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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the Third Democratic Debate

The Saturday night showdown featured misleading claims on guns, the minimum wage and Wall Street.


The Democratic candidates met for the third time, and stretched the facts again:

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said 3 percent of her campaign donations “come from people in the finance and investment world.” That’s correct, but the total is 6 percent when including donations to outside groups supporting her candidacy.
  • Clinton also claimed she had received “more donations from students and teachers than I do from people associated with Wall Street.” Public records contradict that. Her campaign said it was based on internal data but didn’t immediately send that to us.
    Update, Dec. 20: Clinton’s campaign data, sent to us today, show more donations from students and teachers, including low-dollar donations not reported to the Federal Election Commission.

  • Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said that Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against funding research into gun-related injuries and deaths. He did, but that was 19 years ago. Sanders now says he supports such funding.
  • Clinton said that ISIS is “showing videos of Donald Trump … to recruit more radical jihadists.” There’s no evidence of that, though experts have said it’s likely.
  • Clinton said that the Republican presidential candidates “don’t want to raise the minimum wage.” But Rick Santorum has supported an increase.
  • O’Malley said that Clinton told the big banks that “you weren’t responsible for the crash” in 2008. But Clinton said in December 2007 that Wall Street “has played a significant role in the current problems, and in particular in the housing crisis.”
  • Clinton said that “we lose 33,000 people a year already to gun violence.” To put that in context, 33 percent of those deaths were homicides; 63 percent were suicides.
  • O’Malley went too far in accusing Clinton of flip-flopping on federal gun control. She did back off her earlier support for a national gun registry but has consistently supported an assault weapons ban and tightened regulations on sales at gun shows.


The three Democratic candidates debated Dec. 19 at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire on a range of topics, from national security to the economy, in the ABC News Saturday night meeting.

Clinton’s Wall Street Donations

Clinton said 3 percent of her campaign donations “come from people in the finance and investment world.” That’s correct, but it’s double that amount when including donations to outside groups supporting her candidacy.

Also, Clinton said she received “more donations from students and teachers than I do from people associated with Wall Street.” Public records do not show that; her campaign said that’s based on internal campaign data but didn’t immediately make it available to us. (Update, Dec. 20: Clinton’s campaign provided that data today, showing more money from students and teachers than those in the finance industry.)

Clinton discussed her donations from those in the financial industry after O’Malley claimed that she doesn’t have “the backbone” to stand up to Wall Street.

Clinton: I think it’s important to point out that about 3 percent of my donations come from people in the finance and investment world. You can go to opensecrets.org and check that. I have more donations from students and teachers than I do from people associated with Wall Street.

We went to opensecrets.org and found that there is more to Clinton’s Wall Street donations than she let on.

Opensecrets.org codes individual contributions based on occupations to determine the collective amount employees in those industries contribute to campaigns. Its data show her campaign collected $2,044,471 from people in the “securities and investment” industry and another $443,519 from those working for “commercial banks.”

“[I]n OpenSecrets vernacular, Wall Street includes the securities and investment and commercial banking industries,” the website explains.

That means the Clinton campaign so far has received $2,487,990 from Wall Street, or 3 percent of her total contributions of $77,471,604.

However, opensecrets.org also shows that outside groups working on behalf of Clinton have raised another $20,291,679 — including $3,542,874, or 17.5 percent, from those in the securities and investment industry.

Combined, the Clinton campaign and outside groups supporting her have raised $97.8 million, including at least $6 million from Wall Street donors. That’s more than 6 percent from those in the financial industry — double the figure Clinton cited for her campaign.

It’s also worth noting that the $2.5 million that the Clinton campaign alone has raised from those employed in the securities and investment and commercial banking industries is equal to 75 percent of the $3.3 million that O’Malley has raised from all of his donors.

As for her claim that she has received more from teachers and students than she has from Wall Street, the campaign said that statement was based on internal campaign data and not opensecrets.org. But the campaign could not immediately provide us with the data after the debate, which ended at nearly 11 p.m. EST.

We will provide the campaign’s response when we get it.

However, opensecrets.org provides a “donor lookup” tool to search donors by occupation, recipient and campaign cycle. We found that the Clinton campaign received less than $450,000 combined from students ($350,000) and teachers ($94,200).

The $450,000 — which includes Clinton’s donors who listed student, teacher, educator, tutor, professor and instructor as an “occupation” — is far less than the $2.5 million her campaign received from those in the financial industry.

Update, Dec. 20: The Clinton campaign provided its internal data on donations from students and teachers, which total $3,090,073, more than the $2.5 million her campaign has received from those associated with Wall Street, according to opensecrets.org. The campaign list includes several categories of teachers — such as university professors and adjuncts, retired educators, music teachers, college presidents, and even yoga instructors — and it includes donors giving $200 or under, whose contributions do not need to be itemized in reports to the Federal Election Commission and therefore are not available on opensecrets.org. 

O’Malley on Sanders’ Vote Against Gun Research

O’Malley said that Sanders voted against funding research into gun-related injuries and deaths. He did, 19 years ago. Now, Sanders says that research should be funded.

O’Malley: Senator Sanders voted against the Brady Bill. Senator Sanders voted to give immunity to gun dealers. And Senator Sanders voted against even research dollars to look into this public health issue.

Sanders did vote on multiple occasions from 1991 to 1993 against the Brady Bill, which instituted a waiting period before gun buyers could possess their firearms while a national system to conduct background checks was created.

Sanders also voted in favor of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, which provided some protections for licensed manufacturers, dealers, sellers of firearms or ammunition, and trade associations from civil lawsuits resulting from the misuse of firearms or ammunition.

And, in 1996, Sanders voted against an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control to study firearm-related injuries.

However, Reuters reported that Sanders is now calling for funding of such research.

“We must authorize resources for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study and research the causes and effects of gun violence in the United States of America,” Sanders said in an email, according to the Reuters report from Dec. 3.

“He can’t remember one vote 19 years ago out of more than 10,000 he’s cast,” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told CNN.

“But if the question today is whether he thinks we should find out as much as possible about what causes gun violence, the answer is, ‘Yes.’ ”

Trump as ISIS Recruiter?

Clinton said that ISIS is “showing videos of Donald Trump … to recruit more radical jihadists.” There is no evidence that the Islamic State group has used videos of Trump as a recruiting tool, although experts say it likely will happen if it hasn’t already.

Clinton made her remark when asked about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims who are not citizens of the U.S. from entering the country.

Clinton: He is becoming ISIS’ best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The Clinton campaign cited an NBC News article to support her claim. That article quoted two experts:

David Phillips, director of the Program on Peace-Building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, said Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric “will surely be used by ISIS social media to demonize the United States and attract recruits to fight in Iraq and Syria.”

Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which NBC said “monitors the social media activities of Islamic terrorist groups,” told NBC: “When he says, ‘No Muslims should be allowed in America,’ they tell people, ‘We told you America hates Muslims and here is proof.’ ”

The article, however, contained no evidence that it has happened or is happening now, and makes no mention of any video.

Clinton on Minimum Wage

Clinton overlooked at least one GOP presidential candidate when she said that the Republicans in the campaign “don’t want to raise the minimum wage.” Rick Santorum supports a small increase over three years.

Clinton: “I think it’s great standing up here with the senator and the governor talking about these issues, because you’re not going to hear anything like this from any of the Republicans who are running for president. (Applause.) They don’t want to raise the minimum wage, they don’t want to do anything to increase incomes.”

Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, has said he would back an increase in the federal minimum wage, currently at $7.25 an hour, of 50 cents per year for three years. That would bring it to $8.75, far below the $15 minimum wage that Sanders and O’Malley have backed, or the $12 Clinton has supported.

But it’s an increase nonetheless and makes Santorum a rarity among the Republican candidates. He scolded his party at the September undercard debate for the lack of support for raising the minimum wage, saying: “The answer is Republicans don’t believe in a floor wage in America. Fine, you go ahead and make that case to the American public, I’m not going to. … How are you going to win, ladies and gentlemen? How are we going to win if 90 percent of Americans don’t think we care at all about them and their chance to rise?”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in early September that he supported a “reasonable” increase in the minimum wage but later said increases should be done by the states.

Among candidates that are higher in the polls, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio all said in the November Fox Business Network debate that they were against raising the minimum wage. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has said raising it would “kill job growth,” and businesswoman Carly Fiorina said that the minimum wage “should be a state decision.”

O’Malley on Clinton and the Big Banks

O’Malley said that Clinton told the big banks that they were not responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. But Clinton didn’t completely absolve Wall Street of any responsibility.

O’Malley: And the worst type of concentration, Secretary Clinton, is the concentration of the big banks, the big six banks that you went to and spoke to and told them, oh, you weren’t responsible for the crash, not by a long shot.

Clinton did give a speech in December 2007 in which she said that Wall Street was not completely at fault for the financial crisis. But she also said that it played “a significant role in the current problems” and in the housing crisis in particular.

Clinton, Dec. 5, 2007: Now these economic problems are certainly not all Wall Street’s fault – not by a long shot. But the reality of our interconnected economy is that what happens on Wall Street impacts main streets across America. It happens sometimes within minutes, sometimes over the course of months or even years.

If we’re honest, we need to acknowledge that Wall Street has played a significant role in the current problems, and in particular in the housing crisis. A “see no evil” policy that financed irresponsible mortgage lending. A bond rating system riddled with conflicts of interest. A habit of issuing complex and opaque securities that even Wall Street itself doesn’t seem to understand.

Clinton added that “Wall Street needs to be part of a comprehensive solution that brings to the table all those responsible and calls on them to do their part. Wall Street helped create the foreclosure crisis, and Wall Street needs to help us solve it.”

And as far as assigning blame, Clinton said that there were several contributors, including Wall Street, which she blamed for encouraging “reckless mortgage lending.”

Clinton, Dec. 5, 2007: But finally, responsibility also belongs to Wall Street, which not only enabled but often encouraged reckless mortgage lending. Mortgage lenders didn’t have balance sheets big enough to write millions of loans on their own. So Wall Street originated and packaged the loans that common sense warned might very well have ended in collapse and foreclosure. Some people might say Wall Street only helped to distribute risk. I believe Wall Street shifted risk away from people who knew what was going on onto the people who did not.

Wall Street may not have created the foreclosure crisis, but Wall Street certainly had a hand in making it worse.

Gun Violence Stats

In responding to a question on the San Bernardino attacks and gun control, Clinton that “we lose 33,000 people a year already to gun violence.” To add context to that figure, most of those deaths are due to suicide, not homicide or attacks like the one in California.

“Guns, in and of themselves, in my opinion, will not make Americans safer,” Clinton said, adding, when she cited her statistic, that “arming more people … is not the appropriate response to terrorism.”

As we’ve written before, gun deaths include a lot of suicides. In 2013, there were 33,636 gun deaths, and 63 percent were suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homicides made up 11,208, or 33 percent, of those gun deaths. The rest of the year’s firearm deaths included unintentional discharges, legal intervention/war and undetermined.

Did Clinton Flip-Flop on Gun Control?

O’Malley accused Clinton of flip-flopping on federal gun control, and he voiced support for a ban on assault weapons and for closing the gun show loophole. But there is less to Clinton’s policy shift than O’Malley suggested. In 2008, Clinton backed off an earlier proposal for a national gun registry, but she has consistently advocated reenactment of an assault weapons ban and tightened regulations on gun show sales.

O’Malley: Secretary Clinton changes her position on this every election year, it seems, having one position in 2000 and then campaigning against President Obama and saying we don’t need federal standards.

O’Malley went on to say, “We need comprehensive gun safety legislation and a ban on assault weapons.”

He also warned, “ISIL training videos are telling lone wolves the easiest way to buy a combat assault weapon in America is at a gun show.”

Those kinds of changes have not happened, O’Malley said, “because of the flip-flopping, political approach of Washington that both of my two colleagues on this stage have represented there for the last 40 years.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s calm down a little bit, Martin,” Sanders said.

“Yes,” Clinton said. “Let’s tell the truth, Martin.”

While running for senator of New York in 2000, Clinton advocated photo licensing for gun buyers and that all sales be recorded in a federal registry. And while running for president in 2008, she said during a debate that she had backed off that plan.

Clinton at Las Vegas debate, Jan. 15, 2008: Well, I am against illegal guns, and illegal guns are the cause of so much death and injury in our country. I also am a political realist and I understand that the political winds are very powerful against doing enough to try to get guns off the street, get them out of the hands of young people. The law in New York was as you state, and the law in New York has worked to a great extent.

I don’t want the federal government preempting states and cities like New York that have very specific problems. So here’s what I would do. We need to have a registry that really works with good information about people who are felons, people who have been committed to mental institutions like the man in Virginia Tech who caused so much death and havoc. We need to make sure that that information is in a timely manner, both collected and presented.

However, Clinton went on to say that she would “work to reinstate the assault weapons ban.”

“But you’ve backed off a national licensing registration plan?” asked moderator Tim Russert.

“Yes,” Clinton said.

During another debate in April 2008, Clinton was again asked whether she still favored licensing and registration of handguns.

Clinton, April 16, 2008: What I favor is what works in New York. You know, we have a set of rules in New York City and we have a totally different set of rules in the rest of the state. What might work in New York City is certainly not going to work in Montana. So, for the federal government to be having any kind of, you know, blanket rules that they’re going to try to impose, I think doesn’t make sense.

But Clinton again reiterated that she would “work to reinstate the assault weapons ban.”

Clinton also has consistently supported proposals to close the so-called gun show loophole, and as a senator cosponsored such a bill.

In this presidential campaign, Clinton has been outspoken in support of several gun control measures, including tightening the Internet and gun show loopholes and banning assault weapons.

So O’Malley went too far when he claimed that in 2008 Clinton opposed “federal standards.” Clinton may have altered her position on licensing and registration of guns, but she has consistently supported the very same gun control measures — closing the gun show loophole and banning assault weapons — that O’Malley highlighted in his debate answer.

— by Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore, with Joe Nahra and Raymond McCormack


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