Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Half-True
Protect Your Vote
"Liberal out-of-state special interests are spending millions on 5 and 6 to change the way Florida draws its congressional and legislative districts."

Protect Your Vote on Thursday, October 28th, 2010 in a TV ad

Opponent of Amendments 5, 6 claims "liberal, out-of-state" donors have spent millions

Protect Your Vote ad

The group fighting a proposal to change how the state Legislature draws state and congressional district boundaries says in a new TV ad that the issue is being funded and supported largely by liberal, out-of-state special interests.

Amendments 5 and 6, which will appear on the Nov. 2, 2010, ballot, seek to amend the state Constitution so that districts are compact, contiguous and rely on existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

The group backing the changes, Fair Districts Florida, says the changes to the Constitution would prevent elected leaders from drawing legislative boundaries to benefit incumbents or one political party. But opponents, including the group Protect Your Vote, say the changes create standards that are impossible to meet and may actually make preserving minority representation more difficult. Instead, the opposition group — funded primarily by the Republican Party of Florida — characterizes the amendments as "designed to elect more Democrats."

A new ad by the group says:

"Take a close look at Amendments 5 and 6. They are a con job and a power grab.

"Liberal out-of-state special interests are spending millions on 5 and 6 to change the way Florida draws its congressional and legislative districts so they can elect more liberals to support the Obama-Pelosi agenda.

"More taxes, more spending, more debt, more job loss.

"How can the same liberal groups that helped bring America to its knees put Florida back on its feet?"

The "liberal, out of state special interests" claim is accompanied by symbols of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the American Trial Lawyers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and ACORN — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Below the symbols is text that says "Spending on 5 & 6 ... $5,786,364."

In this claim, we're checking that "liberal, out-of-state special interests are spending millions" supporting Amendments 5 and 6.

For the record, here are official summaries of the two amendments. They are almost identical, with 5 applying to the state Legislature and 6 to Florida’s congressional districts.

Amendment 5  — Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Amendment 6 — Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Through Oct. 8, Fair Districts Florida had raised $6.9 million, more than two-thirds of which came in large donations of $25,000 or more. We’re looking at contributions before Oct. 8 because new reporting Oct. 28 wasn’t taken into account for Protect Your Vote’s ad.

It’s well-covered ground that "liberals" — or at least groups that traditionally support Democrats — are dominant contributors to Fair Districts Florida. The Orlando Sentinel and other news organizations characterize the issue as one of incumbents vs. those out of power, since Republicans will draw the new lines in 2012 based on fresh data from the 2010 census. Republicans also drew them 10 years ago, since they had gained control of the state Legislature after a redistricting effort led by Democrats the previous decade had been redrawn by the courts. The resulting congressional delegation had 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state. The Orlando Sentinel analyzed campaign contributions and concluded in an Oct. 20 article that "Democrats and their traditional allies have provided more than $5.7 million of the $6.9 million raised by Fair Districts Florida."

But what about the part of the claim that says "out of state?" Campaign contributors provide an address, so it’s easy to separate contributions inside Florida from those outside it. PolitiFact Florida removed contributions from Florida addresses (ignoring a handful of small contributions that didn’t come with an address), and came up with $2.2 million in outside funding, with large contributions from the liberal group America Votes and labor union the National Education Association. That $2.2 million is about 32 percent of Fair District Florida’s funding through Oct. 8.

PolitiFact Florida also wondered about contributions from the groups whose logos appeared in the ad along with the amount "$5,786,364." How much had they contributed? We confirmed that SEIU contributed $625,000; Florida ACORN, $25,000 (back in 2007); and AFL-CIO chapters more than $18,000. But we were unable to find contributions from the American Trial Lawyers Association or the American Civil Liberties Union.

We contacted Ryan Duffy of public relations firm Ron Sachs Communications, who had provided us with a link to the ad and a four-page document supporting its claims. Did the Protect Your Vote campaign also come up with $2.2 million in out-of-state contributions and zero campaign cash from the ATLA and ACLU?

On the "out-of-state" question, he responded that according to Politico, America Votes had contributed $500,000 to the Florida Watch Ballot Committee, which in turn handed the money to Fair Districts Florida — making it out-of-state money that merely looked like in-state money. The same was true of a Florida Education Association donation of $500,000 after it received the same-sized donation from the National Education Association, he wrote.

He added: "These findings suggest the possibility that even more money than this is being filtered through local organizations that has yet to be uncovered."

Meanwhile, he acknowledged that the American Trial Lawyers Association and American Civil Liberties Union were not direct contributors to Fair Districts Florida. Rather, he said, they were included in the ad because donations from attorneys amounted to $1.2 million and 18 percent of the total contributions made to Fair Districts Florida, while the ACLU used its own money to organize rallies, distribute campaign literature, issue news releases and send out e-mail alerts in support of Amendments 5 and 6.

"Thus while the ACLU does not show up as a donor, it is clear that both the Florida and national organizations have contributed numerous resources (e-mails to their mailing list, organization of rallies, promotion on their website etc) to Fair Districts Florida," Duffy wrote.

What does the Truth-O-Meter make of all this?

When it comes to the phrase "Liberal, out-of-state special interests are spending millions on 5 and 6," the Protect Your Vote group does reasonably well. PolitiFact Florida identifies $2.2 million in out-of-state money — though it’s not immediately possible to confirm all 230 contributions are from "liberal" donors or "special interests." Many donations come from individuals. But arguments from Duffy about the Florida Watch Ballot Committee and National Education Association hold some weight, providing an additional $1 million that fits the "out-of-state special interests" category and tipping the claim closer to true.

But this claim wasn’t made in isolation: The words appeared just as five logos and a number flashed on the screen for viewers. The AFL-CIO, SEIU, American Trial Lawyers Association, American Civil Liberties Union and ACORN logos appear above text that says: "Spending on 5 & 6 ... $5,786,364." We know two of those organizations didn’t contribute directly to Fair Districts Florida, and the rest contributed less than $669,000 combined. Also, the number on the screen represents "liberal" donations to Fair Districts Florida — not just those from out of state. Anyone watching without other background could fairly conclude that nearly $5.8 million had been contributed by "liberal, out-of-state special interests," with significant contributions from the organizations on the screen. That’s simply not the case.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear that the message itself came from a partisan group — the top six donations to Protect Your Vote come from the Republican Party of Florida: $750,000 as of Oct. 8, and $1.9 million since then.

"Liberal, out-of-state special interests" is the claim we’re checking, and there are clearly more than $1 million in donations that fit that category, and possibly more. But the mix of group logos and dollar figures is misleading. Not all those groups contributed money directly. Those who did contributed less than $1 million combined. And the number dramatically overstates "liberal, out-of-state special interests" since it represents all "liberal" donations from both inside and outside the state.  We rate this claim Half True.