A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Tea Party’s Targets

Aiming to purge Hatch and Lugar, FreedomWorks strains facts.


Summary

Tea party-aligned FreedomWorks for America has launched campaigns against several Republicans whom it deems too moderate, including Senate veterans Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar. But some of the group’s claims miss the mark.

  • A TV ad targeting Hatch claims the six-term Utah senator “has racked up half of our nation’s debt.” It’s true that Hatch voted 16 times to raise the debt ceiling a total of $7.5 trillion, but he didn’t support all of the deficit spending that caused the debt. In fact, he has championed a proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, and three conservative watchdog groups grade his fiscal performance over his 35 years in the Senate as anywhere from middling to excellent.
  • The group also claims Hatch “gave away your family’s money for bailouts to Wall Street bankers.” It’s true that Hatch voted for TARP, but the part that went to bail out Wall Street bankers has actually turned a profit for American taxpayers.
  • A radio ad claims that in 2010 Hatch was “the third-highest earmarker of all 535 people in Congress.” According to the tallies by the most frequently cited earmark group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, however, Hatch ranked in the middle of the earmarking pack from 2008 to 2010, and in 2010 was 28th highest among the nation’s 100 senators.
  • A TV ad portrays Lugar as “Team Obama’s favorite senator” even though the Indiana Republican has voted against some of Obama’s signature pieces of legislation, including the health care law, and has voted with the Republican Party 90 percent of the time since the start of the current Congress, according to The Washington Post.
  • A Web video claims that Senate candidate David Dewhurst, who is the lieutenant governor of Texas, “pushed for a tax that would cost 40,000 Texas jobs.” The bill’s impact on jobs was a matter of dispute. The state comptroller projected the legislation — which also sharply reduced property taxes — would have created 60,000 jobs over 10 years.
  • That same video also says “state spending increased by billions” under Dewhurst. It’s true spending has risen, but so has inflation and the state’s population. The fact is that Texas spends less per person in inflation-adjusted dollars now than it did before Dewhurst took office.

Analysis

After its take-down of Utah Sen. Robert Bennett in 2010, the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks for America has set its sights on two of the longest-serving Senate Republicans, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Indiana’s Dick Lugar. FreedomWorks for Amrica, the super PAC for FreedomWorks USA, which is chaired by former House leader Dick Armey, also has targeted Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running against tea party darling Ted Cruz for a U.S. Senate seat.

While the campaigns so far have included just one TV ad (attacking Hatch), FEC records show the group has been using phone banks and mailers and organizing volunteers against these three.

The ‘Retire Orrin Hatch’ Campaign

Hatch has received the lion’s share of FreedomWorks’ attention. While in his own campaign ads, Hatch says he is someone with “a lifelong commitment to conservative principles,” FreedomWorks has pegged Hatch as a moderate and has criticized a number of his votes: in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) legislation; against a ban on earmarks in 2008 (though in 2010, Hatch voted for an earmark moratorium); and in favor of raising the debt ceiling multiple times over his 35-year Senate career.

According to Politico, FreedomWorks has spent more than $615,000 to defeat Hatch, spending money not just on TV and radio spots but also to recruit volunteers, elect prospective convention delegates and send direct mail.

Hatch, who has served six terms in the Senate, faces several Republican challengers in Thursday’s pivotal state GOP caucus, including former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and state Rep. Chris Herrod.

The central claim in FreedomWorks’ one TV ad is that Hatch voted to raise the debt ceiling 16 times during his 35 years in the Senate. Because of those votes, the ad asserts, Hatch “has racked up half of our nation’s debt” and “added $7.5 trillion to our deficit, burying our children under a mountain of debt they’ll spend their whole lives repaying.”

[TET ]

FreedomWorks for America ad: “Retire Orrin Hatch”

Announcer: Utah thought we sent a conservative to Washington. But Orrin Hatch has risked your children’s future by voting to raise our nation’s debt limit 16 times. Orrin Hatch gave away your family’s money for bailouts to Wall Street bankers. In only 36 years, Orrin Hatch has racked up half of our nation’s debt. How much debt? Hatch has added $7.5 trillion to our deficit, burying our children under a mountain of debt they’ll spend their whole lives repaying. He’s been irresponsible and now it’s time to retire Orrin Hatch. FreedomWorks for America is responsible for the content of this advertisement. [/TET]

It’s true that Hatch voted 16 times to raise the debt ceiling. But those are not votes to raise spending (or cut taxes). They allowed the government to keep borrowing to pay the bills Congress has authorized, when tax revenues fall short. As for Hatch’s record on spending, there is plenty of evidence for both sides to cite. For example, Hatch voted in 2003 for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which was estimated at the time to cost $395 billion between 2004 to 2013.  In 2009, Hatch voted against the economic stimulus, which was estimated to cost $787 billion at the time of passage. And he has sponsored numerous efforts to enact a balanced budget amendment.

To evaluate fiscal Hatch’s record, we took a look at his ratings by the fiscal conservative groups Club for Growth, the National Taxpayers Union and the American Conservative Union.

What emerges is a varied report card over a very long Senate career. Providing the glass-half-full version, Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Hatch, told the Daily Caller for a story about the FreedomWorks campaign that Hatch has a lifetime “90 percent conservative rating from the American Conservative Union, scores a 100 percent rating from Club for Growth in the last Congress, and received the highest ranking in Congress by the National Taxpayers Union.”

But that’s cherry-picking. Hatch took a decided turn to the right in the last few years after his longtime Senate compatriot Robert Bennett was booted at the state GOP convention in 2010.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth, called it an “election year conversion” and said Hatch’s full record reveals someone who is “hardly conservative.”

Hatch got a 99 percent rating last year (tied for sixth) from Club for Growth and 97 percent in 2010 (tied for third). Lifetime, though, Hatch has a 78 percent rating with Club for Growth, which has not endorsed anyone in the race. There are 18 currently serving Republican senators with lower lifetime scores, but Keller said that puts Hatch in the bottom third.

Similarly, Hatch’s lifetime record with the American Conservative Union is 90 percent. But it was boosted by perfect 100 scores in 2010 and 2011.

Hatch’s grades with the National Taxpayers Union are all over the map.

“Hatch’s record is definitely subject to some swings back and forth, but as you can see it is quite variable for a Republican on fiscal issues, with bright spots like last year and his Balanced Budget Amendment support,” said NTU spokesman Douglas Kellogg. “In just the years after 1992 he’s fluctuated from an A and ranking 7th (in 2010) to 47th and a C.”

One thing that has consistently drawn praise from the NTU is Hatch’s repeated efforts to push for a balanced budget amendment. In 1997, a balanced budget amendment championed by Hatch fell one vote shy of passage. Another balanced budget amendment proposed by Hatch and Sen. John Cornyn in 2011 was endorsed and praised by the NTU, which wrote in a letter that the proposal “contains some of the strongest [balanced budget amendment] provisions we have ever seen.”

Profitable ‘Giveaway’

The ad also goes too far when it claims that Hatch “gave away your family’s money to bailouts for Wall Street bankers.” It’s true that Hatch voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program that included massive loans to Wall Street bankers. The legislation — proposed by President George W. Bush — passed the Senate by a 74-25 vote. Hatch joined 34 other Republican senators in voting for it. Only 14 Republicans voted against it.

But it’s not true that TARP “gave away” money. The government paid out $250.5 billion to “bank programs” that included buying stock in the banks, often at low prices. And to date, the government has received back $258.8 billion. Taxpayer money has been lost on other TARP programs, such as a portion of the loans made to the auto industry, but the money given to Wall Street bankers has been a net gain.

Third-Highest Earmarker in Congress?

Another ad from FreedomWorks says Hatch is “anything but conservative.” It claims that in 2010, Hatch was “the third-highest earmarker of all 535 people in Congress.”

[TET ]

FreedomWorks for America ad: “Orrin Hatch has spent 36 years giving away Utah’s money”

Announcer: Utah thought we sent a conservative to Washington. But Orrin Hatch has proven over and over that he’s anything but conservative. Hatch has risked your children’s future by voting to raise our nation’s debt limit 16 times. Orrin Hatch gave away your family’s money for big bailouts to Wall Street bankers. And in 2010, Hatch was the third-highest earmaker of all 535 people in Congress. In fact, in only 36 years, Orrin Hatch has racked up half of our nation’s debt. How much debt? Well, Hatch has added $7.5 trillion to our deficit, burying our children and grandchildren under a mountain of debt they’ll spend their whole lives repaying. We sent Orrin Hatch to Washington, D.C., to protect Utahn families from out of control spending. But Orrin Hatch has spent 36 years giving away your family’s money. He’s been irresponsible and now it’s time to retire Orrin Hatch. FreedomWorks for America is responsible for the content of this advertisement. Paid for by FreedomWorks for America and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

[/TET]

In backup material, FreedomWorks states that “from 2008-2010, Hatch made 28 solo [earmark] requests costing $5,109,000, and a nearly incredible 194 additional joint requests costing $373,627,450. Of 100 senators, this made Hatch the 3rd highest earmarker in 2010.”

But FreedomWorks is mixing and matching sources here. The first numbers — that Hatch by himself or with others requested $378.7 million worth of earmarks between 2008 and 2010 — came from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that is the most frequently cited source on earmarks.

According to Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, Hatch ranked 55th in the Senate over that three-year period when it came to earmark requests. That’s solidly middle-of-the-pack. Looking just at 2010, Hatch sponsored or cosponsored 82 earmarks for a total of $127.1 million, Ellis said.  That ranked him 28th among senators.

To arrive at the claim that Hatch was the third-highest earmarker in 2010, FreedomWorks went to a different source, a report in Congressional Quarterly based on data from the government’s Office of Management and Budget. According to that report, Hatch sought $358.8 million worth of earmarks in 2010, ranking him the third-highest in Congress. That’s nearly triple the figure cited by Taxpayers for Common Sense. So what gives?

Ellis explained that it includes a $211 million earmark in 2010 for a Salt Lake City courthouse. Such requests originate in the judicial branch of government and the Department of Justice, Ellis said, and Taxpayers for Common Sense doesn’t include them in the tally for individual lawmakers because they can so greatly skew the picture and because, Ellis said, “We don’t think it accurately reflects the lawmaker’s ability to get earmarked money.”

FreedomWorks Fouls Portraying Lugar

FreedomWorks portrays Republican Sen. Richard Lugar as “Team Obama’s favorite senator” whom the administration can count on when it comes to the “tough plays.” That’s quite a stretch. Lugar, a six-term senator from Indiana, did vote in favor of such Obama-backed bills as the DREAM Act, which would’ve allowed certain illegal immigrants to gain legal status. But the senator opposed the president’s signature legislation, The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, and voted against Obama’s stimulus bill and also disagreed with Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Washington Post‘s “U.S. Congress Votes Database” shows Lugar voted in line with other Senate Republicans 90 percent of the time since the start of the current Congress and 82 percent of the time in the 111th Congress, which started with Obama’s presidency. In the nine previous congresses, the database shows Lugar’s percentages were 79, 87, 96, 92, 91, 87, 91, 86 and 88.

[TET ]

FreedomWorks for America Ad: “Dick Lugar Plays Washington’s Game”

Narrator: Game day and Indiana is down as Dick Lugar plays Washington’s game. A tragic turnover: Dick lost touch with Indiana values after ditching his Indiana residence in 1977, voting ‘yes’ to three liberal Supreme Court judges, ‘yes’ to TARP and higher energy taxes and bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now a Washington insider, Team Obama knows they can count on Dick Lugar when it comes to the tough plays. Thanks for 35 years Dick, but Indiana needs a hero who can play for them on game day.[/TET]

Playing on Indiana’s storied basketball history, the ad shows a caricature of Lugar playing on Obama’s basketball team, which is beating the Hoosier state by more than 100 points. “Team Obama knows they can count on Dick Lugar when it comes to the tough plays,” the ad claims. But that’s not what the legislation trackers say. Besides The Washington Post‘s calculations, GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan site that tracks legislation, labels the senator as a “centrist Republican.” And Lugar is considered “friendly” by the anti-pork group Citizens Against Government Waste, while the American Conservative Union gave Lugar a lifetime rating of 77 out of 100.

The ad makes more claims that lack context:

  • FreedomWorks attacks Lugar for not living in Indiana since 1977, when he began his first Senate term. However, Indiana’s attorney general and the state’s election commission recently affirmed Lugar’s legal right to serve as senator despite living in Virginia. Challengers to his candidacy argued to the Indiana Elections Commission that without a physical residence, Lugar couldn’t claim residency. The commission concluded in a 4-0 decision that Lugar only had to establish residency to run for Senate. He could continue to claim residency because he was conducting business on the state’s behalf. The Indiana attorney general’s office wrote a letter to Lugar, after he requested clarification on the matter, that came to the same conclusion as the election commission.
  • The ad goes after Lugar for voting for three liberal Supreme Court justices. It’s true that Lugar broke with many members of his party and voted to approve Supreme Court justices Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both of whom Obama appointed. And Lugar supported Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee who received only three “no” votes. But Lugar voted against the court’s other Clinton appointee, Stephen Breyer. And the senator voted for the court’s remaining justices — Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas — all of whom are considered conservative.
  • The ad also cites Lugar’s vote to support “bailing out” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (the bank bailout known as TARP). But both pieces of legislation were signed into law by President George W. Bush — not Obama — after passing the Senate with some bipartisan support. The TARP bill became law in October 2008. And Bush signed the legislation to address the mortgage crisis in July of the same year.

Dewhurst: ‘Country Club Moderate’?

In Texas, FreedomWorks has endorsed former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz and targeted Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for defeat in the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The conservative group has deemed Dewhurst insufficiently conservative — deriding him as a “country club moderate.”

In a 30-second Web video titled “All Hat and No Cattle,” FreedomWorks attacks Dewhurst on taxes and spending (claims which are misleading) and for taking “stimulus money from Obama” (which is true).

[TET ]

FreedomWorks for America Web Video: “All Hat and No Cattle”

Narrator: David Dewhurst says he is a conservative cowboy. But he’s more like a country club moderate. He ran as a conservative but pushed for a tax that would cost 40,000 Texas jobs. He says he will cut spending, but state spending increased by billions under his watch. And worse, Dave took Washington stimulus money from Obama. But at least he remembered his manners when taking the backdoor bailout.

Interviewer: I didn’t hear a thank you to President Obama.

Dewhurst: I did say thank you to his staff.

Narrator: This isn’t our first rodeo, Dewhurst. You’re no conservative. All hat and no cattle.

[/TET]

On taxes, the FreedomWorks video says Dewhurst “pushed for a tax that would cost 40,000 Texas jobs.” Actually, Dewhurst supported a bill that would have cut property taxes and increased sales and business taxes to satisfy a court order to develop a school-funding system that passes constitutional muster. And the impact on jobs was a matter of dispute.

Dewhurst serves as both the lieutenant governor and Senate president — which gives him significant power in Texas. He supported legislation (HB 3) in 2005 to address a Sept. 14, 2004, state court ruling on school funding. District Judge John Dietz ruled the existing school financing system was unconstitutional and ordered the state to replace it. The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, which opposed HB 3, said the Senate version of the House bill would cost “more than 40,000 jobs.”

FreedomWorks posted a copy of a May 21, 2005, Associated Press article on its website quoting the president of the think tank saying the Senate bill will cost Texas as many as 40,000 jobs. However, that same newspaper article also quotes Dewhurst as denying the legislation will result in any job loss. “They’re misinformed,” he said. “The facts are just the opposite.” Dewhurst cited an analysis by the Texas comptroller that found the bill would actually create jobs over time.

In a fiscal analysis of the bill, the Texas comptroller said the legislation would create 60,000 jobs over 10 years because of the “ripple effects” of lower property taxes.

Comptroller, May 8, 2005: In the case of lower property taxes but slightly higher sales taxes, the Texas economy could benefit, especially in the long run. The ripple effects of more business investment, job creation, and home ownership from lower property taxes would be expected to quickly overshadow any initial negative effects from the other tax changes.

The Texas Legislature failed to pass the bill in 2005, but it did approve a different version the following year that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry. According to the Houston Chronicle, property taxes were cut by about a third and the lost revenue was “recouped through part of an $8.2 billion state surplus, a new business tax, a $1-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes and tightened sales tax collections on used cars.”

As for spending, FreedomWorks claims that “spending increased by billions under his watch.” That’s true, but it doesn’t account for inflation and population growth.

We’ve written about this issue once before, when a super PAC supporting Michele Bachmann claimed Gov. Perry doubled the Texas budget. But we’ll go through it again, using updated figures and a different time frame.

Dewhurst has been the lieutenant governor and president of the state Senate since 2003. The state estimates it will spend $81.3 billion in general revenue funds during the current two-year budget cycle in 2012 and 2013 — up 36 percent from the roughly $60 billion it spent in 2002 and 2003, according to the bipartisan Legislative Budget Board (Figure 22 on page 17 of its 640-page report “Fiscal Size-up 2012-23”).

So, it’s true that spending has increased billions of dollars on his watch. But, when adjusted for inflation and population growth, state spending is actually down.

As it has done for years, the Legislative Budget Board adjusts the spending figures for population growth and inflation. Using the 1992-1993 biennium budget as the baseline, the board’s report calculates general revenue expenditures at about $34 billion in 2012 and 2013, down 11.6 percent from the $38.4 billion in 2002 and 2003. “From the 2002–03 to the 2012–13 biennium, expenditures of General Revenue Funds adjusted for population growth and inflation decreased 11.6 percent,” the report says.

It’s true that Dewhurst, as Senate president, is co-chairman of the board, along with the House speaker. But it’s also true that the board is staffed with professionals and had been producing these detailed fiscal reports with adjusted spending figures even before Dewhurst joined the board.

Update, March 15: An election board in Indiana’s Marion County, where Lugar and his wife claim residency, voted 2 to 1 to find the Lugar’s ineligible vote because they no longer live there. The vote was along party lines, two Democrats to one Republican. The election board’s GOP member, Patrick J. Dietrick, said the board’s Democratic members “utterly failed to consider the circumstances of this alleged violation of election law.”

— by Robert Farley, Eugene Kiely and Ben Finley

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