Florida 2010 primary: Sorting through those attack ads
Just one of the questionable claims we've noticed flying around on TV these days. Just one of the questionable claims we've noticed flying around on TV these days.

Just one of the questionable claims we've noticed flying around on TV these days.

Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman August 16, 2010

Fueled by unprecedented amounts of money and a bottomless barrel of attacks, the primary campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate have trapped Floridians in two escalating TV ad wars.

Attack, after attack, after attack.

In the Republican primary for governor, self-made millionaire Rick Scott is carpeting television screens with accusations that Attorney General Bill McCollum voted in Congress to raise taxes and fees 42 times.

And McCollum and his advocates are claiming in ads that Scott, a former health care executive, is profiting off porn, illegal immigrants and fraud.

In the Senate race, Democrats Jeff Greene and Kendrick Meek are using their 30-second spots to debate who, essentially, is a bigger crook.

And that may be putting it kindly.

PolitiFact Florida has seen every ad of this unique campaign season and fact-checked claims from many of them.

What we found is maybe what you'd expect — distortions of the truth.

Yolk's on you

Take that Scott commercial about McCollum's record on taxes. You know, the one with all the smashing eggs.

The ad starts with an egg breaking on the ground, "Once, could be a mistake,” a narrator says. Then two more eggs break. "Two or three times? Bad luck.”

Then the eggs really start pouring. "But 42 times?

"Bill McCollum voted for higher taxes and fees 42 times while he was in Congress.”

Here is what's true about the ad: McCollum voted for legislation that increased taxes — most notably the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which increased employment, airport, cigarette, and telephone taxes.

Here is what's not: Scott overstates McCollum's record by double, triple and in one case quadruple counting certain tax votes. Scott then fails to explain that two votes to increase taxes were actually votes to extend existing taxes.
And perhaps, most brazenly, Scott includes four votes that he says increased taxes from a 1997 bill that actually cut taxes by $240 billion.

PolitiFact Florida rated Scott's tax claim Barely True, noting that Scott takes a fact  — that McCollum voted for tax increases while in Congress — and uses it to create a misleading reality for voters.

The ads work

In the 1964 presidential campaign, Lyndon Johnson famously suggested in a TV ad featuring a girl picking daisy petals that Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war if elected. Johnson went on to win in a landslide.

In 1988, ads about convicted murderer Willie Horton being allowed out of prison on weekends wrecked Michael Dukakis' campaign for president. Forget that the weekend furlough program was signed into law before Dukakis became Massachusetts governor or that Willie Horton actually went by William.

And here in Florida, Charlie Crist was able to use an empty chair during the 2006 campaign for governor to highlight votes missed by opponent former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. The ads cherry-picked only the time Davis was both in Congress and simultaneously running for governor, and ignored Davis' overall attendance record.

Not that the deception mattered at the ballot box: Crist 52.2 percent, Davis 45.1 percent.

More attacks on TV

The money pouring into the races for governor and Senate, and to a lesser extent the competitive primaries for attorney general, have created hours of television savaging for voters to sort through.

Scott and the group supporting him, Let's Get To Work, have spent almost $35 million on television this summer. McCollum and his supporters have pumped in close to $13 million.

In mailers and on television, Scott has questioned McCollum's pro-life credentials, noting that McCollum has taken money from lobbyists for the pro-choice group Planned Parenthood.

The truth: McCollum received $2,000 from a D.C. firm that lobbied for Planned Parenthood.

The stretch: The donations came before the firm worked for Planned Parenthood, and the same firm donated money, more in most cases, to pro-life leaders like former President George W. Bush, Sens. Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner. PolitiFact Florida ruled Pants on Fire!

In another ad, Scott's group Let's Get To Work said that McCollum's use of the state airplane was labeled a "misuse of state resources.” That's true, but the line was included only in a draft report and not the final audit, and McCollum was cleared of wrongdoing after a state ethics investigation. (PolitiFact Florida ruled Barely True).

On the other side, McCollum, and a political action group he's raising money for are saying Scott is profiting off porn.

Kind of. Maybe. Or in PolitiFact-speak, Barely True.

Scott has invested in a company that owns a Latino social networking website. That website, in turn, has a partnership with Playboy Mexico.

But Scott doesn't own the company, as McCollum has said, and isn't involved with company decisions. The company isn't a porn company, but has a partnership with Playboy.

Another ad by McCollum's 527 group Florida First Initiative says that Scott's former hospital group Columbia/HCA "turned away a poor man and left him to die outside their door.”

But that's not what happened. The man received care, and court records show the man was not intentionally left to die. On the Truth-O-Meter, another Barely True.

Meek and Greene

The manipulations of the truth aren't all that different in the Democratic Senate primary between Greene, a self-funded billionaire, and Meek, a congressman from South Florida.

Meek has consistently attacked Greene for making hundreds of millions of dollars by betting that banks wrote mortgages that ultimately would lead to foreclosure.

In one ad, Meek shows voters the "real” Jeff Greene.

"Became a billionaire on Wall Street betting middle-class families would lose their homes. Helped fuel the economic meltdown. Warren Buffett called Greene's scheme ‘financial weapons of mass destruction." ”

Meek oversteps when talking about Buffett.

Buffett made the comment in 2003, while Greene didn't even start making the trades, called credit default swaps, until 2006. Buffett's assistant said the influential money man was never referring to Greene, despite how Meek's ad might make it sound. (We should note that in a new ad, Meek has toned down the Greene/Buffett connection).

Greene, on the other hand, has tromped out allegations that Meek has been labeled corrupt by a Washington group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Greene is right that Meek makes a list of corrupt candidates. But there's something he leaves out.

Greene is on the list, too.

The Truth-O-Meter saw both claims the same way: False.

The closing statement

The latest attack ads are now attacking attack ads.

"You're probably as tired of Rick Scott's attack ads, as I am of being attacked,” McCollum says looking into the camera in his ad, "Judgment.”

Scott counters in "Insider:” "This campaign's been rough,” he says in his trademark blue button-down, sleeves rolled up. "Every special interest group in Tallahassee is trying to tear me down.”

But what would they talk about otherwise?

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Florida 2010 primary: Sorting through those attack ads