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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Ralph Northam’s ‘Sell Out’ Stretch

A TV ad from Democrat Ralph Northam strains to portray Republican Ed Gillespie as a lobbyist who sold out workers by fighting “to give billions to Wall Street banks.”

Gillespie was actually working as White House counselor to President George W. Bush when he backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program of 2008 to prevent the further decline of the U.S. economy during the Great Recession by allowing the Treasury Department to spend billions buying or insuring the assets of failing banks.

More importantly, the banks paid back the money distributed through TARP, and the government made a profit on its investment.

Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Northam, Virginia’s current lieutenant governor, are running to become the state’s next governor. The election is Nov. 7.

Northam’s campaign released its “Sold” ad on Oct. 9. It attacks Gillespie for his work as a former lobbyist for Quinn Gillespie & Associates from 2000 to 2007.

A press release announcing the ad says, “Ed Gillespie has a long and chequered history of lobbying against the best interests of Virginians to line his own pockets.” But the ad misleadingly conflates Gillespie’s work as a lobbyist with his work in the Bush administration.

The ad’s narrator starts by claiming that Gillespie, who has campaigned on making college affordable, “didn’t care about college students when he lobbied to keep their student loan rates high.” The Oct. 3 Washington Post article cited in Northam’s ad says that 10 years ago, Gillespie’s old bipartisan lobbying firm did work on behalf of banks and other private financiers that were trying to kill a bill that would reduce college costs.

“The bill aimed to take millions of dollars in subsidies that had been given to private lenders and instead use that money for grants for low-income college students and to lower education loan interest rate,” the Post wrote. The firm was unsuccessful, however, as the College Cost Reduction and Access Act passed and was signed into law.

The ad’s narrator then says Gillespie “didn’t care about our workers when he lobbied for companies sending jobs overseas, or when he fought to give billions to Wall Street banks.”

The inclusion of Gillespie’s work in the Bush White House in the same sentence as his lobbying work for multinational companies is misleading.

Even worse, as the narrator talks about Wall Street, the ad displays this text on screen: “Lobbyist Ed Gillespie Fought to give billions to Wall Street Banks.” That’s false.

The ad cites a 2009 Politico article about “the Bush administration’s decision to bail out the nation’s largest banks” through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008. That program was designed to prevent a further decline of the U.S. economy, which was in recession, by purchasing and insuring the assets of failing banks and other institutions. Gillespie was the White House counselor at the time — not a lobbyist — and worked to garner support for the legislation backed by the Bush administration.

What viewers should also know, and the ad doesn’t say, is that the money used to support Wall Street banks has been paid back. In fact, the federal government turned an estimated $9 billion net profit on its investments.

“To provide support for financial institutions, the federal government disbursed $313 billion, most of which has already been repaid,” the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a June 2017 report on TARP. “CBO estimates a net gain to the government of $9 billion from those transactions — a net gain of about $24 billion from assistance to banks and other lending institutions, partially offset by a cost of $15 billion for assistance to [American International Group].”

It wasn’t guaranteed that the government would get its money back, but it did.

As for the claim that Gillespie “lobbied for companies sending jobs overseas,” the Northam campaign pointed to news stories from 2004 and 2005 about Microsoft and Hewlett Packard moving some work operations out of the U.S. Those tech companies were clients of Gillespie’s former firm at the time, although that doesn’t mean that he or his firm lobbied specifically for outsourcing policies, which wasn’t mentioned in the articles the Northam campaign provided.

In fact, one of the articles about Microsoft, by the Seattle Times, said that while the company was increasing work in China and India, “Microsoft continues to hire thousands of new employees a year in Redmond,” which is home to its headquarters in Washington.

It’s not uncommon for politicians to attack opponents for past lobbying work, but this ad misleads its viewers by conflating Gillespie’s work as a lobbyist with his work in government.

Readers, knowing that additional information, can decide for themselves if supporting a plan to loan billions to banks to stem the economic damage caused by the Great Recession shows that Gillespie “didn’t care about our workers” and “sold them out.”

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“Lobbyist Ed Gillespie Fought to give billions to Wall Street Banks.”

TV ad
Monday, October 9, 2017