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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Parting Shots in Massachusetts

In the closing days of the Massachusetts Senate race, the campaign rhetoric has been marred by partial truths.

  • An ad from Rep. Ed Markey’s campaign says Republican Gabriel Gomez would “consider ending the home mortgage deduction for middle-class families.” Consider, yes. Gomez has said that as part of a tax code overhaul, he’d put all deductions “on the table” for discussion. But he also said he’d “fight to make sure that we keep our mortgage interest deduction.”
  • The same ad claims Gomez “said he’d support a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe vs. Wade.” Gomez said he wouldn’t use abortion as a litmus test for prospective U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
  • Gomez, meanwhile, defended his previous work with a private equity firm by repeatedly boasting in the final debate that President Obama was an investor. Not exactly. Obama has a pension from his years in the Illinois Senate. The pension fund invested money with Gomez’s firm, but Obama had no say in that investment decision.

The Massachusetts Senate race has been a contentious affair, with Gomez hanging close enough in the polls to keep things interesting. We have fact-checked distortions in ads from both sides. Now, with the election just a few days away on June 25, the rhetoric has heated up a couple extra degrees.

The Home Mortgage Deduction

Politico reported that the Markey campaign saturated the Boston radio airwaves ahead of the June 18 debate with a 60-second ad called “Complaint Department.” The ad is carefully worded to make two defensible claims about Gomez’s record, while at the same time implying a more conservative position than Gomez has actually staked out.

The first deals with the mortgage tax deduction. The ad’s narrator says Gomez would “consider ending the home mortgage deduction for middle-class families.”

The key word in the ad is that Gomez said he’d consider it. Gomez insisted during the second debate that he would “throw everything into the bucket” when it comes to overhauling the personal tax code, and would not rule out any deductions — including those for mortgage interest — as a precondition for the debate.

“I’m for putting it all on the table and discussing it,” Gomez said. “I don’t have any preconditions about what we should be discussing.”

However, his comments fell well short of advocating for the elimination or reduction of mortgage interest deductions. In fact, he said the opposite.

Gomez, June 11: Would I prefer to have the mortgage interest deduction and the health insurance premiums be the final part of the solution to a grand bargain? No. That would be one of the last things I would want to approve. However, I’m not going in there with preconditions … You have to go in there willing to discuss everything. Now, I would obviously put that [mortgage interest deductions] toward the bottom of the list.

Later in the same debate he reiterated that position.

Gomez, June 11: I would throw everything into the bucket and discuss it, congressman. And in the end, I would fight to make sure that we keep our mortgage interest deduction and have our health insurance premiums, because that is a core part of what we have. But it has to be part of the discussion. You can’t go into anything saying, ‘There’s no way I’m going to talk about that.’ It’s just emblematic of what’s wrong down in D.C.

Gomez’s position leaves enough room for Markey to charge that Gomez would consider getting rid of the popular mortgage interest deduction, but that partial truth leaves out Gomez’s fuller position: that mortgage deductions “would be one of the last things I would want to approve,” would be “toward the bottom of the list” of deductions he’d eliminate and that he “fight to make sure we keep our mortgage interest deduction.”

On Approving Supreme Court Justices

The radio ad plays a similar game with Gomez’s comments about whether he’d approve a Supreme Court justice nominee who opposes abortion. Gomez has repeatedly said that he is “personally pro-life” but that he respects Roe v. Wade as the law of the land and, if elected, he would not change any laws that would take away a woman’s right to choose. The Markey ad says “Gomez should be explaining why he said he’d support a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade.”

That may sound like Gomez has been actively trying to overturn the landmark abortion ruling. But there’s more context to what Gomez actually said during the June 5 debate.

Gomez, June 5: I don’t think there should be any litmus test. If a judge comes in front of me and they follow the Constitution and they’re ethical and they’re pro-choice and they’ve done a good job, I’ll vote for them. If they’re pro-life, I’ll vote for them. The bottom line is, there should be no litmus test on anything, congressman. That’s the problem here. You bring politics into everything, congressman.

Gomez repeated that position at the June 18 debate.

Gomez, June 18: On a woman’s right to choose, just like Congressman Lynch, I’m Catholic and I’m personally pro-life. However, I’ve said that I’m not going to change a single law down there, or vote for a single law that will take a woman’s right to choose away. And you continue to put ads out there that misrepresent that.

Markey’s campaign website prominently features a page that warns, “women can’t trust Gabriel Gomez.” It includes a 3-second clip from the first debate that shows Gomez saying, “If they’re pro-life, I’ll vote for them” — a misleadingly edited version of the fuller comment from June 5 debate (as shown above).

In a video clip posted by the Boston Herald on June 20, Gomez again articulated his fuller position in an interview.

Gomez, June 19: I’m Catholic and I’m personally pro-life. However, I’ve been clear from Day 1. I respect Roe v. Wade. It’s been around for 40 years, and it’s established law here in Massachusetts. And I’ve also been clear from Day 1, I’m not going down there to change any laws and I’m not going down there to vote for any laws that take a woman’s right to choose away.

Did President Obama Invest with Gomez’s Firm?

During the final debate on June 18, Gomez was repeatedly asked by the moderator, and Markey, to reveal his “clients” while working in private equity. Four times, Gomez cited Obama as one of the investors. And with each reference, Gomez strayed a little further from the truth.

Gomez, June 18: They [voters] know I worked at Advent International, where we grew retirement funds of public sector employees such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and a lot of other investors in the world, such as President Obama.

Markey, however, continued to press Gomez for a list of his “clients” at Advent.

Gomez, June 18: If you knew what private equity was, you’d know that we don’t have clients. It’s that simple. We have investors. And I’ve told you who those investors are. They are public service employees, hundreds of thousands of them right here in Massachusetts: firefighters, police officers, teachers. And even President Obama is an investor at Advent International, congressman. That’s who our investors are. We don’t have clients.

A little later, he dropped Obama’s name yet again.

Gomez, June 18: I’ll tell you one thing, sir, President Obama would not be an investor in Advent International if we had racked up $17 trillion in debt.

And then once more for good measure:

Gomez, June 18: We don’t have clients, Congressman Markey. I don’t know how many times I’ve got to tell you that we don’t have clients. We have investors and we have done phenomenally well for our investors. President Obama wouldn’t be an investor in our fund if we weren’t one of the best investors in private equity in the whole country over the last 10 years.

Gomez worked as a principal for Advent International, a global private equity firm.  But to call Obama an investor is a huge stretch. Here’s how the logical trail follows: Obama has a pension from his time in the Illinois Legislature worth between $50,000 and $100,000, according to his financial disclosure statements. The Illinois pension fund has numerous private equity investments, including one with Advent International, Gomez’s old employer (see page 98). But to be clear, Obama does not own the account. It is owned by the state and Obama’s pension is paid from it. Nor does Obama have anything to do with the pension fund’s investment with Advent, or any other fund, for that matter. The Illinois State Board of Investment manages the investment of pension assets. And Obama is not and never has been a board member.

Interestingly, the Advent investment made a brief cameo during the 2012 presidential election when during a debate, Romney — who had been scrutinized during the campaign for investments in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven — tried to turn the tables and told Obama to check out his pension fund. “You also have investments through a Cayman’s trust,” Romney said. His campaign later explained that Romney was referring to the Advent International Group VI-A fund, which is registered in the Cayman Islands.

It would be accurate to say that Obama benefits from pension investments in Advent International. But Gomez inaccurately implies that Obama has personally invested in and endorsed the fund when he makes comments like, “President Obama wouldn’t be an investor in our fund if we weren’t one of the best investors in private equity in the whole country over the last 10 years.”

— Robert Farley, with Justin Cohen