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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRA’s ‘Slick’ Ad Links Braley to Bloomberg

The National Rifle Association implies Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley lied when he said he “never met Michael Bloomberg,” but there’s no evidence of that. The NRA ad puts two separate photos of the men side-by-side and says they were at the “same event.” It was a day-long event, and they spoke hours apart.

The NRA Political Victory Fund ad says Braley, a Democrat running for the state’s open Senate seat, is “so slick, he can’t stick to the truth,” as an image of an oily substance slides down the screen. But the ad shows it’s the NRA that’s slippery when it comes to the facts.

The ad says Braley “votes for Michael Bloomberg’s extreme anti-gun agenda” in Washington but tries to be “slick” and “hide his connections to Bloomberg” in Iowa. It shows a clip of Braley at an Oct. 11 debate saying, “I’ve never met Michael Bloomberg.”

The narrator continues, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event,” as an image is shown of the two men, Bloomberg sitting on the left and Braley standing at a podium on the right. “Braley’s staff even said so,” the narrator continues, as an image of a Dec. 13, 2010, press release on the event appears on screen.

Case closed? Not at all.

The press release says that Braley spoke at a launch event that day for a group called No Labels at Columbia University in New York. No Labels aims to bring people together, regardless of political affiliation, and, in its words, “call[s] on our leaders to put the labels aside and focus on fixing America’s most pressing problems.” Its tagline: “Not left. Not right. Forward.” Its founders include former Democratic National Committee Finance Chair Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

The Braley press release — which has made the rounds on Twitter as something of a smoking gun — says the congressman was “[j]oined by a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials, including Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), among others.”

But those officials didn’t appear on a panel with Braley, who addressed the audience on his own for about five minutes during a nearly three-hour morning session (see the 52:35 mark). Braley spoke about growing up in a “no labels community” and “no labels household,” in which his father was a Republican and his mother was a Democrat. He talked about bipartisanship, using two pieces of bipartisan legislation that he authored as examples of bringing people together.

There was a break for lunch, according to one of the final morning session speakers, followed by afternoon breakout sessions (see the 58:58 mark of part 2 of the morning video). Bloomberg, who was headlining the event, appeared on a panel on “Electoral Reform in America” during the afternoon. Bloomberg’s fellow panelists were then-Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware, then-Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado of California and Ellen Freidin of FairDistrictsFlorida.org.

It was a large event, with the feel of a mini-political convention. In the introduction for the video stream of the day, TV journalist Bob Franken said there were more than 1,000 people in attendance in Columbia’s Lerner Hall auditorium. And the day was filled with big names and politicians, in addition to those mentioned in Braley’s press release, including New York Times columnist David Brooks, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, then-Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

It would be quite possible for two of the day’s speakers to never cross paths, given the number of attendees and speakers, and length of the event.

The Braley campaign told FactCheck.org that Braley and Bloomberg “did not meet at the event that day. It was an all day event, and Bruce was not there the entire time.” Sarah Benzing, Braley’s campaign manager and former chief of staff, tweeted on Oct. 11 that they did not see Bloomberg at the event: “I happened to staff Bruce at the no-labels event that day. No sign of Bloomberg.” And Matt Canter, who was on Gillibrand’s staff that day, also tweeted: “I was at that w Sen. Gillibrand & met Bruce that day. Didn’t see Bloomberg there while we were all there. All day event.”

No Labels confirmed to FactCheck.org that the two men attended the event, but didn’t know whether they talked or not.

We can’t say for sure whether Braley and Bloomberg met at the event or not. But neither can the NRA, which confirmed to us, and the New York Times, that the image of Braley and Bloomberg is actually two separate photos. Viewers with an inclination toward detective work could pick up on that, particularly if they pause the ad. But viewers may also think they’re looking at the same image, torn in half, as the graphics make it appear, and as the narrator implies.

The narrator’s words may lead viewers to believe that the NRA has photographic proof that the two men met, when he says, “But look at this: Braley and Bloomberg both at the same event.”

Braley has an “F” rating from the NRA, which takes issue with Braley’s pro-gun-control stances. Among his “votes” for Bloomberg’s “anti-gun agenda,” according to the NRA: a vote against the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, which would have allowed residents of states that permit the carrying of concealed weapons to do so in other states.

In late 2012, in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, Braley said he would sign on as a co-sponsor to legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition clips. He told the Huffington Post last year that he probably wouldn’t have supported the failed Senate legislation to expand background checks, because it didn’t go far enough. Braley objected to immunizing gun manufacturers from lawsuits for negligence. The Senate bill would have expanded background checks to private sales at gun shows, and also expanded lawsuit immunity to such sellers that completed checks.

So, Braley’s positions on guns are clearly at odds with the NRA, but the group goes too far in suggesting he lied when he said he never met Bloomberg.

— Lori Robertson, with Carolyn Fante