Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Rep. Bill Pascrell mixes up rulings against Rep. Steve Rothman

Democratic Congressmen Bill Pascrell, left, and Steve Rothman are set to face off in a June primary
Democratic Congressmen Bill Pascrell, left, and Steve Rothman are set to face off in a June primary

In the heat of a political battle, candidates jump at the chance to point out when their opponents have landed at the False end of the Truth-O-Meter.

But they still need to cite our rulings accurately.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell made that mistake today in highlighting some of our fact-checks of claims made by his opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman. The two Democratic congressmen are competing June 5 for their party’s nomination in a newly drawn congressional district.

After we issued a Pants on Fire for an attack ad released by Rothman, Pascrell’s campaign issued a news release and distributed an e-mail to bring attention to that ruling and two previous fact-checks on Rothman claims.

One of those previous fact-checks was in regard to Rothman’s claim that Pascrell "voted to eliminate all estate taxes for billionaires."

Pascrell’s campaign claimed we issued a False for that claim, but our actual ruling was Mostly False, and there is a significant difference between the two rulings.

First, we’ll explain how Pascrell’s campaign characterized that ruling.

A news release from the campaign read in part: "Politifact also told Rothman that his claim Pascrell 'voted to eliminate all estate taxes for billionaires' was false."

In an e-mail, the campaign said: "More than just False, which he got for his last two attacks, now the Star-Ledger's Politifact has given Steve Rothman's latest ad a Truth-o-Meter rating of 'Pants on Fire!'"

The campaign later sent a corrected version of the e-mail, saying: "More than just False and Mostly False, which he got for his last two attacks, now the Star-Ledger's Politifact has given Steve Rothman's latest ad a Truth-o-Meter rating of 'Pants on Fire'!"

Now, let’s review how we arrived at a ruling of Mostly False.

We found that Pascrell voted in June 2000 to gradually repeal the federal estate tax, but after President Bill Clinton vetoed the bill, the congressman reversed his position and voted against the measure in September 2000, when the House failed to override the veto.

Between 2001 and 2007, Pascrell also voted against eliminating the estate tax on at least seven occasions.

But since Pascrell voted for repeal in June 2000, there was "an element of truth" to Rothman’s claim, and that’s why he received a Mostly False.

A False ruling is handed down when, as our definition indicates, "the statement is not accurate."