Line by line: How an ad uses sleight-of-hand to distort facts on stimulus
By Becky Bowers
Published on Friday, May 4th, 2012 at 2:34 p.m.
A new Americans for Prosperity ad is one of the sneakiest we’ve seen this year. It weaves tidbits of truth into an artful narrative that distorts the truth about the economic stimulus.
"Washington promised to create American jobs. We passed their stimulus. But that's not what happened."
A photo of President Barack Obama and the mention of the stimulus makes you believe what follows will be related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act he signed in 2009. Some is. Some isn’t.
"Fact: Billions of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries."
The ad cites a Washington Times article from Sept. 9, 2010 — but fails to accurately characterize the story. The story says that "as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States." That doesn’t mean that money went to foreign countries. More likely it went to American subsidiaries of foreign firms.
"The Obama administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas, while millions of Americans can't find a job."
But that's not what the Obama administration said. This, too, gives its source as the 2010 Washington Times article. It’s a second way of misstating the same sentence, which cited the Energy Department. "The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms. …" Again, that simply doesn’t say that the tax credits went overseas. It says they went to foreign companies. Meanwhile, it sets up the expectation that the next three examples illustrate those "$2.3 billion of tax credits" that "went overseas." But not a single one of the three has anything to do with manufacturing tax credits — or tax credits at all. Or, in one case, even the stimulus.
"$1.2 billion to a solar company that's building a plant in Mexico."
This line, which listed as sources the Energy Department and PV Magazine, does not have anything to do with tax credits going overseas. It didn’t involve manufacturing tax credits, or any money that left the country. And the $1.2 billion had nothing to do with a Mexico plant. Taxpayer money was originally approved for a California solar company that also happened to open a plant in Mexico. But that loan — not tax credits, as the ad claims — will go to a New Jersey company for a solar project in California, employing construction workers in California, using mostly California-built solar panels, to create solar power that’ll be purchased by a California utility. We rated this claim Pants on Fire.
"Half a billion to an electric car company that created hundreds of jobs in Finland."
This line, which listed an ABC News article as its source, doesn't have anything to do with tax credits going overseas? It’s not even talking about a stimulus program, much less manufacturing tax credits. Instead, half a billion in loans from a Bush-era program were approved by the Obama administration for an American automaker, Fisker Automotive. But they weren’t tax credits, weren’t part of the stimulus bill, and didn’t go to Finland, where Fisker manufactures cars. And so far, the company has only gotten $190 million in those loans, far less than the half a billion. We rated this claim False.
"And tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China."
This one gets closer to the truth — but still misses the mark. We watched this ad and imagined Chinese street corners with shiny new American-funded traffic lights. What an outrage! But it's actually about energy efficiency grants to America’s state and local governments so they can buy and install new street and traffic lights. Many of those lights contained foreign parts, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article cited by the ad, including some from China. But it’s simply not clear how much stimulus money went toward those parts during the eight months it was allowed. (Back in 2010, the United States just didn’t make enough key components to satisfy local governments’ needs, so the feds briefly offered a waiver to get them from other countries.) We rated this claim Mostly False.
"President Obama wasted $34 billion on risky investments. The result? Failure."
The ad pivots from its tax-credit focus to shift to "risky investments." Fact-checkers at FactCheck.org have reported that the Energy Department has committed $34.7 billion in low-interest loans to nearly 40 green projects. Two companies that got such loans — one of them Solyndra — have filed for bankruptcy. FactCheck calculates that the government could lose as much as $578 million on those two deals. That’s less than 2 percent of the total program, so, as FactCheck says, "it’s a stretch to claim the entire $34 billion has been ‘wasted.’" Uh, yes. A stretch, indeed.
"American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries. Tell President Obama, American tax dollars should help American taxpayers."
The ad concludes we’re paying to send jobs to foreign countries. Let’s see: Tax credits for firms that happen to have foreign employees (nope). Money for a Californian solar project that will include a handful of foreign solar panels (not much). Money for a U.S. automaker to engineer a new hybrid electric car (nope). Money for new street and traffic lights that include some foreign components (some). And does it add up to wasted billions? Not according to the ad’s own evidence.
PolitiFact, "Ad says stimulus tax credits funded a solar company building a Mexico plant," May 2, 2012
PolitiFact, "Ad says stimulus tax credits funded jobs in Finland," May 3, 2012
PolitiFact, "Ad says stimulus tax credits funded traffic lights in China," May 3, 2012
Researchers: Becky Bowers
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