Fact-checking CPAC, the 'Woodstock for conservatives'

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., spoke at CPAC on March 16, 2013.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., spoke at CPAC on March 16, 2013.

Last updated: March 19, 2013, at 6 p.m.

The Conservative Political Action Conference -- Grover Norquist calls it "Woodstock for conservatives" -- has become an important event for Republicans, a place where congressional leaders, presidential hopefuls and other celebrities of the right showcase their ideas.

We'll be fact-checking the speeches over the next few days.

Our fact-checks so far:

* Sen. Marco Rubio said that one key for economic growth is to have workers with better skills. "There are 3 million jobs available in America that are not filled because too many of our people don’t have the skills for those jobs," Rubio said.

But we found Rubio that while there is anecdotal evidence of a job-skills shortage, there is no data to prove his contention that the 3 million jobs in question are all open because of a mismatch in job skills. In fact, there’s significant evidence to contradict it -- the fact that the statistics in question always capture normal job churn, for instance, and the signs of "hiring paralysis" among employers. Half True.

* Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made fun of a number of scientific research projects funded by the federal government, suggesting that they were a waste of taxpayer money. Here's an example: "For any of you college students looking for jobs, Uncle Sam’s got a job for you," said Paul during the March 14, 2013, speech. "The pay’s $5,000, all expenses paid. The study is in Hawaii. But the requirements are onerous. Only a few can qualify. You have to like food. The study is to develop a menu for when we colonize Mars. I’m not making this up. Guess what a bunch of college students came up with for the menu. Pizza!"

Paul got the basics of the project right. The government is paying for a study in Hawaii in which people will prepare foods under conditions that simulate a mission to Mars. But he exaggerated when he referred to "colonizing" Mars, since the project is a broader look a how astronauts would eat on short-term visits. Also, he exaggerated the appeal of the assignment, which is in a small capsule on a barren landscape. It ain't waterfalls and palm trees. On balance, we rated the claim Mostly True.

* Rubio said, "Let me explain to you who the Chinese government is. The Chinese government provides their people no access to the Internet."

By a wide margin, China leads the world in the sheer number of citizens accessing the Internet, with 538 million estimated users as of June 2012, according to Internet World Stats, which tracks Web use across the globe. The United States ranks second with about 245 million. About 40 percent of China’s population uses the Internet, placing it far below the penetration of many countries, including the U.S. at 78 percent. The major Internet providers in China are government-run telecom companies.

Rubio would have been on more solid ground if he said the Chinese government censors the Internet.  While many non-Chinese social media are blocked, homegrown versions are active allowing Chinese to even criticize authorities.

"It is a messy picture, and Chinese leaders are constantly struggling to balance control, which is still a major priority, with the growing public demand for information," said David Bandurski, editor of the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project website.

We rated the claim Mostly False.

* Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., took aim at the "bureaucracy" that runs the food stamp program. How does it help the poor, she asked, when "of every dollar that you hold in your hands, 70 cents of that dollar that's supposed to go to the poor doesn't. It actually goes to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Seventy cents on the dollar. That's how the president's caring works in practice. So three dollars in food stamps for the needy, seven dollars in salaries and pensions for the bureaucrats who are supposed to be taking care of the poor."

We found that her claim was ridiculously off-base. Even the broadest calculation of administrative costs for food stamps tops out at 5 percent of program costs, far below the 70 percent Bachmann claims. And the scholar behind the statistic she appears to have used as support said Bachmann has misquoted his work. We rated her claim Pants on Fire!

* Rep. Paul Ryan said in his speech that "our debt is already bigger than our economy."

It depends which measure you use. Counting only the debt held by the public -- which is what most affects economic growth -- it's smaller than our gross domestic product. The rating: Half True.