PolitiFact’s Top 5 fact-checks for February 2016
Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan March 1, 2016

With the presidential primary race in full swing and an unexpected vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, our most popular fact-checks of the month focused on those topics.

5. Pie chart of 'federal spending' circulating on the Internet is misleading

A social-media meme we fact-checked months ago says that 57 percent of federal spending goes to the military and just 1 percent goes to food and agriculture, including food stamps.

To get numbers that approximate this, the pie chart cherry-picks just discretionary spending, which means it represents only about one-third of spending. Once you include the 60 percent of the budget that is mandatory spending, the military share plunges from 57 percent to 16 percent, and the categories that include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid collectively account for a majority of federal spending. The version readers sent us didn’t note the difference between discretionary and mandatory spending. We rated the claim False.

4. Do presidents stop nominating judges in final year?

Republicans have argued that President Barack Obama should not nominate a justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Marco Rubio made the case recently, saying, "There comes a point in the last year of the president, especially in their second term, where you stop nominating" both Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges. Rubio suggested that point is now.

The chance for an outgoing president to make a Supreme Court nomination in his last year in office has only happened once in the past century, in 1968. But presidents do continue to nominate appellate judges in their final year. Out of the last four presidents who served two terms, all of them made nominations to the Court of Appeals (as well as the District Courts) in their last year. We rated Rubio’s claim False.


3. Was college once free in United States, as Bernie Sanders says?

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders argued in a debate that there is a precedent for his position of free tuition in the United States. "Making public colleges and universities tuition-free, that exists in countries all over the world (and) used to exist in the United States," he said.

Certainly some countries offer free tuition. And there was a time in the United States when some public colleges and universities charged no tuition. However, tuition has never been set as a national policy -- it is a decision for each school or state government officials. And some colleges charged tuition dating back to the 1800s. Sanders' statement is accurate but needs clarification. We rated his statement Mostly True.

2. Fact-checking claims about Donald Trump's four bankruptcies

Trump’s opponents often mention his record with bankruptcy. Carly Fiorina (who is now out of the race) said in September that Trump was "forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, four times."

Trump’s four bankruptcies were Chapter 11 reorganizations (named for its location in federal bankruptcy code), which are designed to restructure businesses without shutting them down completely. Three of the four bankruptcies were tied to casinos. We rated Fiorina’s statement Mostly True.

1. We Googled 'Trump Polish workers.' Here's what we found

At a Republican debate, Rubio charged that Donald Trump hired undocumented immigrants for his real estate projects.

"He hired from Poland, and he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment," Rubio said. "That’s a fact. People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling it right now, ‘Trump Polish workers.’ You’ll see $1 million for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did."

"Wrong, wrong," Trump said.

This story goes back to a class-action lawsuit involving the hiring of Polish aliens 36 years ago. It was Trump’s contractor, not Trump himself, who hired undocumented Polish workers to demolish a building to make room for Trump Tower in Manhattan. The lawsuit sought $1 million in damages, and a judge ruled that Trump had to pay $325,000 plus interest. But the case was appealed and before it was retried, Trump settled the case out of court. Rubio’s statement is partially accurate but missing that context. We rate Rubio’s claim Half True.

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PolitiFact’s Top 5 fact-checks for February 2016