ADWATCH: With campaign ads, don't trust, verify
WASHINGTON—Finding an actual fact in this season's load of campaign ads is like panning for nuggets. There's a lot of fool's gold in the way.
In this warped-lens world, a Democrat who votes against his party more than every other legislator except one is branded a lapdog of his party's leadership. A federal deficit from the past is attributed to a health care law that did not yet exist.
Democrats blame Republicans for wanting to tax SUVs, groceries and teddy bears without telling people that, in return, most of the income, payroll and estate taxes Americans know and hate would be wiped out.
EDITOR'S NOTE - An occasional look at the claims made in political advertising.
A look at some of the wildest claims of the 2010 campaign and how they compare with the facts:
PUZZLING PELOSI PUPPETS: The National Republican Congressional Committee, believing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be an unpopular and imperious figure, has been out with a series of ads accusing rank-and-file Democrats of eagerly doing her bidding.
"Washington can be puzzling," says one ad against Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright. Although he claims to be independent "he voted with Pelosi over 70 percent of the time."
THE FACTS: Bright is practically the most disloyal Democrat in Washington, judging by the same voting record that the Republicans use to point voters to the opposite conclusion. Of 435 members of the House, he is 434th in voting with his party. He voted with Pelosi less often than the iconoclast GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas voted with Republican leadership (only 71.6 percent vs. Paul's 76.7 percent). This, according to a Washington Post database tapped by the GOP. Idaho Democrat Walt Minnick, the top maverick in the House, voted with his party 70.8 percent of the time.
Such counts have only limited meaning even when used accurately because they include many humdrum votes - naming a post office, approving journals of House actions and the like. What really counts is how a lawmaker votes on the big, contentious issues for which party discipline is important.
On the three biggest such issues, the health care overhaul, economic stimulus and financial regulation, Bright voted against Pelosi and his party. Another Democrat targeted as "Pelosi's lapdog," Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler, bucked the speaker on health care and the stimulus.
TEDDY BEAR TAX: Democrats have been running misleading ads in more than half a dozen states accusing GOP House candidates of supporting a hefty new national sales tax. In a typical example from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee series, Ohio Republican Jim Renacci is said to favor "a new 23 percent national sales tax on almost everything you buy - food, gas, even medicine." A cartoonish ad against Mississippi Rep. Alan Nunnelee levels the same charge and shows a cascade of consumer goods that would be hit, among them an SUV, a child's wagon and a teddy bear.
THE FACTS: The ads conspicuously ignore the fact that proponents of a national sales tax would eliminate most of the taxes that people pay now. Instead of income, payroll and other big taxes, money for the treasury would be raised by taxing the purchase of goods and services. This crucial part of the equation is missing in what voters are told in the ads.
It's not even an issue GOP candidates have been pushing in their campaigns; rather, they've indicated they like the idea when asked about it. National consumption or value-added taxes are used in some liberal democracies to help pay for a social safety net, but they've failed to gain political traction in the United States. Such taxes are regressive, meaning they take more from middle-income earners than from the rich, as a percentage of their income.
CROSS-WIRED CROSSROADS: American Crossroads, a group launched under the direction of former Bush administration operative Karl Rove, is disparaging Senate and House Democratic candidates in an aggressive series of ads twisting the facts. In one, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is described as "the deciding vote on Obamacare," an overhaul that meant "we got tax increases, billions in Medicare cuts and record deficits."
THE FACTS: Bennet was no more the deciding vote on the health care law than were the 59 other senators who voted for it. If anything, his vote was less decisive because it was not in doubt.
The U.S. posted a record deficit in 2009, then a slighter smaller one in the 2010 budget year that ended this month. The health care law would reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion from 2010-2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
American Crossroads may be a new voice in political advocacy but it resorts to one of the oldest dodges used in Washington by both parties: casting a reduction in spending growth as a "cut." The new law slows projected increases in Medicare payments to providers but expands benefits in the traditional program instead of cutting them. However, seniors in Medicare Advantage plans offered through private insurers can expect higher out-of-pocket costs and fewer benefits. That's because the companies were getting paid more than it cost to provide care under traditional Medicare, and the law reins that in.
The health care law raises Medicare taxes on earnings over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples and imposes a tax on unearned income for richer people. It provides tax credits to help the uninsured buy coverage.
SOCIAL SECURITY INSINCERITY: "If Walorski's plan was in place two years ago, you could have lost nearly 40 percent of your retirement savings. Jackie Walorski. We can't afford the risk." That's a Democratic ad against a Republican candidate in Indiana, misrepresenting Republican proposals to let people invest a portion of their Social Security taxes privately. GOP candidates Sean Duffy in Wisconsin, Dan Benishek in Michigan and Andy Barr in Kentucky are similarly depicted as reckless gamblers with Social Security money.
THE FACTS: The 40 percent figure bears no resemblance to Republican proposals.
It is based on the percentage drop in the 2008 stock market crash. Republicans have never proposed personal savings accounts for all Social Security money. And the current House Republican leadership has not agreed to support any private investment program.
The main Republican initiative comes from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who would give workers under 55 the option of investing a third of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts managed by the Social Security Administration. The government would guarantee that nobody loses money.
JOBS JUMBLE: Republicans and their allies are attacking the economic stimulus not just as a waste of money - an arguable point - but a killer of jobs. In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen is upbraided because he "promised us jobs, voting for the $787 billion stimulus. Cost: another 77,000 jobs lost." In Maryland, another GOP ad says, Rep. Frank Kratovil "promised the stimulus would save or create jobs but we've lost over 78,000" since he voted for it.
THE FACTS: Whatever economists think of the stimulus, they do not think the infusion of money from Washington actually destroyed jobs. At worst, it did not create enough jobs and cost too much for the employment it did manage to generate. The claim in the Wisconsin ad and the implication in the Maryland one is that the stimulus is responsible for draining employment. The Republican ads simply record job losses in a particular state over a particular time and imply the blame rests squarely on stimulus measures.
TAX TANGLE: Democrats and their allies are eager to tie Republicans and their supporters to foreign interests, going so far as to accuse the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of using overseas money for political ads helping the GOP, without offering any evidence. The effort goes beyond that to portray Republicans as guardians of job outsourcing. In one example, a Democratic ad against Harold Johnson, Republican candidate in North Carolina, shows jeans, a sweater vest and a baseball cap and states: "This is a candidate for Congress helping make sure they're all made in China or Mexico. Harold Johnson signed a pledge that protected tax breaks for outsourcing jobs overseas."
THE FACTS: The pledge, from Americans for Tax Reform, makes no promise to protect these companies. It says nothing about jobs. It's a pledge to oppose tax increases.
Democrats have tried to end tax breaks used by companies that ship jobs overseas, and Republicans have opposed that. The pledge, however, simply says the candidate will oppose increases in income tax rates and oppose cutting deductions or credits unless matched dollar-for-dollar by lower rates.
John Kartch, spokesman for the group, said it would be possible to end tax breaks for overseas companies while honoring the pledge, by substituting a tax reduction of equal value elsewhere in the tax code.
Associated Press writers Jim Drinkard and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.