Democratic Congressman Ron Klein has gone on the offensive in his campaign against Republican retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West -- whose $2 million war chest and national media attention have turned the race into one of the hottest Congressional contests in Florida. Klein represents a swing Congressional district that spans parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Klein wants to capitalize on voters' anger about the BP spill and hammers West in a June 28 fundraising e-mail. The bulk of his e-mail with the subject line "Apologize to BP?!" relates to West's stance on the oil spill and his connection to Congressman Joe Barton, the Texas Republican facing heat after apologizing to BP and calling Obama's demand for the escrow account a "shakedown."
"In short, while sheets of oil are washing up today on Pensacola Beach, he’s more concerned with BP’s profits than the livelihood of fishermen, restaurateurs, or those that depend on FL tourism...," Klein wrote about his opponent West. "Barton called the Obama administration’s push for BP to set up a $20 billion account - a fund that would ultimately help pay for clean up and damages and wages for those who are losing their livelihood - a 'shakedown.' Most Republicans have made it very clear that Barton’s actions were unacceptable. Not Allen West. A continuing supporter of offshore drilling, West’s campaign is now aligned with those who would apparently give BP a pass. Thus far, the most radical Tea Partiers have taken a liking to West and what he stands for. They also haven’t been shy in contributing to his cause. West has raised $2 million from those that would leave our beaches in ruins, end Social Security and Medicare, and give corporations free reign."
There are a lot of strong statements in Klein's letter that we could have chosen to fact-check. But we particularly thought that last sentence was a biting claim, and we don't mean the usual spelling of "free rein." Note Klein didn't say that West would ruin Florida's beaches, end Social Security and Medicare, and give corporations free rein -- he said that $2 million in donations to West came from donors who held those views. For this Truth-O-Meter we wanted to explore whether "West has raised $2 million from those that would leave our beaches in ruins, end Social Security and Medicare, and give corporations free reign."
We contacted Klein's campaign and asked for documentation to support their claim. Campaign spokeswoman Sarah Rothschild sent us about two dozen citations for news articles and web sites that relate to West and his donors, but she declined to define what Klein meant by "give corporations free reign." We looked at most of their citations, focusing on BP and Rep. Joe Barton since that was the point of Klein's e-mail, and we break the other donors down by topic below.
First, we confirmed that West had raised $2,065,855 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It's not logical to assume that every one those donors would ruin the beaches and end Medicare and Social Security. We found a few tenuous connections to those issues among a small handful of donors but not enough for a blanket statement.
Congressman Joe Barton
West got $1,000 from Rep. Joe Barton's Texas Freedom Fund PAC on March 3, 2010, FEC reports show.
On June 17 at a Congressional hearing on BP, Barton, the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, defended BP. The Wasington Post's Right Now blog reported that Barton said: "It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown."
Later the same day, Barton apologized for his apology after Republican leaders threatened to take away his committee leadership position.
The Tampa Tribune reported June 25 that West about a week earlier had also raised concerns about the BP escrow account at a business luncheon in Palm Beach Gardens. "West said that while he was 'angry with BP' for the spill, 'when you have an executive branch that goes to a private sector business and takes their private equity funds and demands that they put it into an escrow account, something is upside down in this country. That is a very dangerous precedent that we establish.'" Even though West may not like the way the restitution happened, the Freedom Fund donation came about a month before the Gulf oil well blowout.
So we moved on to the other citations Klein's camp sent us.
Oil and gas, banks
- The CRP analysis showed -- and West doesn't dispute -- that by June 29 he had received about $6,850 from donors identified as being in the oil and gas industry. But we could not find any donations in this race from BP, or even Exxon, the company involved in the 1989 major Alaskan oil spill. (As an aside, we'll note the records show that Klein received $1,000 from BP in 2006 and $500 in 2008.)
- CRP showed that by the same date, West had received $8,600 from donors identified as Bank of America. Klein's campaign cites lavish Super Bowl parties and financial shenanigans by Bank of America, but no connection to beaches, Medicare or Social Security or giving corporations free rein.
Next, we looked at political action committees, some of them set up by controversial public officials:
- West got $2,500 from the PAC of an insurance company called Torchmark, according to the FEC report. The American Association of Justice in 2008 listed the company in its "10 Worst Insurance Companies in America" for what it said were transgressions, but again, nothing there about beaches, Medicare, Social Security or free rein.
- West got $5,000 in March 2010 from Rep. Paul Ryan's Prosperity PAC, FEC reports show, and Ryan is the congressman whose budget proposal, A Roadmap to America's Future, was described in The Atlantic Feb. 2 as "essentially privatized Social Security and strangled Medicare inflation with cost-controlled vouchers." There, finally, is a link to Klein's claim about support for deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
- Next up was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks PAC, which stands for "lower taxes, less government, more freedom." The PAC hosted a fundraiser for West March 22 and named him as one of its Champions of Freedom. Though Klein didn't cite an amount, we found FEC reports that show FreedomWorks made $841 in in-kind contributions to the West campaign in March and April 2010. In an interview on Meet the Press, Armey called Medicare "tyranny" because seniors are forced to participate, according to an Aug. 16, 2009, article in Politico. On its website, FreedomWorks is critical of Social Security. Armey was also critical of the $20 billion BP escrow fund, according to a June 17, 2010, post in Right Now, the Washington Post blog. "I'm against it -- there is no doubt that BP has resititution to make, but there is something called due process through the legitimate judicial branch of government through which these things should be adjudicated." So Armey or his PAC are highly critical of Social Security and Medicare -- part of Klein's claim -- and Armey was also critical of the creation of the BP escrow fund, though that doesn't mean he would leave our beaches in ruins.
- Last, we checked Sarah Palin's PAC, which gave West $1,000 in March, FEC records show. On June 20, 2010, Sarah Palin tweeted, “Gulf disaster needs divine intervention as man’s efforts have been futile. Gulf lawmakers designate today Day of Prayer for solution/miracle.” Klein's campaign also cited a June 12, 2010, Fox News report in which she blamed lax government regulations for the spill. Thouugh she criticized the Obama administration's response and "extreme environmentalists" we don't think that means Palin wants to leave our beaches in ruin. We also don't think Palin would call for praying for a miracle after clean-up efforts failed if she wanted the beaches destroyed. And blaming "lax government regulations" doesn't sound like she wants to give the oil companies free rein.
Clearly, West has taken money from at least a few donors that have either been sympathetic to BP, in favor of massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare or affiliated with corporations that have been accused of wrongdoing. But that's not what Klein's campaign said.
Klein's fundraising e-mail said: "West has raised $2 million from those that would leave our beaches in ruins, end Social Security and Medicare and give corporations free reign." The donors the Klein campaign cited added up to about $25,000 -- only a sliver of his $2 million campaign. The West campaign could cherrypick too and likely find negative headlines about some of Klein's donors -- including BP in previous election cycles. But we don't think that we can draw conclusions about all of Klein's donors based on his BP donations. Similarily, there is no way Klein would know the viewpoints of all of West's donors unless he researched all of their views on these topics -- an impossible endeavor. We rate this claim False.