified.

We spoke to Fitzpatrick’s spokesman, Darren Smith, and asked if the congressman or his office had been notified that the OCE was conducting a preliminary review or investigation of any kind. "No, we have not," Smith said. "It seems that what the DCCC is doing is taking the CREW complaint and equating that with being under investigation."

And that is an equation that doesn’t add up. In fact, CREW captioned its complaint to the OCE a "request for investigation." And that request is still pending.

Right on Rivera

In another radio ad, the DCCC claims that Republican Congressman David Rivera is "under criminal investigation" in Florida. That is true.

DCCC radio ad: Did you know Congressman David Rivera is under criminal investigation for receiving secret payments from his mother’s company? Tell Rivera to come clean so he can finally get to work for us.

The DCCC’s claim is based on two articles published by the Miami Herald, which reported Rivera is being investigated for failing to disclose income from his mother’s marketing firm while serving as a state legislator. The Herald first reported the investigation in December.

Keith Kameg, a public information officer for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, confirmed to us that Rivera was part of an active investigation "for alleged financial improprieties." The ongoing investigation began in October 2010 and is being led by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Executive Investigation unit.

Kameg would not disclose specifics of the investigation. However, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said: "The subject matter of the Miami Herald stories is included in the ongoing investigation of David Rivera being conducted by prosecutors in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."

Miami Herald, Dec. 16, 2010: The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office is investigating more than $500,000 in secret payments from the owners of the Flagler Dog Track to a company tied to Congressman-elect David Rivera, The Miami Herald has learned.

According to the Herald, the company in question is Millennium Marketing, a firm co-owned by Rivera’s mother and godmother. In a contract signed between Millennium and Flagler, Rivera was described as the “ ‘strategic director’ of the pro-slots campaign, and its ‘Top Leader of Chain of Command of All Campaign Consultants and Campaign Activities,’ ” the Herald reported.

The Rivera campaign sent us a statement that said Rivera "never received any compensation or income" from Millennium Marketing. "He received approximately $130,000 in loans over four years, which have been paid back with interest," the statement said.

Whether Rivera received "secret payments," as the DCCC claims, or loans, as he claims, is not known. But this much is clear: Florida law enforcement authorities are investigating the congressman for alleged financial improprieties related to his mother’s company.

Cutting Spending

The DCCC claims that 10 House Republicans either have a plan, or are supporting a plan, that would cut education, as well as science and technology research, by 40 percent. However, the proposed bill in question doesn’t specifically say that it would cut education or research spending by that much. That figure is based on an assumption of which programs House Republicans may cut in an effort to reduce federal spending.

The DCCC’s claim refers to a proposal — called "The Spending Reduction Act of 2011" — by the Republican Study Committee to reduce federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years. The committee’s bill would hold "non-security discretionary spending" for fiscal year 2011 to 2008 levels, and it would trim down "non-defense discretionary spending" in subsequent years to 2006 levels.

Doing so would lead to cuts of around 40 percent in education spending and other program areas by 2021, according to James Horney, director of federal fiscal policy for the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. His analysis is the source of the DCCCs’ claim:

Horney, Jan. 21: The new proposal of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) to cut and then freeze non-defense discretionary spending at 2006 levels from 2012 through 2021 would mean cuts of more than 40 percent in education, environmental protection, law enforcement, medical research, food safety, and many other key services.

But that figure is based on the assumption that the cuts would be implemented equally across all areas of non-defense spending. House Republicans could very well decide to reach the reduction goals by cutting federal spending in some areas, like education, less than others.

"The bill would cap total non-defense discretionary spending at 2006 levels," said Brian Straessle, communications director for the RSC. "Beneath that overall cap, Congress would still have the ability to prioritize spending."

On Jan. 30 on "Fox News Sunday," House Speaker John Boehner said he does not expect that there will be across-the-board cuts in federal spending.

That’s something that even Horney acknowledged the possibility of in his blog post last month:

Horney: By 2021, it would reduce non-defense appropriations by 42 percent below what the Congressional Budget Office says is needed to maintain last year’s funding level, adjusted only for inflation.

The House majority, of course, could decide to meet its overall target for non-defense discretionary spending while protecting one or more of the programs and services listed above. But, a cut of less than 42 percent in, say, education or environmental protection would necessitate even more draconian cuts in, say, food safety and border security.

The radio ad running against Rep. Anne Marie Buerkle of New York says: "Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle supports a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent. And her plan would cut science and technology research by 40 percent, too." An ad with the same language is also airing in Wisconsin against Rep. Sean Duffy.

(Click image to listen to DCCC radio ad on Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisc.)

[TET ]

Announcer: Here in Wisconsin the recession is still hitting hard, good job openings are really scarce. So it was good to hear President Obama’s plan to make the economy work for the middle class again. Invest in education to train our children for the jobs of the future, maintain America’s lead in technology with more research and development, and reduce the deficit with an overall budget freeze. That plan makes a lot of sense.
But Congressman Sean Duffy supports a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent. And his plan would cut science and technology research by 40 percent, too. Research and development is how we get the new products that create new jobs. How does cutting that help us compete with China and India? It doesn’t make sense.
We should tell Sean Duffy to work with President Obama to create jobs, instead of supporting a partisan plan that costs jobs.
Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, www.DCCC.org, and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

[/TET]

The ad attacking Virginia Rep. Robert Hurt and seven others asks: "Did you know Congressman Robert Hurt has a plan to cut education and research by 40 percent that will cost hundreds-of-thousands of jobs and make America less competitive?"

Hurt has objected to the notion that he would support cutting education spending by that much. The freshman congressman told a local ABC news station that the claim was conjured up by the DCCC. "Because I’m a member of that committee, somehow that means that I want to cut education by 40 percent or something like that," Hurt said. "I mean it’s just totally made up out of whole cloth. I don’t know where its coming from."

There are 175 members of the RSC, according to the committee’s members list. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and chairman of the RSC, had just 24 cosponsors when we checked on Feb. 7. And Straessle said he believes that list is up to date. Only one — Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois — of the members specifically targeted in the DCCC’s ad campaign was included on the list of cosponsors.

Another DCCC radio ad running against seven other Republicans, including Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, simply encourages the politicians to reject the proposal: "Tell Congressman Lou Barletta to oppose the partisan plan to cut education and research by 40 percent."

Republican Response

In response, Crossroads GPS aired radio ads to defend all 19 of the Republicans targeted by the DCCC.

Crossroads GPS and its affiliate, American Crossroads, were major players in the 2010 midterm elections. Both were launched with the help of two powerful Republicans: Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman, and Karl Rove, a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. The groups combined to raise and spend more than $70 million to attack Democrats in the 2010 elections — at least that’s what Carl Forti, the political director of American Crossroads, said at our Cash Attack conference Dec. 13 in Washington.

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads GPS, said the latest radio ads cost about $90,000 (chump change compared with the millions spent on single TV ads in 2010). All 19 ads are the same, he said, with only the name of the Republican member of Congress and his or her phone number tailored for the targeted district.

Collegio sent us the audio and transcript of the ad it ran in Duffy’s district in Wisconsin.

(Click image to listen to Crossroads GPS ad on Duffy)

[TET ]

Announcer: They nearly bankrupted America with trillions in new spending and debt. Cut Medicare. Raised taxes, while millions lost jobs. But then America spoke, we rose up and took our country back.
We sent Sean Duffy to do the job the Washington politicians wouldn’t do — to stop the bailouts and government spending so small businesses could start hiring again. Unleashing America’s free enterprise to create jobs.
But Washington liberals like Nancy Pelosi still aren’t listening.
A week after President Obama called on Congress to work together, Pelosi’s gang attacked Sean Duffy for trying to fix the budget mess Pelosi created.
Call Sean Duffy at 715-298-9344, tell him to keep up the fight, to get spending under control.
We stand with Sean Duffy, not Nancy Pelosi’s politics of spend and smear.
Common sense, brought to you by Crossroads GPS.

[/TET]

In the ad, Crossroads defends Duffy and takes some partisan shots at "Pelosi’s gang," as the ad describes Congress when it was under the rule of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, and the Democrats.

Crossroads GPS: They nearly bankrupted America with trillions in new spending and debt. Cut Medicare. Raised taxes, while millions lost jobs.

Crossroads repeats the canard that the Democrats cut Medicare. As we said in our analysis of a Crossroads GPS ad in August and numerous other times, the new health care law doesn’t cut Medicare, but rather slows the future growth of the program. In fact, the law provides some new benefits, such as free preventive care and a gradual phase out of the "doughnut hole," a current gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors. Now, it’s true that those with Medicare Advantage policies, which provide enhanced benefits, may see a reduction in extra benefits to bring the cost of those plans in line with the traditional Medicare plans. But most seniors will see more benefits, not fewer.

All in all, though, pretty tame stuff. But it’s just the beginning.

— by Eugene Kiely and D’Angelo Gore, with Michael Morse and Lauren Hitt

Sources

Federal Election Commission, "Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, January 31 Quarterly Report (Year-End)." 31 Jan 2011.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Exhibits. 12 Jan 2011.

House, Billy. "Two Members Miss Congressional Oath, Try to Take it on Television." National Journal. 6 Jan 2011.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Request for Investigation into Conduct of Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA.) and Jeff Sessions (R-TX)." 12 Jan 2011.

Fitzpatrick, Michael. "Letters: Swearing-in day event was not a fund-raiser." Philadelphia Inquirer. 24 Jan 2011.

Ashmawy, Omar, staff director and chief counsel, Office of Congressional Ethics. Letter to Melanie Sloan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. 12 Jan 2011.

Cable, Bill, spokesman, Office of Congressional Ethics. Interview with FactCheck.org. 4 Feb 2011.

Smith, Darren, spokesman, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick. Interview with FactCheck.org. 4 Feb 2011.

Hiaasen, Scott and Patricia Mazzei. "A $500,000 question over track’s payments." Miami Herald. 16 Dec 2010.

Kameg, Keith, spokesman, Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Interview with FactCheck.org. 4 Feb 2011.

Griffith, Ed, spokesman, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. E-mail to FactCheck.org 4 Feb 2011.

Republican Study Committee. "Jordan, Garrett and DeMint Unveil the Spending Reduction Act." News release. 20 Jan 2011.

Straessle, Brian. Communications Director for the Republican Study Committee. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 7 Feb 2011.

Horney, James. "House GOP Group Would Decimate Key Services." Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Off the Charts Blog. 21 Jan 2011.

Singh, Ashley. "Hurt Responds to DCCC Campaign." WSET-TV. 1 Feb 2011.

Republican Study Committee member list. Accessed 7 Feb 2011.

Fox News Sunday. Transcript. 30 Jan 2011.

"American Crossroads." FactCheck.org. 9 Aug 2010.

"Cash Attack 2010: Political Advertising in a Post-Citizens United World." Transcript. FactCheck.org 13 Dec 2010.

Novak, Viveca. "Misdirection from Crossroads GPS." FactCheck.org. 30 Aug 2010.

Levey, Noam. "Obama signs expansion of children’s health insurance." Los Angeles Times. 5 Feb 2009.

Gore, D’Angelo. "Obama’s Tax Tale." FactCheck.org. 7 Feb 2011.

Novak, Viveca. "Boehner Misrepresents FactCheck.org’s Findings." FactCheck.org. 2 Nov 2009.

Novak, Viveca and Brooks Jackson. "More Senior Scare." Factcheck.org. 18 Aug 2009.

Robertson, Lori. "A Final Weekend of Whoopers?" FactCheck.org. 19 Mar 2009.

Hiaasen, Scott. "U.S. Rep-elect David Rivera discloses $137,000  loan he received from mother’s company." Miami Herald. 3 Jan 2011.

Hiaasen, Scott and David Ovalle. "FDLE takes leads in David Rivera Probe." 19 Jan 2011.

Hiaasen, Scott and Patricia Mazzei. "A $500K question over track’s payments." 16 Dec 2010.