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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Facts Don’t Support GOP Corruption Claim

A Republican TV ad accuses Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri of profiting from “a corrupt Washington subsidy” — failing to mention that what’s being subsidized is housing for low-income people.

The ad also fails to note that the very news article on which it is based found no evidence that McCaskill had any part in directing those subsidies to her husband’s affordable-housing business. She doesn’t even sit on the committees that oversee such payments.


The National Republican Senatorial Committee released the ad Aug. 8, along with a news release accusing McCaskill and her husband of “running a lucrative grift” and getting rich “at taxpayers’ expense.” 

In the ad, the announcer says, “Her husband’s companies received one hundred thirty one million dollars in federal subsidies. McCaskill votes for subsidies. Her husband receives them. They both get rich. And you pay for it.”

The ad is based entirely (but selectively) on a July 24 story in the Kansas City Star and other McClatchy newspapers. The story did indeed report that during McCaskill’s first 11 years as a U.S. senator more than $131 million in federal subsidies have flowed into the hundreds of housing projects in which her husband has invested.

It also reported that he received somewhere between $365,374 and $1,118,158 from his many housing projects in 2017. (Members of Congress report their own and their spouse’s outside income in broad ranges, not exact amounts.)

But the newspaper found nothing “corrupt.” The story also contradicts the ad’s claim that McCaskill’s husband “received” subsidies directly. He didn’t. The story says, “The federal payments don’t go directly into Shepard’s pocket.” Such money “helps apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants,” according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, one of the agencies that paid the subsidies.

McCaskill’s husband is Joseph Shephard, founder of Sugar Creek Capital, which invests in low-income housing subsidized by federal and state governments alike. He is a limited partner in nearly 300 low-income housing projects in several states, according to McCaskill’s 2017 personal financial disclosure.

Shephard began investing in subsidized low-income housing in the 1970s, decades before he married McCaskill in 2002. Opensecrets.org estimates the couple’s net worth at more than $60 million as of 2015, ranking her as the fifth richest U.S. senator.

But the Star story cited by the NRSC ad found nothing “corrupt” about the subsidies. To the contrary, the story said:

Kansas City Star, July 24: There’s no evidence that McCaskill played any part in directing federal funds to businesses affiliated with her husband.

The senator does not sit on committees that oversee the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agencies that award affordable housing contracts and loans to developers and pay out the subsidies.

She has voted for some massive government spending bills that would have benefited affordable housing programs, but she also voted against others.

We find that the NRSC’s claim that the affordable-housing subsidies are “corrupt” and that Shephard’s business is a “grift” (meaning a petty swindle) are not supported by the facts.

This issue has been raised before.

During McCaskill’s first re-election campaign in 2012, the Associated Press reported that nearly $40 million in low-income housing subsidies had flowed into his businesses during her first five years in office — “though it appears only fraction of that has made it to the family’s bank accounts.”

At the time, her Republican challenger, Rep. Todd Aiken, called that “a conflict of interest and a breach of trust with the citizens of our state.”

But the AP said, “There is no evidence that McCaskill personally routed the money to her husband’s businesses.” McCaskill cruised to victory that year, winning nearly 55 percent of the vote to Aiken’s 39 percent.

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Claims Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is profiting from “a corrupt Washington subsidy.”
TV ad
Wednesday, August 8, 2018