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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

‘Bobblehead’ Scott Brown?

A misleading liberal ad attacks Sen. Scott Brown as a yes-man for “Wall Street and the national Republican agenda.” The truth is that Brown was one of only three Republican senators to vote for the controversial Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. And the Massachusetts senator votes contrary to other Republican senators once every five or six votes, a more independent record than all but a few in his party.

The ad is the work of MassUniting, a newly formed Massachusetts group that describes itself as “a coalition of neighbors, community groups, faith organizations and labor.” It has strong ties to the well-heeled and politically active Service Employees International Union, but MassUniting’s communications director, Jason A. Stephany, declined to tell us where the group got the money to pay for the ad, which first aired on Boston television Monday, Aug. 22. Stephany said the ad would continue to air through the end of the week. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy group, MassUniting is legally free to accept money from labor unions (or corporations, for that matter) but is not required to disclose the identity of its donors publicly.

The ad features bobblehead figurines of Brown all nodding affirmatively, while a narrator says Brown is “saying yes to Wall Street and the national Republican agenda” after he “promised to be an independent voice.” Brown won an upset victory in a 2010 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. In his campaign, Brown portrayed himself as an independent-minded “Scott Brown Republican.” Democrats have been eager to reclaim the seat ever since. He’s up for reelection in 2012.

Yes to Wall Street and GOP?

The ad’s claim that Brown is a yes-man for “Wall Street” is unsupported. Nothing in the ad or on MassUniting’s “Bobbleheadbrown.com” website provides any citation or evidence for that claim. As we’ve already noted, Brown in fact voted for the Dodd-Frank Act, which, among other things, set up a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and provided for sweeping new regulation of financial institutions. It was vigorously opposed by lobbyists for bankers and securities firms. The only other Republican senators who voted for that measure were Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

It’s true that Brown supports the “Republican agenda” most of the time, but he does so less frequently than most other Republican senators. Brown sided with fellow Republican senators on 81 percent of the votes tracked by the Washington Post during the 111th Congress. That record was more independent than all but six of the 44 GOP senators sitting then. So far in the current Congress, Brown has voted with fellow Republicans 83 percent of time, according to the Post’s tally.

Yes to ‘Slashing’ Entitlements?

Another misleading claim is that Brown said “yes to slashing Medicaid and Social Security.” The ad cites a Boston Globe article from Aug. 8, headlined: “Brown to seniors: Social Security, Medicare could be cut.” But that article doesn’t support the ad’s claim. For one thing, the article made no mention of Medicaid, which is for low-income persons, but referred instead to Medicare, which is for those age 65 and older. The Globe article doesn’t say Brown advocated “slashing” anything. Instead, it quotes Brown this way:

Boston Globe, Aug. 8: The truth, Brown said, is that unless major entitlement programs are overhauled, “they won’t be there for your family.”

Brown did not offer a specific remedy to fix the programs. Instead, he urged a general spirit of cooperation in Washington.

Brown was exaggerating when he predicted that Social Security or Medicare “won’t be there.” But it’s simply a fact that neither Social Security nor Medicare can deliver currently promised levels of benefits without additional taxes. The most recent report of the systems’ trustees states simply: “Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative modifications if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided.” It’s a serious twisting of Brown’s words to characterize his call for “a general spirit of cooperation” as advocating “slashing” Social Security or anything else.

MassUniting also cites Brown’s July 22 vote for the Republican “Cut, Cap and Balance” bill, which would have imposed a statutory spending cap and proposed a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. But that bill provided specific exemptions from the spending cap for Social Security and Medicare, along with veterans benefits and interest payments on the national debt.

A Group with Union Ties

MassUniting Inc. came into being April 13, when it filed articles of organization with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It listed only two directors, Patrick McCabe (who is executive director of the SEIU Local 888 in Charlestown, Mass.) and Cliff Cohn (who is chief of staff of SEIU Local 509 in Watertown, Mass.). McCabe is listed as MassUniting’s president, and Cohn as treasurer. On its website, the group lists 10 organizations as “coalition partners,” among them the Chinese Progressive Association, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston and Mass Senior Action.

The group’s spokesman, Stephany, said the two SEIU officials who incorporated the organization did so after “months of brainstorming and discussions among the partner organizations,” and that the two sole directors were merely “helpful in shepherding the official filings.” In an exchange of emails with FactCheck.org, he said “SEIU is one of many partners in our ongoing efforts.”

About funding, he said only that MassUniting is “not soliciting any financial contributions at this time and has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future.” Unlike many similar outside spending groups, MassUniting provides no “donate” function on its website. So if the group isn’t asking for money, where is it coming from? Stephany would not say.

— Brooks Jackson