Friday, October 24th, 2014

George LeMieux vs. Bill Nelson on earmarks

A web ad from the campaign of George LeMieux titled, "The Choice."

A new Web ad from the campaign for former Sen. George LeMieux takes on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida over the issue of earmarks and specifically ties Nelson to perhaps the most infamous earmark ever, the so-called Bridge to Nowhere.

A narrator in the ad, called "The Choice," says, "Nelson voted for billions in wasteful spending earmarks like the Bridge to Nowhere. LeMieux never requested a single earmark and pushed to ban them all."

We split this claim into two fact-checks.

First, we looked at the claim about Nelson's record on earmarks. It's true, as the ad claims, that in 2005 Nelson voted in favor of a $286.5 billion Highway Reauthorization Bill, which included $225 million for an Alaska bridge to connect the tiny city of Ketchikan to Gravina, an island with just a few dozen residents and an airport. The project was derisively nicknamed the Bridge to Nowhere by a government watchdog group and became a national symbol of federal pork-barrel spending.

However, the Alaska bridge was less than a tenth of 1 percent of total spending in the bill. And we couldn't find any evidence prior to the vote that Nelson had an opinion about the Alaska bridge one way or the other.

But the highway bill did include more than 6,000 earmarks -- at a cost of more than $24 billion -- including a number of Florida projects requested by Nelson. We rated the claim Mostly True

Next we looked at the second half of the ad's earmark claim, that "LeMieux never requested a single earmark and pushed to ban them all."

Shortly after assuming office to fill the remaining term of retiring Sen. Mel Martinez in September 2009, LeMieux voted in favor of a handful of appropriations bills that included thousands of earmarks worth billions of dollars.

It's true, as the ad states, that LeMieux never personally requested any earmarks, but the appropriations bills LeMieux voted in favor of were stuffed with several dozen earmarks -- at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars -- that were requested by his predecessor, Sen. Martinez.

It's also true, as the ad states, that LeMieux was out front in the push to ban earmarks. As evidence, the ad cites LeMieux's vote on Nov. 30, 2010, in favor of an amendment that sought to establish a moratorium on earmarks through the 2013 fiscal year. The amendment failed. But here's what the ad doesn't say: Nelson also voted for the moratorium.

Due to all that missing context, we rated the second half of the claim Half True.