Monday, November 24th, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Madison Action Fund
Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson is a "liberal" who voted with Nancy Pelosi to "fund sex study programs of San Francisco prostitutes" and "to regulate the sale of firearms."  

Madison Action Fund on Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 in a campaign ad in Idaho

Are Mike Simpson and Nancy Pelosi politically aligned?

Madison Action Fund, a Super PAC, has aired this ad in Idaho attacking the voting record of Republican Rep. Mike Simpson.

We’ve seen plenty of Democrats called out for voting records that closely align with President Barack Obama and other party leaders. But it isn’t every day that a conservative super PAC claims that an eight-term Republican congressman is closely aligned with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The Madison Action Fund is claiming just that, running an ad in Idaho linking GOP Rep. Mike Simpson to Pelosi, a frequent target of Republican ire.

Here’s what the ad says:

"How liberal is congressman Mike Simpson? Simpson voted with Nancy Pelosi to bail out Wall Street. 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 should note that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: A group backing Simpson is also running ads tying his Republican primary opponent, Bryan Smith, to Pelosi. We checked that claim separately here).

Simpson did in fact vote for the Wall Street bailout, as Pelosi did. But beyond that, the ad gets more dubious.

Is Simpson a "liberal"?

Despite what the ad suggests, Simpson and Pelosi have very different voting records.

In the current Congress, spanning 820 votes, Simpson and Pelosi have voted the same way just 29 percent of the time, according to OpenCongress.org, a website created by the pro-transparency Sunlight Foundation.

Still, 29 percent isn’t nothing and some may say, if Simpson was a real conservative, he would vote with Pelosi 0 percent of the time.

Maybe, but not every congressional vote is polarized, and even some of the most conservative members of Congress have voted with Pelosi at least on some issues. For instance, no one would confuse Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for a liberal, yet Bachmann and Pelosi have voted the same way 24 percent of the time since January 2012.

Simpson has voted with his party 95 percent of the time. Calling him a liberal and insinuating ideological coziness between him and Pelosi is simply inaccurate.

Did Simpson and Pelosi both vote "to fund sex study programs of San Francisco prostitutes"?

This is an exaggeration. The Madison Action Fund’s ad cites a House vote from July 10, 2003. (You read that right — this happened 10 years ago.)

On that day, the House of Representatives voted to pass an appropriations bill to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which included money for the National Institutes of Health.

An amendment to the bill offered by then-Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., sought to strip funding from five National Institutes of Health research grants. Toomey said one of those grants was a "study on San Francisco's Asian prostitutes and masseuses."

Simpson voted against Toomey’s amendment. Pelosi (who represents San Francisco) did as well, and it narrowly failed.

But Toomey’s description of the research grant might have warranted a ruling from the Truth-O-Meter were it around back then.

The grant was awarded to the University of California San Francisco, the home of the AIDS Research Institute, and studied ways to reduce HIV risks among Asian women.

Researchers pinpointed commercial sex workers at massage parlors as a key source of the large increase in HIV prevalence among Asian and Pacific islanders in the Bay area, for whom AIDS was the second-leading cause of death among those aged 25 to 44 in San Francisco in 2001. The researchers interviewed sex workers about their background, education, history of violence from customers, and sexual health, in order to develop programs to improve awareness of drug abuse and STD prevention among at-risk Asian-American popuations.

Whether this research should have been selected for funding given the limited pool of money available is a reasonable question to debate, but saying it was to "fund sex study programs of San Francisco prostitutes" fails to factor in the public-health concerns at stake.

Did Simpson and Pelosi vote together "to regulate the sale of firearms"?

This claim goes even further back. The Madison Action Fund singles out Simpson’s votes on the Mandatory Gun Show Background Check Act, a 1999 bill that emerged in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting.

While on the surface the bill added some background check provisions for gun shows, the measure was more complicated. It included an amendment that actually eased restrictions on firearm purchases at gun shows. That measure, which had strong backing from the NRA and was harshly criticized by President Bill Clinton, passed the House with help from 45 Democrats. Simpson voted for it; Pelosi did not.

Clinton called the vote "a great victory for the NRA."

But it also included an amendment that was added to require safety locks to be sold with all handguns. The amendment had overwhelming bipartisan support, including from a majority of Republicans. Simpson voted for it, as did Pelosi, and it passed 311-115.

The National Rifle Association ultimately urged Republicans to back the entire bill on final passage. Simpson followed the NRA’s lead and voted for the bill. Pelosi didn’t. And it failed 147-280.

So ultimately, Simpson and Pelosi were mostly on opposite sides of the fight over this bill. Most importantly, when it came on votes to "regulate the sale of firearms," Simpson voted to loosen restrictions while Pelosi wanted to maintain the status quo. They only voted on the same side on a measure to require safety locks on handguns.

Our ruling

The ad cherry picks a handful of votes to create the impression that Simpson and Pelosi are in ideological lockstep. But the votes chosen are old, cherry-picked and deeply misleading. Suggesting any substantial alliance between Simpson and Pelosi is ridiculous. We rate the claim Pants on Fire!