Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Bloggers
Says Florida U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson are Socialists.

Bloggers on Friday, August 12th, 2011 in various web pages

Bloggers say U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson are openly serving as Socialists

Word in the blogosphere is that scores of members of Congress are actually unabashed 'S' words.

That'd be Socialists.

Several bloggers have listed members of Congress by name under headlines like "Why do Americans Keep Electing These Socialist Politicians to Congress??" and "Socialist Party of America Releases The Names of 70 Democrat Members of Congress Who Are Members Of Their Congress."

The list -- actually a roster of Congressional Progressive Caucus members (mostly) from Wikipedia -- includes Florida Democrats Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson.

"I'm sure if you asked random people on the street if we had open socialists in the U.S. Congress, they would say – well only Bernie Sanders (Senate). But the right answer is much, much worse," goes an Aug. 12, 2011 post from the website Sovereign Citizens United.

On Aug. 17, 2011, citing a different caucus count, Texas radio host Dan Cofall wrote, "The magic number '70' is the number of members of the 111th Congress who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). These are not just politicians who vote left of center; these are card-carrying members of ‘The Democratic Socialists of America’."

Our colleagues at PolitiFact Oregon vetted the bloggers' claim in this story, concentrating on Oregonian representatives. They pointed out that Cofall's figure is, for one, out of date because we have entered the 112th Congress. Several out-of-office House members from Florida were listed there. Still, his post targets many existing lawmakers.

As our colleagues noted, the posts grabbed our attention for their blunt and far-reaching assertions. At PolitiFact Florida, we wanted to check out the claims that Brown, Hastings and Wilson are Socialists, or if it's a virtual Red Scare.

Where did the list come from?

Sovereign Citizens United connects the officials to socialism for their membership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus (75 members) within the House Democratic caucus. Founded in 1991, the group of lawmakers supports policies that advance economic justice, civil rights and liberties, global peace and environmental protection, among other causes on its website.

We reached out to Sovereign Citizens United and heard back from a Montgomery, Penn., woman named Ruth Miller. Miller sent us several e-mails to back up her blog post.

"It is documented FACT that Socialist Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America created the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 to further their socialist agenda in the US," she wrote. "Any member of Congress who has joined this caucus expresses solidarity with socialism."

Miller sent us to a KeyWiki page about the caucus, which claims that the DSA has worked closely with the progressives and links to an old DSA Detroit group's web page. "As a national organization, DSA joins with its allies in Congress' Progressive Caucus and in many other progressive organizations, fighting for the interests of the average citizen both in legislative struggles and in other campaigns to educate the public on progressive issues and to secure progressive access to the media."

Then Miller directed us to Henry Lamb, 73, who penned an undated commentary that inspired her blog post (she included an excerpt there). Lamb, founder of advocacy group Freedom 21 and retired chairman of Sovereignty International, said he wrote the essay to show "how similar the organizations were at the time."

Lamb wrote: "Socialism in America is alive, well, and growing. Aided by such influential Congressmen as John Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judicial Committee, David Bonior, the pit-bull-dog who successfully whipped Newt, Maxine Waters, the President's outspoken defender in the impeachment debates, and nearly 60 other Representatives, socialism is advancing in America behind the 'Progressive' label."

He goes on to pull excerpts from the Democratic Socialists of America website that explain what the group believes. In a hot pink sidebar, Lamb listed 56 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It includes Brown and Hastings but not Wilson, as she was not yet elected to the House.

There's also no analysis of the Progressive Caucus. His piece contains no date, and Lamb -- to whom we spoke -- could not find it in his online archives.

So are they Socialists?

Neither Brown nor Wilson's office responded to calls and e-mails for comment. A spokeswoman for Hastings e-mailed only to say he was not a member of the Progressive Caucus, which is true -- this year. News accounts show he has been a member in the past.

Still, all three are serving as Democrats. All three list their political party affiliation as the Florida Democratic Party on their voter registration cards.

Brad Bauman, executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said none of the group's members are Socialists.

"The members of Congress on our caucus are patriots who have chosen to serve," Bauman said, "and to allege that they are not is just simply ridiculous."

Even the Democratic Socialists of America does not claim the caucus members. PolitiFact Oregon interviewed the party's past national director of 10 years, Frank Llewellyn, who called the list "completely fraudulent."

More from PolitiFact Oregon: There is not one member of Congress who is a formal member of the DSA, Llewellyn said. In order to join, a person must fill out a form and pay dues. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is not a formal member of the DSA, Llewellyn said. The last member of Congress who was an actual card-carrying member, he said, was California Democratic Rep. Ron Dellums, who served 28 years in the House until leaving in 1998.

In a separate interview with PolitiFact Georgia, Llewellyn said the DSA had nothing to do with the creation of the caucus and would "prefer an alternative third party that supports its values." He outlined a couple policy differences with the progressives in Congress. He said his organization wants larger cuts in military spending and federal income tax rates returned to pre-Reagan administration levels, when they were much higher for the rich.

But what about Lamb, the man who wrote untold years ago that "socialism is advancing in America behind the "Progressive" label"? He said it isn't wise to generalize. The name-calling reminds him of recent comments from Rep. Andre Carson, D-Ind., who said some of his tea party colleagues would like to see blacks "hanging from a tree."

"I think it would be equally silly for somebody to say that every member of the Progressive Caucus is a Socialist, even though you would have to share similar philosophies with socialist beliefs to sign up," Lamb said. "That doesn't mean necessarily that you are a Socialist."

Our ruling

You've heard it from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Democratic Socialists of America and the author of the commentary that inspired the blog activity: Just because you are a member of the Progressive Caucus does not mean you are a socialist. And none of the caucus members profess to be Socialists, including our Florida Democrats, Brown, Hastings and Wilson. The bloggers go too far in attacking them as socialists, a repeated label for liberals these days. We rate this claim Pants on Fire.