Saturday, September 20th, 2014

The R.I. Voter Guide: What they said, how we ruled

Voters cast ballots in Providence during the Sept. 14 Rhode Island primary.
Voters cast ballots in Providence during the Sept. 14 Rhode Island primary.

From Ukrainian billionaires to jet engines, from witness protection programs to Ponzi schemes, our Truth-O-Meter has had a workout testing the claims made by candidates over the last several weeks.

One thing is clear: when the mud starts flying, truth is often the first casualty.

In our continuing effort to help voters find their way out of the mud to firmer ground, here are summaries of some of the Truth-O-Meter rulings from each statewide race.

GOVERNOR

Moderate Kenneth Block
Block has repeatedly promised that he'd save millions of dollars for Rhode Island by rooting out waste and fraud if he's elected. Unlike most candidates who have made similar pledges, Block cites actual experience, claiming he "helped invent a system that saved over a billion dollars on welfare" in Texas. We found sources and records in Texas that backed up his claim and ruled it True.

Democrat Frank Caprio
We examined three statements made by Caprio, and found each Half True. First was his claim that if every small business in the state hired one worker, the unemployment rate would be cut in half. His math seemed a little shaky to us.

Likewise his assertion that 1 in 4 Rhode Islanders lack health insurance. We determined that the number is closer to 1 in 6.

And we found that Caprio left out important context when he took independent Lincoln Chafee to task for Chafee's handling of a Warwick teacher's dispute. Caprio said Chafee gave the teachers "a 19-percent raise." We reported that, with compounding and retroactive pay, it was actually 24.2 percent. But it was over six years, an important fact Caprio omitted.

Independent Lincoln Chafee
Chafee could keep the Truth-O-Meter spinning all by himself, partly because he often says provocative things and also because he's a frequent target of attacks from all sides.

Not long after Chafee announced his candidacy, he said that Central Falls had a 53-percent teen pregnancy rate, which his campaign later acknowledged was a mistake. (The rate is closer to 6 percent.) We ruled that False. But we ruled that his estimate that $89.4 million in potential revenue would be generated by his proposed 1-percent sales tax was Mostly True.

On the weighty issue of whether Curt Schilling really had blood on his sock in the 2004 playoff game with the Yankees -- Chafee said Schilling's teammates thought it was paint -- we found Chafee's claim False.

And we examined the claim of a local news web site that Chafee consulted with "a Ukrainian billionaire with widely reported ties to organized crime." The billionaire, Rinat Akhmetov, founded a good-government organization in Ukraine; Chafee has earned up to $100,000-a-year advising the group.

We reviewed a 50-page private investigative report the billionaire commissioned and talked with academics and U.S. government officials, including the former ambassador to Ukraine. While there have been many rumors and stories about the billionaire, we found no evidence that he had ever been indicted, arrested or convicted of a crime. We published a complete story, but decided against a Truth-O-Meter ruling.

John Robitaille
On WPRI-TV's "Newsmakers" program, Robitaille said that some of the problems at the state's Division of Motor Vehicles were due to union rules that, among other things, allowed untrained cook's helpers to get DMV jobs. We found that some cook's helpers did get jobs, but the DMV maintained they were qualified; we ruled his claim Half True.

We gave Robitaille a False ruling for saying that Caprio "never worked in the private sector," when the evidence was clear that he had.

Finally, we found two Robitaille statements True: that he was cited as the nation's top ROTC cadet when he graduated from college and that Rhode Island's unemployment compensation benefits are among the highest in the country.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

Robert Healey,  whose independent campaign"s sole goal is to eliminate the office, noted in a Journal op-ed piece that many states "are currently discussing the need for such an obsolete office." He named seven states. We found that the issue had been raised by columnists and others in those states, but we found no evidence that there were any official discussions or actions underway. We ruled his claim Barely True.

Democrat Elizabeth Roberts has claimed that she led the fight against a health insurance rate hike and helped save "Rhode Island families $150 million." We found that she did lead the opposition but overstated the savings and ruled her statement Half True.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Democrat Peter Kilmartin said he helped pass laws to create a witness protection program. We found that the state had a witness protection program before Kilmartin was in the legislature, but that legislation he sponsored substantially improved what was widely regarded as a flawed program, earning Kilmartin a Mostly True rating.

Republican Erik Wallin attacked Kilmartin in a news release, saying the Democrat voted to increase the amount of time jailed sex offenders could cut from their sentences through good behavior. We determined that the bill Wallin referred to specifically excluded sex offenders and ruled his statement False.

The Moderate Party's Christopher Little was the target of an attack from Edwin Pacheco, the state Democratic Party chairman. Pacheco said Little had a history of "defending the worst types of corporate polluters." But we found that none of the cases Pacheco cited supported his claim and ruled it False.

But when we examined Little's claim that Kilmartin had been a lawyer for only three years, Kilmartin presented us with tax returns that showed otherwise, so we rated Little's claim False.

SECRETARY OF STATE

Early in her campaign, Republican Catherine Taylor, like most other candidates, came out against the so-called master lever on the ballot. And she told a talk show host that the voting instructions mailed to voters say nothing about the limitations of the lever. We looked at the voter guides going back to 1998, found clear instructions and ruled her statement False. (For those considering using the master lever, our online item offers a handy guide.)

Democrat Ralph Mollis was attacked by his party primary opponent, Leonidas Raptakis, for wrongly taking credit for a program to help small businesses. We determined that the program Raptakis was citing was begun by Mollis' predecessors but brought to fruition by Mollis. We ruled Raptakis's statement Half True.

GENERAL TREASURER

The race between Democrat Gina Raimondo and Republican Kernan King has been remarkable for two things. There's been little mudslinging and each candidate earned a True rating from our Truth-O-Meter.

Raimondo has boasted about creating Rhode Island's only venture capital fund. The experts we consulted said her Point Judith Capital is, indeed, unique in the state.

And King, criticizing the state's public employee pension system for its complexity, said there are "150 different pension plans." He was off by one or two, but it was close enough for us.

CONGRESS, 1st DISTRICT

The fight for the seat being vacated by Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy has produced one of this season's most intense campaigns. Democrat David Cicilline and Republican John Loughlin have lobbed charges against each other in debates, in news releases, and in radio and TV ads.

The two candidates disagree about nearly everything -- especially about Social Security. Cicilline has accused Loughlin of "talking about privatizing Social Security," which is literally true. But because Loughlin's comments had to do with limited, voluntary private accounts, not more extensive privatization, we ruled Cicilline's statement Half True.

Meanwhile, Loughlin, like many Republicans, has been describing Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, a type of investment fraud. While many question the way Social Security is funded, it is far from a Ponzi scheme, which is, by definition, a secret criminal enterprise created to defraud unwitting investors. We ruled his claim False.

Loughlin also has repeated a Republican talking point about tax cuts, saying that after Ronald Reagan cut taxes in 1981, the U.S. enjoyed "exponential growth." We ruled that statement Barely True for three reasons: Loughlin didn't mention the tax increases after 1981; the economic growth he cites was not exponential; and there is considerable debate over whether the tax cuts were responsibile.

Cicilline attacked Loughlin for a vote Loughlin made in the General Assembly on a domestic violence issue, a claim we ruled Mostly True. Loughlin opposed a bill that gives judges the power to require people named in domestic violence restraining orders to surrender their guns. The bill passed into law. Loughlin's campaign said his opposition was on Second Amendment grounds.

And we gave a Barely True rating to an attack ad claiming Cicilline opposed Megan's Law when he was a state representative and voted against mandatory registration of sex offenders, a central tenet of the law. Cicilline did vote against the law when it was first introduced but then voted for it three times when it came up for revisions, a fact the ad did not mention.

CONGRESS, 2nd DISTRICT

Both Democrat James Langevin and Republican Mark Zaccaria earned Barely True rulings for claims they made.

Zaccaria attacked Langevin for supporting a $3-billion jet engine "no one wants." While there's plenty of opposition to the engine's development, we found that Zaccaria exaggerated both the price tag and the lack of support -- 230 other members of Congress voted for it.

Langevin said the federal stimulus program created "thousands of jobs" in Rhode Island. We learned that no one can say with certainty exactly how many stimulus jobs were created. But the government's figures suggest the number is just over 2,000, not the thousands Langevin said.

WHAT NEXT?

Many have asked us whether we'll stay in business after the election. The answer: You bet!

After a brief recovery period, we'll jump right back in to check statements from federal and state public officials, talk-show hosts, bloggers, interest groups and others. When the victors take office, we'll be checking on whether they deliver on the many promises they've made during the campaign.

And then there's the next session of the General Assembly.

Let's see: Two U.S. senators, two U.S. representatives, four Rhode Island general officers, seventy-five state representatives, thirty-eight state senators. That's what we call a Truth-O-Meter stimulus program.