Michelle Nunn’s U.S. Senate campaign recently had to own up to accidentally posting the details of its election strategy for all the world -- and the opposition -- to see.
Within days, one of Nunn’s vocal critics, the conservative Ending Spending Action Fund, was on television with a 30-second ad playing off information from the leaked campaign memo.
"What does Michelle Nunn worry about most?" the announcer asks. "It’s not the economy, and it’s not you."
The ad tries to tag Nunn with labels that her campaign strategists said in the memo they were anticipating: Nunn’s "too liberal," a "lightweight" a "rubber stamp for Democrats" and "not a real Georgian."
But the ad’s headline point is more ominous.
"Her foundation directed grants to an Islamic group tied to radical terrorists," the announcer states. "If Nunn supporters are worried, shouldn’t we be, too?"
Video of what appears to be armed terrorists is background for part of the ad.
PolitiFact decided to fact-check the statement about Nunn, who has spent her career in nonprofits. She became CEO of Points of Light Foundation, the service-oriented organization inspired by President George H.W. Bush, in 2007. Nunn is on leave while campaigning.
Ending Spending Action Fund, a political action committee founded by Joe Ricketts, former CEO of TD Ameritrade, has spent more than $1 million on Nunn attack ads since April.
Ending Spending president Brian Baker told PolitiFact Georgia last month that the group opposed two candidates this year, Nunn and Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey. Both jumped in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, but Gingrey was knocked out in the crowded GOP primary that Perdue ultimately won.
In July, PolitiFact Georgia rated as Mostly True an Ending Spending ad claim that Nunn earned as much as $300,000 from Points of Light after the non-profit had laid of 90 workers (due to a merger).
The contest between Nunn, daughter of retired U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, and Perdue, cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, is one of the most closely watched of this year’s elections.
The prospect of Democrats winning a Senate seat in Republican-controlled Georgia is energizing for Nunn and her party. They want to reclaim a Georgia Senate seat and keep control of the Senate chamber for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s term. Republicans need six seats to claim the Senate majority.
For our fact-check of the newest ad from Ending Spending, we contacted Baker, asking for evidence to back up the ad’s claims. He sent us a document based largely on the Nunn campaign’s 144-page internal memo and a story in National Review, the conservative magazine that broke the story of the leaked memo.
On July 28th, National Review Online reported that Points of Light had made grants totalling more than $33,000 to Islamic Relief USA, one of a global network of charities that’s under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide.
In June, Israel’s defense minister labeled Islamic Relief Worldwide an "unauthorised association" and has prevented the group from operating in Israel and the West Bank, citing its links to the Palestinian and U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas..
In a web posting, officials with Islamic Relief Worldwide said the organization "is extremely surprised and concerned by this and categorically denies any links with Hamas."
Stefanie Weiss, Points of Light’s communications director, told us the nonprofit "has never had any dealings with or given any grants to Hamas or any known terrorist group."
From 2003 to 2011, MissionFish was a Points of Light business unit that allowed eBay sellers and buyers to direct all or part of the proceeds from a transaction to their favorite charity, Weiss said.
EBay users could donate to any of 20,000 organizations, all of which were registered 501(c)(3) nonprofits or the overseas equivalent, she said.
"These nonprofits were vetted regularly to ensure tax-exempt status, good standing with the IRS, and exclusion from terrorist watch lists," Weiss said.
Islamic Relief USA was one of them and "remains an eBay Giving Works-approved charity," she said. (Points of Light sold MissionFish to eBay in 2011.)
Points of Lights’ IRS 990s show Islamic Relief USA, which describes itself as an independent affiliate of Islamic Relief Worldwide, received about $13,500 in contributions from eBay buyers and sellers in 2006, 2007 and 2010. National Review has corrected its story to show that the $33,000 figure was in error.
Nathan Click, spokesman for the Nunn campaign, called the ad a "false and ridiculous attack against Points of Light -- an organization founded by President George H.W. Bush that mobilizes million of volunteers each year."
He said this kind of attack "is exactly what Georgians are ready to change about our political process."
Just the mention of the word Islamic can ignite strong emotions in some people. And those working to block Nunn’s candidacy clearly know that and hope the ad will work in their favor.
Our research showed the group that Points of Light dealt with -- Islamic Relief USA -- is an approved charity and not on the U.S.’s terrorist watch list.
But the record of its umbrella organization, Islamic Relief Worldwide, is not clear. Leaders of IRW deny any connection to Hamas. But a top Israeli official in June banned Islamic Relief Worldwide from working in the country, saying terrorist connections exist.
The ad says Nunn's foundation "directed money." But Points of Light instead allowed eBay buyers and sellers to choose whether to take part in the program and then designate any one of 20,000 charities, including Islamic Relief USA, to get donated funds.
Donors gave to an entity that is not on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list. These type of donations started before Nunn arrived at Points of Light, and the nonprofit sold MissionFish, three years before the Israel government banned the umbrella group.
Ending Spending Action makes a very specific claim based more on innuendo than evidence.
We rate it Mostly False.