The Democratic Governors Association, through its website SenatorChafee.com and via Google ads promoting it, continues to attack Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican now running for governor, asking "Is Chafee Really Independent?"
The website says, "Senator Chafee supports the conservative economic policies of President Bush and opposes action that would really benefit the working families of Rhode Island. In fact, while in the Senate, Chafee voted with President George W. Bush and the conservative leadership 76% of the time."
As a measure of loyalty, 76 percent doesn't strike us as being particularly supportive of then-President Bush and the conservative leadership. Are we talking about the same guy who refused to vote for Bush's reelection in 2004, who was attacked as being in RINO (Republican in Name Only) and who was chastised by the conservative Club for Growth for abandoning "Republicans to side with liberal Democrats"?
Democratic Governors Association spokeswoman Emily Bittner told us that the 76 percent comes from averaging the percentage of votes Chafee made against Bush, as compiled by Congressional Quarterly, and subtracting that number from 100. From 2000 to 2006, she said those figures were 12 percent, 16 percent, 7 percent, 23.1 percent, 24 percent, 44.4 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
But that comes out to 77.8 percent support, not 76 percent. Bittner was unable to explain the discrepancy.
The math is dead wrong for another reason: you can't get an accurate average by averaging individual percentages based on a voting record in which the number of votes differs from year to year.
When we challenged Bittner about the calculation, she said, "What we're trying to demonstrate is the depth of commitment that Chafee had to supporting Bush's agenda. Beyond, that I'm not going to get into math questions."
Still hoping to get an accurate percentage, we asked Bittner what the actual number of votes was. She said she didn't have the data available.
So we turned to "Politics in America 2006," an almanac from Congressional Quarterly, and found the annual percentages cited by the governors association.
It turns out they do not reflect how often Chafee voted with Bush and the conservative leadership. They only reflect his votes supporting the president. (The percentages are based on the editors' assessments of what the president probably wanted, as gleaned from speeches and other sources; not all votes were included.)
The other problem with the percentages cited by Bittner: Bush wasn't president in 2000. So when the association says that Chafee opposed the president 12 percent of the time in 2000, they're talking about Democrat Bill Clinton, not Bush.
The almanac includes a separate listing of how often Chafee voted with his Republican colleagues in the Senate, but those percentages make Chafee look even less loyal to the GOP.
Unfortunately, the almanac doesn't include vote totals, so we couldn't calculate Chafee's overall voting percentage in either category.
So we went to a source that does have the numbers we needed -- the U.S. Congress Votes database at WashingtonPost.com. It indicates how often candidates follow the party line and gives the total number of votes that serve as the basis for the calculation. It does not estimate how often a member of Congress supports or opposes the president.
Chafee served in the 106th through 109th Congresses, casting 2,244 votes. He voted with the Republican Party 1,577 times. That's 70 percent, not 76 percent.
That may not seem like a big difference, but consider the context.
During the 2001-2002 sessions, the only Republican senator less likely to vote with the GOP was James Jeffords of Vermont, who left the GOP in 2001 to become an Independent. Chafee voted with his party 71 percent of the time.
In the 2003-2004 sessions, Chafee ranked lowest in party loyalty among all Republicans, voting with the GOP 78 percent of the time.
And during the 1999-2000 and 2005-2006 sessions, Chafee was the least likely of ANY senator -- Democrat or Republican -- to vote with his or her party (62 percent and 68 percent, respectively).
The folks at the Democratic Governors Association are taking estimates of how often Chafee supported Bush, manipulating them improperly and mischaracterizing them by ignoring how often he opposed his mostly conservative GOP colleagues. We recommend courses in remedial math and history. To help motivate them, we'll give them a Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.