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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Sour Note From ‘Every Voice’

Two new ads from a newly renamed liberal group attack Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas with descriptions of favors he supposedly did for campaign donors. One of the ads is inaccurate and misleading.

Both ads, which started running July 29, are sponsored by “Every Voice Action” — a group dedicated to advocating for public financing of state and federal election campaigns, and formerly known as the Public Campaign Action Fund.

  • One ad says Pompeo supports “giving [Wall Street donors] your Social Security retirement funds to gamble.” In fact, Pompeo supports giving workers a choice between staying with traditional Social Security or — voluntarily — investing a portion of their Social Security taxes in an “investment program.” The ad also overstates the amount of donations his campaigns have received from “financiers and Wall Street bankers.”
  • A second ad says Pompeo “filed a bill to prevent new labeling laws” after taking “thousands” from those who “don’t want you to know what’s in our food.” That one is closer to the mark. It refers to a bill Pompeo sponsored to prevent states from enacting laws that require food labeling to disclose genetically modified ingredients, while accepting at least $21,000 from opponents of such labeling.

‘Money to Gamble’

The first ad features a graphic saying that “Pompeo’s taken over $600,000 from Wall Street,” which isn’t accurate. The narrator qualifies that to some extent, saying the total is from “financiers and Wall Street bankers,” but that isn’t accurate either.

What the ad refers to is the total that Pompeo has received (over a career spanning two previous elections as well as his current reelection bid) from the entire “finance, insurance and real estate” sector as defined by the Center for Responsive Politics, the ad’s source for the figure. That sector covers many types of donors — such as accountants, real-estate developers, employees of credit unions and officials of student loan companies — that have no financial interest in partial privatization of Social Security.

Nevertheless, the ad’s narrator goes on to say, “No wonder he supports giving them your Social Security retirement funds to gamble.” That’s misleading, too. No current Social Security recipient would be affected, and for future retirees the decision to invest would remain voluntary under the approach Pompeo has endorsed.

To back up its claim, Every Voice pointed us to a 2010 newspaper interview in which Pompeo says clearly that he supports giving workers a choice between sticking with traditional Social Security or investing part of their Social Security taxes in an “investment program.” Those currently receiving Social Security would not be affected.

The full quote:

Pompeo, April 12, 2010: I would advocate for a partial privatization of the system so people could choose to go into the government-funded program or to a retirement investment program where they could get a return on their capital.

The ad’s line of attack isn’t new. We addressed similar attacks in 2008, when a flurry of misleading ads from Democrats attacked Republicans for supporting President George W. Bush’s 2005 plan for private Social Security accounts. The Bush plan would have allowed investment only in very broadly diversified, government-approved funds, and only by younger workers, who would have had the option of diverting only 2 percent of their salaries to such funds (of the 12.4 percent currently taken by Social Security taxes, 6.2 percent paid by the worker and 6.2 percent by the employer).

Furthermore, Pompeo’s “Wall Street” donors wouldn’t necessarily benefit very much, if at all, from such a plan. Even for true Wall Street players, there’s little potential profit in partial privatization. As we pointed out in 2005, brokers netted only 16 cents in fees for every $10,000 invested in the sort of investment accounts — which currently cover millions of federal employees and retirees — on which Bush modeled his own partial privatization plan.

 ‘Prevent New Labeling Laws’

The second ad starts the same as the first, showing money dropping like confetti on Pompeo while the narrator says that “big donors are raining money” on Pompeo. In this one, the narrator goes on to say the congressman “has taken thousands from those who don’t want you to know what’s in our food,” and then “filed a bill to prevent new labeling laws.” This one has some substance behind it.

Although the ad never makes this point clear, what’s at issue here are only those food ingredients that have been genetically modified. The bill wouldn’t prevent just any new labeling law, contrary to the ad’s imprecise wording. The ad also doesn’t identify the donors or say how many “thousands” they have given. But it turns out, Pompeo has indeed sided with donors opposed to mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients.

On April 9, Pompeo introduced H.R. 4322, which he calls the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014” (and which critics ridicule as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act). The measure would preempt state laws that require food labels to disclose genetically modified ingredients, as Vermont enacted in May, and as several other states are considering.

Instead, Pompeo’s bill would grant exclusive authority to the federal Food and Drug Administration to require uniform national labeling — but only if the government determines that there is a “material difference” between such ingredients and non-altered foodstuffs, such as an unexpected allergen or a significantly different nutritional quality. And FDA says it already regulates the safety of genetically modified foods, and that they “must meet the same requirements, including safety requirements, as foods from traditionally bred plants.”

Is Pompeo’s sponsorship a payoff to campaign donors, as the ad says? According to the pro-labeling Environmental Working Group, the congressman accepted $21,000 so far in this campaign cycle from political action committees run by companies or groups opposed to labeling, including $5,000 from Bayer, $4,500 from General Mills, $4,000 from Dow Chemical and $2,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The EWG did not tabulate direct donations from executives of those companies, or donations in previous campaigns, which would have increased the amount further.

On the other hand, Pompeo says he’s acting to prevent a “mish-mash” of labeling rules and to allow Kansas farmers to get higher yields using genetically altered seed. He said he didn’t care about Monsanto, whose PAC has given him $1,000 this cycle. “I care deeply about our agricultural community.”

So we’ll leave it to voters to decide whether Pompeo cares more about farmers, as he says, or about “big donors,” as Every Voice’s ads say.

— Brooks Jackson