Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Fact-checking primary contests in Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho

Republican challenger Matt Bevin attacks Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on gun rights.

It’s primary day in several states, with voters going to the polls to pick party nominees to head on to November’s general election. Here at PolitiFact, we’ve been following contests in several states.

In an earlier report, we looked at the race in Georgia for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Here are some of our fact-checks looking at political contests in Kentucky, Oregon and Idaho.

McConnell vs. Bevin in Kentucky

Gun rights. Tea party-backed candidate Matt Bevin is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. One of his main lines of attack is that McConnell isn’t sufficiently conservative, and specifically Bevin has attacked McConnell on not supporting gun rights strongly enough.

"Mitch McConnell voted with Harry Reid to infringe on our gun rights," a February RV ad said. "Matt Bevin always support the Second Amendment. The choice is clear."

When we dug into the evidence on this, we found one vote McConnell took more than 22 years ago on a massive crime bill that included dozens of procedural votes and amendments and didn’t even pass Congress. Bevin’s team pointed to a few these procedural votes as their evidence. The law failed, though, with McConnell voting against it, and Reid voting for it. Much more recently, McConnell held his caucus firmly together against attempts to restrict and regulate gun purchases after the December 2012 Connecticut school shooting at Newtown. Bevin’s claim struck us as so flimsy we rated the statement Pants on Fire.

The Wall Street bailout. Bevin made a more accurate claim with this attack from a TV ad: "After pushing the Wall Street bailout through the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell bragged, ‘This has been the Senate at its finest.’ " We found that McConnell actively supported emergency government intervention in the financial markets and spoke openly of playing a key role in crafting compromise legislation when President George W. Bush held the White House. However, to say that he pushed the bill through the Senate downplays the role of the Republican president and the party’s presidential nominee, who also pressed to get the measure passed. The ad ignores that in January 2009, there was a second bailout funding vote and on that one, McConnell voted no. Overall, we rated Bevin’s claim Mostly True.

Bevin’s tax history. In an ad from McConnell attacking Bevin, McConnell’s campaign said that Bevin repeatedly failed to pay his taxes. "Bevin’s business failed to pay taxes at least eight times. And was the No. 1 tax delinquent," the ad said, before questioning Bevin’s honesty in comments about the matter. We found a lot more to the story than the ad suggests. The business that Bevin managed was in financial trouble before he took control, and local authorities actually credited him with helping the firm pay its tax bills and later, keeping the business afloat. We rated the claim Mostly False.

Cockfighting. We couldn’t resist checking into a more light-hearted claim from Bevin about cockfighting. In a radio interview, Bevin said the nation’s Founding Fathers were fans of watching roosters in battle. "But it's interesting, when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well, this isn't something new, it wasn't invented in Kentucky for example," Bevin said. "I mean, the founding fathers were all -- many of them -- very actively involved in this and always had been."

There is one reference in George Washington’s diaries that confirms that as a 19-year-old, the nation’s future first president attended a cockfight. But he left before it was even over. In looking at the other prominent founders, we found no indications that they were avid and frequent participants. We rated the claim False.

Money from lobbyists. If McConnell wins, he’ll face Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State, in November. In a campaign email to supporters, she charged that McConnell is "the No. 1 recipient of contributions from lobbyists this cycle." Based on the analysis from Open Secrets, McConnell tops the chart for 2014. That’s probably a perk of his party position more than anything. We rated the statement True.

A Pants on Fire in Oregon

Unemployment benefits. In Oregon, Republican candidates Monica Wehby and Jason Conger are vying to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in November’s general election. Conger is a second-term state legislator from Bend, while Wehby is a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee attacked both candidates for failing to support extensions of unemployment benefits.

"Monica Wehby and Jason Conger’s reckless refusal to support the renewal of unemployment benefits is causing devastating consequences for nearly 23,000 Oregonians looking for work and hurting the state’s economy more each day," the committee said in a press release.

Conger opposed the extension of benefits, while Wehby said she would support a temporary measure if money could be found to pay for it. More critically, the claims ignores the fact that neither is in a position to cast a vote on the issue, let alone cause "devastating consequences" for Oregonians. Even if one is elected to the Senate, he or she won’t be sworn in for nearly a year. We rated this over-the-top accusation as Pants on Fire.

Mixing it up in Idaho

That wacky debate for governor. A recent gubernatorial debate in Boise attracted national attention for some of the rambling and weird statements from lower-profile candidates. (Like this one: "I'm about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch bowl.") One serious claim we looked at was this: "Idaho was the only Republican-led state in the nation that chose to partner with President Obama" by creating a state-based marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, said state Sen. Russ Fulcher.

While most states with a Republican governor did refuse to create their own state-run marketplace, Idaho was not the only one. Four other states with Republican governors also created a marketplace that was either fully state-run or was a partnership between the federal government and the state. We rated Fulcher’s claim False.

Pelosi’s role in an Idaho GOP House race. In a tea party vs. establishment primary battle, eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, faces a primary challenge from attorney Bryan Smith. For the super PACs supporting Simpson and Smith, the air wars over the past month have focused to an odd degree on Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader and  a liberal Californian.

The Madison Action Fund, which supports Smith, attacked Simpson for being liberal."Simpson voted with Nancy Pelosi to bail out Wall Street," the ad claimed. "That wasnt enough spending for Mike Simpson, so he joined Pelosi in voting to take more of your money to fund sex study programs of San Francisco prostitutes. Simpson also joined Pelosi in voting to regulate the sale of firearms."

We compared Simpson’s voting record to Pelosi’s and found that they’ve only voted together 29 percent of the time. Even Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. -- nobody’s idea of a liberal -- voted with Pelosi 24 percent of the time. The rest of the votes are from more than a decade ago and mischaracterized the bills in question. We awarded the ad a rating of Pants on Fire.

Meanwhile, the ad by the group Defending Main Street, which supports Simpson, noted that Smith is supported by the Club for Growth; it features a clip of Club for Growth president Chris Chocola speaking positively of Pelosi. "The person I respect the most in Washington might surprise you: It’s Nancy Pelosi," Chocola said.

The ad takes Chocola’s statements out of context. Chocola, a former GOP representative from Indiana, was expressing admiration for Pelosi’s Machiavellian tactics, not for the specifics of her political agenda. We rated it Mostly False.