To hear one Georgia congressman tell it, he’s the pied piper of some of his colleagues in the U.S. House.
"It’s become a joke in Congress how Dr. (Phil) Gingrey and Mr. (Jack) Kingston have been following my votes," U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, told The Daily Beast, a news and lifestyle website. "They’ve even changed votes to what I voted, multiple times. Members of Congress are laughing about it."
Broun, Gingrey and Kingston, veteran Georgia Republicans serving in the House, are vying for the same seat in the U.S. Senate this year, along with several other candidates.
PolitiFact Georgia wanted to find out if Broun is correct or not about Gingrey and Kingston following his lead.
All three have attempted to claim title as the most conservative candidate in the crowded GOP field. They have voted the same way all but a handful of times since 2013. Broun, though, has been the most vocal of the three men against some GOP initiatives, usually arguing they are not conservative enough.
Since 2013, Broun is the only Republican House member from Georgia who has voted with his party less than 95 percent of the time, according to the website Open Congress. Broun has voted along party lines 87 percent of the time. Gingrey and Kingston have both voted along party lines at a 95 percent clip.
Broun directed us to a handful of votes among the more than 700 votes taken by the House since the beginning of 2013 to make his case.
Through spokesmen, both Gingrey and Kingston said Broun’s claims were absurd. But this fact-check really got interesting when we interviewed another member of Congress who told us a story about a recent vote concerning Broun and Kingston.
On March 6, the House was preparing to vote on an aid package for Ukraine when Broun told his seatmate, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., about his plan to play cloak and dagger in the U.S. Capitol.
"I’m voting no on this, but I’m going to wait until the end to see if (Gingrey and Kingston) change their votes once I vote," Massie said, quoting Broun.
Gingrey and Kingston voted in favor of the legislation early during the voting period, Massie recalled. With one minute left, Broun followed through with his vote against the bill. As time expired, Massie said he looked up at the electronic board tracking how each member voted and noticed that Kingston voted against the legislation, House Resolution 4152.
"Hey, look at the board!" Massie said.
"I told you so," Broun replied.
Massie said he decided to share his story about the March 6 vote with PolitiFact Georgia after Gingrey and Kingston said that Broun was wrong in his assertion.
"To say Paul Broun is misleading would be false," Massie told us.
Broun and Kingston did vote no, records show. Gingrey voted in favor of the legislation that day.
Video is not allowed of the electronic board that records the votes, so there is no way to see if Kingston first voted in favor of the legislation. Video of the vote tally is permitted, and it shows the Republican vote count changed as the time expired from 195 in favor of the bill and 21 against it to 194 to 22. One more no vote was added to the Republican total after time expired.
Massie said Broun’s prediction makes a strong argument about Kingston’s motives.
"I cannot tell you why (Kingston) changed his vote, but I can tell you he changed it after Paul Broun voted and Paul Broun predicted it would happen," Massie said.
Kingston campaign spokesman Chris Crawford said Massie may have been looking at the vote change of another congressman.
"I don’t ever recall him voting for it," Crawford said of Kingston. "I think Congressman Massie is mistaken. Perhaps he mistook something but Jack never voted for that bill."
Former Georgia congressman George "Buddy" Darden said some members will change their votes during the 15 minutes they have to vote on legislation. Sometimes, he said, they’ve voted on the wrong legislation. Sometimes, they’re unsure which way they want to vote. Sometimes, they’ll change their vote if an extra vote or two is needed for a bill to pass.
Darden, a Democrat, stressed that a member’s vote is not official until it is recorded in the Congressional Record.
So did Kingston switch his vote on HR 4152 and did he do it because Broun voted no?
"The only person who knows for sure is Jack Kingston," said Darden, senior counsel at the law firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge.
About four weeks later, on April 1, the House took another vote on the Ukraine legislation. Records show Broun again voted no, Gingrey again voted yes but Kingston did not vote. Kingston, though, did not vote on other legislation that came before the House afterward, records show.
The Broun campaign also directed us to news coverage to support his argument. The first was an article on the popular Washington, D.C., news site, Politico. It was written in March 2013, before Kingston announced he was running for the U.S. Senate. The article was about Broun "yanking much of the congressional delegation to the right and throwing their votes and the support of leadership into a daily flux."
The Politico article reported that Kingston admitted that Broun’s rightward leanings were changing his voting pattern. Crawford, the Kingston spokesman, noted that the article "doesn't provide a quote from Mr. Kingston but the impression of the reporter."
Politico reported in that article, Broun voted against a procedural motion concerning legislation to keep the government running. The article reported that the "dominoes then began to fall. Kingston and Gingrey ended up voting against both the procedural motion and the resolution itself."
Broun’s case against Gingrey focused on news coverage such as the Politico story and a 2013 vote on raising the federal debt ceiling. Broun’s campaign shared a couple of tweets from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Washington bureau account that suggest Gingrey flip-flopped on the debt ceiling vote in 2013 after Broun voiced his opposition to the plan. The first tweet, on Jan. 22, 2013, showed that Gingrey was prepared to vote yes while Broun was the only Georgia lawmaker in the tweet who was planning to vote no.
The second tweet, posted on Jan. 23, 2013, showed Broun and Gingrey voted against raising the debt ceiling.
Gingrey spokesman Cameron Harley said the congressman’s votes were not being manipulated by Broun’s votes.
"The votes Congressman Gingrey takes on the House floor have always been driven by the conservative Georgia values embodied by his constituency and to suggest that they are driven by Congressman Broun is simply false," Harley said.
"There are myriad occasions where their votes have differed, including votes on policy critical to protecting Americans from Obamacare's most egregious provisions while Republicans work toward a full repeal. Furthermore, Congressman Gingrey has voted countless times not to raise the debt ceiling -- a hard stance he took long before announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate. The will of his constituency has always been, and will always be, the only bellwether for his judgement as a public servant."
To sum up, Broun said in the article that fellow congressmen Gingrey and Kingston have "even changed votes to what I voted, multiple times."
Broun’s case against Gingrey is a matter of perception.
In Kingston’s case, it boils down to who do you believe? Broun, Massie or Kingston? It’s a case of "he said, he said."
In general, the three candidates have voted the same way all but a handful of times since 2013. Broun needed more examples to prove this has happened multiple times. He may be correct about what happened concerning Kingston and the Ukraine vote, but there’s no way to know for sure. And if Kingston and Gingrey changed votes, there’s no way to know whether they did it because of Broun. Thus, his evidence is thin. Therefore, we rate Broun’s claim Mostly False.
Under PolitiFact’s rating system, Mostly False means the claim contains some element of truth, but doesn’t tell the whole story.