Monday, October 20th, 2014

Truth: Rare in Election 2010, but not entirely absent

The ad "Mourning in America" distinctly echoes the famous "Morning in America" ad aired during President Ronald Reagan's re-election bid.

As PolitiFact noted earlier this week, the level of truthfulness seems to have declined during Election 2010. But truth-telling hasn't disappeared altogether -- it's just been outnumbered.

Now, in the final days of the mud-slinging, we thought it would be worth reminding readers that not every claim made in this year's midterm campaign distorts the truth.

Over the final six months of the campaign, we have recorded 10 ratings of True and 16 ratings of Mostly True for statements made in television ads, debates or other contexts by candidates for office regarding their own record or that of their opponents.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, both Democrats and Republicans have offered statements we ruled True or Mostly True. Here are some of the Democratic statements:

• In the Kentucky Senate race, Democrat Jack Conway ran an ad featuring several senior citizens who charged that Republican Rand Paul "wants us to pay $2,000 just to get Medicare." We found that the ad was basically fair in its use of Paul's own words from an earlier speaking engagement, though we marked it down slightly for oversimplifying Paul's proposal. We ruled the claim Mostly True

• In the Pennsylvania Senate race, an ad by Democrat Joe Sestak charged that Republican Pat Toomey "thinks it's oil companies and Wall Street banks who should pay no taxes. Zero." We concluded that Toomey had indeed advanced that notion in a television interview and in some of his writings, though we stopped short of giving it a True rating because Toomey had also said publicly that he does not favor pursuing that strategy as part of his campaign platform. We rated the claim Mostly True.

• In the Connecticut Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran an ad that attempted to body-slam Republican Linda McMahon -- the co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment -- for tipping off a ringside physician about a federal investigation into the illegal distribution of steroids to some of the WWE's wrestlers. The story is complex, but ultimately we rated the ad's claim True.

• In the West Virginia Senate race, Democrat Joe Manchin claimed in an ad that the wife of his Republican opponent, John Raese, is "registered to vote in Florida, so she can't even vote for him." Public records confirmed that she is indeed registered to vote in the Sunshine State and receives a homestead exemption on her property. So we rated Manchin's statement True.

And here are some of the Republican statements that we rated highly.

• In the Washington Senate race, Republican Dino Rossi charged in an ad that his Democratic opponent, Sen. Patty Murray, "even defended the 'Bridge to Nowhere'" -- the roundly derided earmark for a bridge in a relatively unpopulated location in Alaska. We found that while Murray didn't defend that project by name in a Senate floor speech, it was clear that she felt like the bridge, like other earmarks being discussed on the Senate floor, should be left alone. We rated the charge Mostly True.

• In the Delaware Senate race, Republican Christine O'Donnell said in an ad that "one man" -- her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons -- "thought property taxes should be hiked almost 50 percent." We found the charge to be accurate and only downgraded it because all of Coons' budget proposals were approved by a majority of the County Council, undermining the "one man" formulation used in the ad. We rated the claim Mostly True.

• In Arizona's Republican Senate primary, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth charged in an ad that Sen. John McCain "voted against the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, wrongly claiming they helped only the rich." We found that McCain did vote against the tax cuts and cited the idea that the bills were tilted toward the rich as a major reason for his votes. When discussing one of the bills, McCain did suggest that only the rich would benefit, while for the other bill, he didn't. Because the ad was partly wrong on this point, we marked it down a notch, rating it Mostly True.

• In a quixotic campaign to unseat Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. -- whose speakership is in peril from GOP gains nationally, but whose seat in Congress is not seriously at risk on Nov. 2 -- Republican John Dennis aired an ad taking off on The Wizard of Oz in which he charges that Pelosi pays $18,000 a month in rent for her downtown office. We found that the ad was accurate, since taxpayers do shell out roughly $18,000 a month for Pelosi's district office in downtown San Francisco. So we rated the statement True.

Finally, our award for the most thoroughly responsible campaign ad of the year: An ad sponsored by a pro-Republican group called Citizens for the Republic that riffed on the famous Ronald Reagan ad "Morning in America." The updated version, dubbed "Mourning in America," mirrored, right down to its understated visuals and restrained narration, the Reagan classic -- and to its credit, all of the ad's statistics were right on target. They included:

• "Fifteen million men and women won't have the opportunity to go to work."

• "Twenty-nine hundred families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall."

• "This afternoon, 6,000 men and women will be married." 

• Each child born will have "a $30,000 share of the runaway national debt."

We rated the ad True. In this campaign season, seeing an ad like that was enough to make one mourn for truth.