When congressional candidate Anthony Gemma sent out a news release with the headline "Bill Lynch told three lies in ten seconds," he practically challenged PolitiFact to check the accusation.
Not only did he call one of his Democratic primary opponents a liar, but in specifying a time frame, he forced us to pull out our stopwatch.
The action started during the 1st Congressional District debate Aug. 18 on WPRO (630-AM) radio when the two candidates took several good shots at each other.
A day later, Gemma ratcheted up the rhetoric by sending out a news release that accused Lynch of multiple lies -- and fast ones at that. It was part of what Gemma calls his "Enough is Enough Initiative," his vehicle for attacking opponents.
A video tape of the debate shows this is what Lynch said:
"What I am going to tell Anthony, and it’s understandable that he wouldn’t know — not having been involved, not even registered to vote as recently as a few years ago, and someone who didn’t bother to vote in the last crucial presidential election, has only been a Democrat for a couple of months, and really his only involvement in the governmental process in Rhode Island has been to support Governor Carcieri."
First of all, Lynch's somewhat rambling statement is more like 23 seconds. If you cut out the introductory clauses, it gets down to about 15 seconds. Either way, it’s not 10.
And Lynch makes five claims, not three. Let's take a look at them, point by point.
Keep in mind that we're fact-checking Gemma's statement. But to do so, we need to check what Lynch said.
1) Gemma has not been "involved" in politics. We can't evaluate this one, because it's a subjective comment, not a fact.
2) Gemma was "not even registered to vote as recently as a few years ago."
Gemma told us he first registered in Providence many years ago, moving his registration to Cumberland when he relocated there in the 1990s, before moving again, to Lincoln, in 2004.
The Cumberland Board of Canvassers has a record showing Gemma registered to vote there in 1998. In Lincoln, town records show Gemma has been registered to vote since 2004 and voted in the November 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections.
It was difficult to verify Gemma's entire registration history, in part because of record-keeping problems at the boards of canvassers and the move from paper to computer records.
But we verified that Gemma has been registered for at least six years, so Lynch's second claim is false.
3) Gemma "didn’t bother to vote in the last crucial presidential election."
The Lynch team now says it was referring to Gemma's failure to vote in the March 2008 presidential primary. But the Lincoln Board of Canvassers and the secretary of state's office both confirm that Gemma voted in the November 2008 general election. So Lynch is wrong on that one too. (For the record, we asked Gemma whom he voted for, and he said Barack Obama.)
4) Gemma "has only been a Democrat for a couple of months."
Records from Lincoln and the secretary of state show that Gemma registered as a Democrat in May 2010 -- the month before he announced his candidacy for Congress. Prior to that, he was registered as unaffiliated since 2004.
When we asked Gemma why he accused Lynch of lying about this fact, he insisted he has "always been a Democrat" even if his voter registration doesn't indicate so. He can call himself whatever he wants, but his official designation tells a different story. Therefore, Lynch's claim is true.
5) "Really [Gemma’s] only involvement in the governmental process in Rhode Island has been to support Governor Carcieri."
Gemma’s campaign finance reports show that in recent years he gave about $3,000 to a small group of candidates. Carcieri received the largest sum: $1,000, almost a third of the total. But Gemma also donated to U.S. Rep. James Langevin, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts and former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino, a developer. So Lynch's claim is false.
Now let’s get back to Gemma's original accusation: "Bill Lynch told three lies in ten seconds." As we know there were five statements -- of which we checked four -- and it was at least 15 seconds, not 10.
So we’re not sure how Gemma did his timing. His explanation: if you take any three of these claims they’ll add up to 10 seconds. That's very creative timekeeping.
But we understand we're nitpicking. So let’s look at the more substantive part of the claim. Three of the four factual accusations Lynch made were wrong. Whether they were lies or misstatements is for someone other than PolitiFact to decide.
Remember though, we’re ruling on what Gemma said, not Lynch's accuracy.
While Lynch’s claims might have warranted a check, Gemma trumped them by putting out a news release that was intended to be provocative. Instead of just pointing out Lynch’s inaccuracies, he called him a liar and he cited a precise time frame. Neither point was completely right and Gemma deserves to be called out on that. But the meat of what Gemma said about his opponent's accusations was correct.
So we’ll give him a Mostly True.