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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the Ninth Democratic Debate

Clinton and Sanders sparred over the minimum wage, campaign contributions, guns and more.


False and misleading claims by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders included:

  • Clinton implied she has supported a $15 federal minimum wage, as Sanders has. But her own website says she supports a $12 federal minimum wage, and going further “through state and local efforts.”
  • Sanders said “43 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry” donated to Clinton. But he’s including lobbyists who represent many clients other than oil and gas companies.
  • Sanders said that Clinton “barely mentioned the Palestinians” in a speech that she gave before The American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But she made a point similar to Sanders’ in that speech.
  • Clinton claimed that Sanders was the first to say she is unqualified to be president. That’s wrong. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida used that same line of attack.
  • Clinton glossed over the facts when asked about her claim that Vermont had the highest per capita number of guns recovered from crimes in New York. She said “most of the guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from out of state.” But most don’t come from Vermont.
  • Sanders may have left viewers with the misleading impression that the names of donors who contribute to political action committees supporting Clinton are “completely undisclosed.” Super PACs must disclose their donors.
  • Both candidates left out some context in a rehashed disagreement about whether Sanders had once advocated regime change in Libya.
  • Sanders strained the facts when he attributed Clinton’s lead in delegate votes to her victories in the “Deep South.” She swept Southern states, but won seven other states, too.


The two Democratic presidential candidates debated in Brooklyn, days ahead of the New York April 19 primary. CNN hosted the debate.

Minimum Wage

Clinton strained to blur her differences with Sanders over how high to raise the federal minimum wage.

Clinton: I have supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. … I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate.

Sanders: I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.

Until now, as Clinton’s own website makes clear, “She has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12.” That would be a big increase from the current $7.25 an hour, which has been unchanged since 2009. But Sanders favors more than doubling the rate to $15 an hour.

The “fight for 15” that Clinton referred to is an effort backed by the Service Employees International Union to raise state and local minimum wages to $15 wherever possible. And her website says “we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts” (emphasis added).

Clinton’s position seemed to evolve during the Brooklyn debate, however. She concluded a lengthy and at times raucous exchange on the subject by saying:

Clinton: I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to get to $15. But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

Sanders cited the contributions of “43 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry” to Clinton as evidence that those lobbyists thought “she was a pretty good bet on this issue.” But Sanders is including lobbyists who represent many clients other than oil and gas companies.

Asked during the debate about Sanders’ campaign charge that Clinton is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry, Clinton cited small contributions from oil and gas employees.

Clinton: So, we both have relatively small amounts of contributions from people who work for fossil fuel companies. … But, that is not being supported by big oil, and I think it’s important to distinguish that.

Sanders responded that he was not talking about contributions from oil and gas employees, but rather from lobbyists for the oil and gas industry.

Sanders: It is one thing, as the secretary indicated, to talk about workers. I’m sure I have contributions, you have contributions from workers in every industry in the country. But, as I understand it, 43 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry maxed out, gave the maximum amount of money to Secretary Clinton’s campaign.

Now, that’s not saying — and, then some people say, well, given the hundreds of millions of dollars she raises it’s a small amount. That’s true. But, that does not mean to say that the lobbyists thought she was a pretty good bet on this issue.

As Sanders noted, both candidates have received money from employees of oil and gas companies. According to the most recent data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton has received $333,262 from employees in the oil and gas industry, and Sanders has received $53,760. That’s a tiny fraction — about 0.2 percent — of the nearly $160 million raised by the Clinton campaign so far. The overwhelming majority of money from oil and gas company employees — 97.7 percent — has gone to Republican presidential candidates.

As for lobbyist money donated to the Clinton campaign, Sanders is referring to a Greenpeace analysis of fossil fuel contributions to Clinton. On April 7, we wrote about Sanders citing that analysis to back up his padded claim that “Hillary Clinton’s campaign and her super PAC have received more than $4.5 million from the fossil fuel industry.”

The Greenpeace tally included contributions of $20,050 from nine in-house lobbyists for oil and gas companies, six of whom gave the maximum $2,700. It also included contributions from 45 outside lobbyists hired by the oil and gas industry (36 of whom gave the maximum $2,700). All of the lobbyists listed were registered to lobby on behalf of one or more oil or gas company since January 2015. But most of them had multiple clients, and in some cases the money they received from oil and gas companies in 2015 was a fraction of their overall lobbying income. In fact, some of them also lobbied on behalf of renewable energy companies as well.

Given the multitude of industries represented by those lobbyists, Will Tucker, the money-in-politics reporter for the Center for Responsive Politics, called it “disingenuous” to classify those contributions as “fossil fuel money” going to Clinton.

Clinton on Palestinians

Sanders said that Clinton “barely mentioned the Palestinians” in a speech that she gave before The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March. But what Clinton did say about the Palestinians was similar to a point that Sanders himself made during the debate.

Sanders: You gave a major speech to AIPAC, which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis, and you barely mentioned the Palestinians. And I think, again, it is a complicated issue and God knows for decades presidents, including President Clinton and others, Jimmy Carter and others have tried to do the right thing.

During the debate, Sanders, who said that he is “100 percent pro-Israel,” also said that “we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity” if there is to be peace in the region between Israel and Palestine.

Clinton made a similar point in her speech at AIPAC.

Clinton, March 21: It may be difficult to imagine progress in this current climate when many Israelis doubt that a willing and capable partner for peace even exists. But inaction cannot be an option. Israelis deserve a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity. And only a negotiated two-state agreement can survive those outcomes.

Clinton’s Qualifications

Clinton claimed that Sanders was the first to say she is unqualified to be president. That’s inaccurate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida used that same line of attack.

Sanders last week questioned Clinton’s qualifications to be president because of her past support for trade agreements and the Iraq war. And then he quickly walked it back, saying “of course” she was qualified.

During the debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer recalled the kerfuffle over Clinton’s qualifications and then asked the Vermont senator if he thought that Clinton had the judgment to be president. Sanders said Clinton had the experience and intelligence, but not the judgment.

Clinton: Senator Sanders did call me unqualified. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. That was a first.

It was not a first. For different reasons, Rubio and Christie made the same charge.

At a Jan. 26 debate, Christie criticized Clinton for putting classified information at risk by using a private server and email account for government business. “She is not qualified to be president of the United States,” Christie said.

Rubio made his remarks during a speech in Iowa on Feb. 28.

Rubio, Feb. 28: Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president of the United States of America. She broke the law. She put her e-mails, private, no, classified information on her private server. She thinks she is above the law. No one is above the law. But on more serious — even more — even more serious note, Hillary Clinton on the 11 of September of 2012, lied to the families of Americans who lost their lives in the service of our country. Four brave Americans died in Benghazi and she told them, she told their families that they died because [of a] video and she knew it was because of the terrorist attack. And I’m telling you, anyone who lies to the families of those who have lost their lives in the service of our country can never be the commander-in-chief of the United States of America.

As an aside, we note that Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler interviewed family members of the Americans who died in Benghazi, and came away with conflicting accounts of what they say Clinton told them.

Vermont Guns in New York

Clinton glossed over the facts when asked why she said that Vermont had “the highest per capita number of guns that end up committing crimes in New York.” Her “per capita” claim is true for guns recovered and successfully traced in 2014 — not for all guns used in crimes. But in raw numbers, Vermont is behind 12 other states to which guns recovered in New York were traced.

We fact-checked Clinton’s claim earlier this week, and CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer correctly pointed out that “only 1.2 percent of the guns recovered in New York in 2014 were from Vermont.” Vermont is a small state — 49th out of 50 in terms of population — so a per-capita measure increases Vermont’s significance, while a raw-number measure makes the state look small.

Blizer asked if Clinton was “seriously blaming Vermont, and implicitly Senator Sanders, for New York’s gun violence?” She responded: “No, of course not.” When Blizer later asked why she made the claim, Clinton said: “Well, the facts are that most of the guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from out of state. They come from the states that don’t have kind of serious efforts to control guns that we do in New York.”

That’s correct, at least for guns that were recovered and successfully traced. But most of them didn’t come from Vermont.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ trace data for 2014 show 7,686 guns recovered in New York and traced in 2014, and the source state identified for 4,585 of them. New York was the source state for 30.5 percent of those guns. So “most” come from other states.

While Vermont tops the out-of-state list in per-capita terms, it’s near the bottom in raw numbers. The top 14 outside sources of the guns were: Virginia (395 guns), Georgia (386), Pennsylvania (371), Florida (292), North Carolina (279), South Carolina (256), Ohio (152), Texas (103), Alabama (91), West Virginia (66), Connecticut (59), Tennessee (57), Vermont (55) and California (49).

Southern states have been blamed for the problem. Back in 2013, then New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly cited the issue of guns coming from southern states, up Interstate 95, in what’s called the “iron pipeline.”

As we wrote about Clinton’s claim, one statistic rarely tells the entire story, and that’s the case with using the per-capita numbers on guns from other states recovered in New York.

Super PAC Contributions

At one point in the debate, Sanders may have left viewers with the misleading impression that the names of donors who contribute to political action committees supporting Clinton are “completely undisclosed.”

Sanders: Well, let’s talk about judgment. Let’s talk about super PACs and 501(c)(4)s, money which is completely undisclosed. Where does the money come from? Do we really feel confident about a candidate saying that she’s going to bring change in America when she is so dependent on big money interests?

Clinton does have significant support from outside committees, but they are all registered with the Federal Election Commission and disclose their donors.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, there are seven outside groups that have raised money to support Clinton. The largest by far is Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that has raised $55.6 million. Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions, but they must disclose their donors.

In fact, Sanders has been critical of Priorities USA Action for accepting money from donors with ties to the oil and gas industry — an allegation that can only be made because the donors have been disclosed. (We reviewed the donors and found that their ties to the oil and gas industry are tenuous at best.)

The only other pro-Clinton groups that have raised more than a $1 million this campaign cycle are Correct the Record and Ready PAC. Both are so-called Carey PACs, which, as the center explains, “can maintain two separate accounts; one for contributions to federal candidates and parties, and the other for independent expenditures, to which unlimited contributions can be made.” They, too, must disclose their donors.

Sanders is conflating two issues. Sanders is right when he says donors to 501(c)(4)s are “completely undisclosed.” Such groups register with the IRS and are under no requirement to disclose their donors. But he’s wrong to imply that such groups support her. And we know the answer to the question he raises — “Where does the money come from?” — for the groups that are supporting Clinton.

Libya Disagreement, Again

Both candidates rehashed a previous debate disagreement about whether Sanders had once advocated regime change in Libya. Then, as in the most recent debate, both sides glossed over some context.

The exchange was initiated by Sanders, who cited a New York Times story that identified Clinton as a key voice in convincing President Obama to topple Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. In an interview on Fox News on April 11, Obama said one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency was “probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.”

During the debate, Sanders said, “Regime change often has unintended consequences in Iraq and in Libya right now, where ISIS has a very dangerous foothold. And I think if you studied the whole history of American involvement in regime change, you see that quite often.”

Clinton responded, “I would just point out that there was a vote in the Senate as to whether or not the United States should support the efforts by the Libyan people to protect themselves against the threats, the genocidal threats coming from Gadhafi, and whether we should go to the United Nations to seek Security Council support. Senator Sanders voted for that, and that’s exactly what we did.”

“No,” Sanders said.

“We went to the United Nations — yes, he did,” Clinton continued. “We went to the United Nations Security Council. We got support from the Security Council. And we then supported the efforts of our European and Arab allies and partners.”

Sanders said Clinton’s account wasn’t true.

Sanders: Secretary Clinton made this charge in previous debates and just repeating it doesn’t make it truer. What you are talking about is what I think was what they call the unanimous consent, you know what that is, where basically, do we support Libya moving to democracy?

Well, you know what, I surely have always supported Libya moving to democracy. But please do not confuse that with your active effort for regime change without contemplating what happened the day after. Totally different issue.

Clinton: There was also in that a reference to the Security Council, and I know you’re not shy when you oppose something, senator. So, yes, it was unanimous. That’s exactly right, including you.

We took a look at this when the exact same claims were made by both candidates during the sixth Democratic debate. Here are the facts: On March 1, 2011, Sanders cosponsored and voted in favor of Senate Resolution 85. The resolution, which was nonbinding and passed by unanimous consent, called on Gadhafi “to desist from further violence, recognize the Libyan people’s demand for democratic change, resign his position and permit a peaceful transition to democracy. …” So Sanders is correct that the resolution did not explicitly authorize or advocate for military action, though it did call for Gadhafi to resign his position.

In an interview with Fox News in March 2011, Sanders made clear that he was wary of military intervention. “Look, everybody understands Qaddafi is a thug and murderer,” Sanders said. “We want to see him go, but I think in the midst of two wars, I’m not quite sure we need a third war, and I hope the president tells us that our troops will be leaving there, that our military action in Libya will be ending very, very shortly.”

However, as Clinton said, the resolution Sanders cosponsored also urged the United Nations Security Council “to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.” Indeed, a couple weeks later, the Security Council did approve a resolution calling for a no-fly zone and calling on members “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country.”

Sanders on the ‘Deep South’

Sanders strained the facts when he attributed Clinton’s lead in delegate votes to her victories in the “Deep South,” which he said was “the most conservative part” of the United States.

Sanders: Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact. But you know what? We’re out of the Deep South now.

It’s true that Clinton has swept nominating contests in Southern states from Texas through South Carolina. But she has also won in the Midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, in the Western states of Nevada and Arizona and in the Northeastern state of Massachusetts.

Furthermore, Clinton’s success in Southern primaries was widely attributed to her popularity among African American voters, not among conservatives.

— by Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Robert Farley, Lori Robertson and D’Angelo Gore


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