Concerned Taxpayers of America is the lofty and nicely generic name of an independent expenditure group funded by two very rich people on the East Coast. The group has spent at least $300,000 for several TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and backing Republican challenger Art Robinson.
The latest commercial is as cute as the cartoon kids on South Park. There’s DeFazio behind the wheel of his 1963 Dodge Dart as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in the passenger seat, exhorts him, "Turn left! Turn left!" and "Spend more! Tax more! Faster!" Again, very catchy -- and geared to generate maximum outrage in a congressional district that disdains Washington, D.C.
But we were curious about the ad’s claims. Has DeFazio voted with Pelosi 86 percent of the time? Does he take directions, besides driving, from the speaker from San Francisco? PolitiFact Oregon always thought DeFazio, the state’s longest serving sitting congressman, really wasn’t big on party politics or groupthink.
Democrats in other states have been hit with the same attack as Republicans try to capitalize on Pelosi’s unpopularity in swing districts. The attacks usually cite as evidence The Washington Post votes database or, as in this case, something called the National Republican Trust PAC. Go there and you’ll find "The Pelosi Index," which rates House members on how closely they hew to the speaker. There’s the Statue of Liberty at one end and Pelosi on the other, and anything above 75 percent is "tyranny."
DeFazio’s counsel asked KEZI-TV, the ABC affiliate in Eugene, to stop airing the ads, arguing that the website doesn’t compare all votes between DeFazio and Pelosi. The letter read, in part:
"Instead, it fabricates a percentage based on only 14 votes that it cherry-picked, out of hundreds cast by Rep. DeFazio. And it ignores the fact that, of those 14 selectively chosen votes, Speaker Pelosi did not even cast a vote on 3 of them."
(The station briefly stopped airing the ad to conduct a review, but has since resumed.)
Pelosi, as speaker, doesn’t vote much. She’s cast 94 votes in the 111th Congress, which opened January 2009. But regular member DeFazio does, and we thought it useful to check how he’s rated by the The Washington Post database.
Here’s what we found: DeFazio has cast 1,508 votes this session, voting with the majority of his party 96.6 percent of the time. The average for Democrats is 92.2 percent, so DeFazio is higher than the average, although lower than the other Oregon House Democrats. Earl Blumenauer and David Wu are at 97 percent, and Kurt Schrader is at 97.1 percent.
So the number is high, but remember, these tally all votes cast, even the mundane ones. And The Post database shows the percentage a lawmaker "agrees with the position taken by a majority of his or her party members," not just Pelosi.
Since PolitiFact Oregon has nothing but time, we ran our own comparison between DeFazio and Pelosi. We eliminated 24 of Pelosi’s 94 votes because they were roll calls or resolutions that both parties agreed on. That left 70 substantive votes, of which DeFazio disagreed on six. Percentage-wise, that’s 91 percent.
So on both counts, DeFazio rates higher than the 86 percent figure cited in the commercial.
But we needed to flesh out the disagreements -- because they are blowout disagreements -- and this gets to the larger question of whether DeFazio is indeed someone who’s just following Pelosi’s lead.
DeFazio voted against a signature cap and trade climate bill pushed by Pelosi last year, saying it had too much carrot and not enough stick.
And he was one of only seven House Democrats to vote against President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package in February 2009. Passage of the stimulus was one of the Democrats’ signature initiatives.
DeFazio did vote for Obama’s health care plan, but only after finagling better Medicare reimbursement rates for Oregon.
Defying party leadership, he opposed the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in 2008 and voted against it in a follow-up bill in 2009. Most recently, he and a dozen House Democrats joined Republicans in voting against a business-lending act that he deemed too expensive for taxpayers without lending enough help to small businesses.
In short, not a very good Pelosi lapdog.
Finally, we checked National Journal’s annual rankings from 2009, just for fun. DeFazio had a 61.5 percent liberal voting record and a 38.5 percent conservative voting record. Again, he was the least liberal of Oregon’s four House Democrats.
To summarize, DeFazio has diverged sharply from Democratic leadership on key issues, especially economic ones. To imply that Pelosi is really in the driver’s seat when it comes to DeFazio’s votes is false. But it’s true that agrees with his party most of the time. We rate this Half True.