A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Jack Kingston’s Summer Re-Run


Rep. Jack Kingston repackages several deceptive claims about his opponent’s business record in a new TV ad that has all the charm of a summer re-run. The ad attacks David Perdue on layoffs, stimulus funds and — that old campaign staple — government bailouts.

Kingston, an 11-term congressman, and Perdue, a businessman, have been locked in a nasty and prolonged race for the Republican Senate nomination in Georgia. They emerged as the top two votegetters in the May 20 primary, resulting in a July 22 runoff between them.

The latest ad from Kingston reprises claims we already had debunked in “Childish Georgia Ads” about Perdue’s eight months as CEO of Pillowtex from July 1, 2002, to March 27, 2003.

“Perdue mismanaged Pillowtex and nearly 8,000 people got laid off,” the ad says, “resulting in a government bailout.”

FactCheck.org Flashback, May 14: It’s true that almost that many were lost when Pillowtex finally announced on July 31, 2003, that it would cease operations and liquidate. According to a 2003 Charlotte Observer investigative story, the number was actually 7,650. That was the biggest mass layoff in North Carolina’s history, to be sure. But it happened months after Perdue had moved on to head Dollar General. Furthermore, the Observer story says Perdue found the company was worse off than he had been told when he agreed to take the job. Among other things, he discovered an estimated $41 million in unfunded pension liabilities that the company didn’t have the money to pay.

The ad’s claim about a “government bailout” is a new twist on an old claim, but suffers from the same faulty logic as the one about the Pillowtex layoffs. It’s a reference to U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.’s announcement on Oct. 30, 2003, that it would assume responsibility for Pillowtex’s pension benefits because of the bankruptcy proceedings. That announcement, like the bankruptcy filing and the layoffs, occurred months after Perdue had left the company.

The ad goes on to say, “At Alliant Energy, they grabbed millions from Obama’s stimulus. And guess who picked up the tab? The taxpayer. While Perdue got paid millions.” On the screen, we see the words: “Million Dollar Bonus Golden Parachute.”

FactCheck.org Flashback, May 14: Perdue didn’t receive any stimulus money personally, and neither did any company he managed. The ad refers to $3.4 million received since 2009 by Alliant Energy Corp., mostly to help upgrade an electric grid in Wisconsin. Perdue is one of 10 members of Alliant’s board of directors, but he holds no management position there. The $3.4 million amounts to just a bit over one-tenth of 1 percent of Alliant’s $3.2 billion in operating revenues for 2013.

As for the bonus, we wrote: “That’s true — but the ad fails to mention that it was a signing bonus, to entice him away from the number-three spot at Reebok. He got no bonus for his performance as CEO.”

The ad ends with this: “Perdue got rich and left us with the mess. No wonder Perdue supports tax increases.”

Perdue is wealthy. His Senate Public Financial Disclosure Report required to be filed by candidates shows he’s worth between $27 million and $83 million.

As for tax increases, the Kingston ad cites two instances in which it claims Perdue supported tax increases — including one we debunked in an article called “Distorting Perdue’s Position on Taxes.”

The Kingston ad cites a May 14 Associated Press article about comments Perdue made during a May 12 editorial board meeting with The Telegraph, a newspaper in Macon, Georgia. Perdue said the government needs to “figure out a way to get revenue growing” — which the Kingston campaign assumed meant raising taxes. But Perdue never said in the hour-long interview that the government should raise taxes. Instead, he went on to talk about growing the economy.

Perdue, May 12: You gotta get spending cuts and that’s where I would start. I think the second thing though is – some of these issues that I’ve talked about with getting the economy going are short term within three or four years you could get this thing booming.

The Kingston campaign also — correctly this time — points to Perdue’s support for the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to require companies to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases even if the companies do not have a physical presence in the states where the purchases were made. Perdue voiced his support for the bill during a May 17 debate, reiterating comments about online sales taxes that he had made in a January debate.

The Marketplace Fairness Act passed the Senate 69-27 last year with the support of both of Georgia’s Republican senators. Supporters insist it is not a new tax, because consumers are already supposed to pay sales taxes on Internet purchases. As Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a May 6, 2013, floor speech in support of the legislation, “This bill contains no new federal tax, no new state and local tax. What it does is collect taxes already owed.” But the reality is that enforcing the sales tax would result in billions of dollars of tax revenue that now goes uncollected, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

But the ad’s use of the phrase “no wonder Perdue supports tax increases” is a strained attempt to tie the tax increase to the insinuations that Perdue has benefited from “a government bailout” and “Obama’s stimulus.”

We are often asked here at FactCheck.org if politicians change their behavior after we expose their statements as false or misleading. That rarely happens. More often, as this latest ad from the Kingston campaign shows, campaigns repeat their poll-tested claims, accurate or not, without regard for fact-checkers. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have an impact. Our focus is on voters. We seek to make it easier for voters to cut through the political spin and harder for campaigns to fool them.

— Eugene Kiely