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Was Martha Kanter "dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million in stimulus money" to save Craig Robinson’s job?

Bloggers on Thursday, September 18th, 2014 in a chain email

Was Martha Kanter 'dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million' to save Craig Robinson's job?

Every two years, just like clockwork, here it comes -- a chain email claiming that a federal assist worth millions of dollars saved Craig Robinson’s job as Oregon State University basketball coach.

"Thank Goodness For The Stimulus!!!" trumpets the anonymous email, which first popped up in March 2010. "But $17 million for one job? I wonder what mine is worth?"

An updated version is making the rounds again, urging people to vote this November. A PolitiFact Oregon reader received it from an acquaintance and passed it along to us.

The claim:

The email focuses on Robinson, who is first lady Michelle Obama’s brother and President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. The piece alleges that Oregon State officials in 2010 were "seriously considering" firing Robinson after his team’s "dismal" start to the 2009-10 basketball season.

"When word reached Washington, D.C.," it continues, "Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter was dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million in stimulus money for the university. Craig Robinson’s job is safe for another year."

It notes the first family connections and closes: "If this doesn’t anger you, nothing will … remember to vote this fall!!!!"

The analysis:

The crux of the claim involves the charge that Bob DeCarolis, Oregon State’s athletic director, was preparing to fire Robinson after a "dismal 8-11 start (2-5) in the Pac 10 Conference."

The university changed its mind, supposedly, only after Kanter, formerly the Obama administration’s highest-ranking higher education official, was "dispatched" to Corvallis with oodles of stimulus money.

We called Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations and marketing. "It’s interesting that it comes up again now," he said, "just a few months before the elections."

As for stimulus money -- from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, passed by Congress and signed by Obama after the 2008 onset of the Great Recession -- Oregon State did receive some.

"As did public universities throughout the nation," Clark said. OSU’s share totaled $26.4 million. "That funded 61 research projects and some infrastructure," he added, "all associated with issues consistent with Oregon State’s research mission."

However, a problem of timing surfaces immediately.

By Oct. 12, 2009, OSU had already received and spent $17.8 million in stimulus money, according to a story by education reporter Betsy Hammond of the Oregonian (the remainder was spent later, on a rolling basis).

So that’s likely where the $17 million referred to in the chain email came from.

But when OSU’s 2009-10 basketball season came along, that money was already gone. The Beavers didn’t get to two wins and five losses in league play -- the point at which DeCarolis, according to the email, was mulling firing Robinson -- until their Jan. 23, 2010, road loss to California.

It should also be noted that the funds came through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, a program set up to help educational institutions retain top teachers and professors. Individual states, not the federal government, chose the recipients.

We emailed Kanter, now a visiting professor at New York University Steinhardt.

"I have no idea where this rumor stems from," she wrote. "I never traveled to Corvallis to award $17 million in stimulus money in 2010, nor do I personally know Craig Robinson." She also provided a link to another fact-checking site that debunked the claim.

OSU officials said they have no record of Kanter showing up in Corvallis around that time, nor is there any evidence of news stories detailing a trip.

DeCarolis has flatly denied the story several times. It would also be highly unusual for any major college program to fire a coach so early in a season, especially considering that Robinson’s team the year before finished with an 18-18 win-loss record and earned OSU’s first post-season championship by winning the 2009 College Basketball Invitational.

As for Robinson, the run didn’t last forever. DeCarolis fired him May 5, 2014, after six seasons and a win-loss record of 94-105.

The ruling:

A recycled chain email claims OSU basketball coach Craig Robinson -- Michelle Obama’s brother and the president’s brother-in-law -- avoided losing his job in March 2010 only because a high-ranking administration official was "dispatched to Corvallis with $17 million in stimulus money for the university."

Records show that OSU had spent $17.8 million in stimulus funds months before the point when Robinson’s job was supposedly on the line. And there is no evidence that an administration official was "dispatched" to Corvallis. The state, not the feds, also chose how to spend the money.

The claim has been debunked repeatedly, but keeps cropping up with nothing changed but the date. It’s not only false, but ridiculously so. We rate it Pants On Fire.