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Fact-Check-A-Thon calls out misleading TV ads in 2016 primaries
Keep the Promise, a PAC supporting Ted Cruz, attacks Marco Rubio for missed Senate votes on defense in this ad. Keep the Promise, a PAC supporting Ted Cruz, attacks Marco Rubio for missed Senate votes on defense in this ad.

Keep the Promise, a PAC supporting Ted Cruz, attacks Marco Rubio for missed Senate votes on defense in this ad.

Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders March 8, 2016

Those annoying political ads interrupting your TV time?

They're meeting the Truth-O-Meter.

Our first TV Ad Fact-Check-A-Thon features as many fact-checks of TV commercials from candidates and super PACs as we could finish this week.

To do it, we teamed up with PolitiFact partners in states like Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Ohio and Nevada as well as the Political TV Ad Archive, a new project of the Internet Archive that records political commercials and documents how often and where they air in eight states.

PAC ad tying Trump to KKK misses mark

An ad from Conservative Solutions PAC, which supports Sen. Marco Rubio, includes clips of CNN’s Jake Tapper and Donald Trump talking about the KKK and David Duke.

Tapper: "I asked Donald Trump three times if he would disavow the support of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan."

Trump: "Well, I have to look at the group."

Narrator: "Trump refuses to denounce the KKK. Think about that — for president?"

We gave the billionaire businessman a Pants on Fire rating for claiming to not to know anything about Duke, a white supremacist and former Klan leader. But it’s a stretch to say Trump "refuses to denounce the KKK" given his record of denouncements.

In a 1991 interview with CNN’s Larry King, Trump said he "hated" what Duke’s success with white voters in a failed bid for the Louisiana governorship represented. Trump also called Duke "a bigot, a racist, a problem," in a 2000 interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer.

Trump disavowed Duke's criticism has been less pointed in 2016. Still, after the interview with Tapper, Trump rejected Duke’s support in interviews onGood Morning America and Morning Joe, calling him a "bad person who I disavowed on numerous occasions over the years."

We rate the claim Mostly False.

— Riley Snyder, PolitiFact Nevada

PAC tweaks ad on Trump banning disabled vets

A PAC supporting Rubio says Donald Trump mistreats those less fortunate than him — including disabled veterans.

Trump "bans disabled veterans from his high rise," states the ad by Conservative Solutions PAC. The ad has aired in San Francisco, Calif., and in Florida, including Miami and Tampa.

Trump didn’t really kick out disabled veterans from Trump Tower, a 68-story condo and retail building on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Instead, he wanted to ban disabled veterans who were given special licenses to peddle from selling their wares in front of the tower. Nothing in the ad makes it clear that Trump’s beef with veterans was related to street vendors.

In 1991, the state Legislature considered a bill to prohibit peddling on the street with an exception for 176 disabled veterans. Trump did not like it.

"While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its tax-paying citizens and businesses?" Trump wrote to John Dearie, then-chairman of the state Assembly’s Committee on Cities, according to the New York Daily News. "Do we allow Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s finest and most luxurious shopping districts, to be turned into an outdoor flea market, clogging and seriously downgrading the area?"

Trump continued to complain about the vendors through the years, writing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg when the issue reemerged in 2004, "Whether they are veterans or not, they (the vendors) should not be allowed to sell on this most important and prestigious shopping street."

A few days after the ad started running on TV — and after deemed its ad "misleading" and PolitiFact asked questions about it — Conservative Solutions PAC changed the wording of the line to say Trump "bans veterans from in front of his high rise."

PAC spokesman Jeff Sadosky said the PAC changed the ad on March 1 "to be more specific."

The ad’s original statement, however, rates Mostly False.

— Amy Sherman, PolitiFact Florida

Right to Rise compares Rubio’s poor attendance with Sen. Obama’s

A commercial by the super PAC Right to Rise USA shows a silhouette of Rubio and criticizes him for his lack of foreign policy experience.

"Way too often, Rubio didn't even show up," the announcer says as a box on the screen tags Rubio as having "one of the worst attendance records in the Senate."

Almost imperceptibly, the silhouette morphs into President Barack Obama as the announcer asks, "What other junior senator had the same resume?"

Right to Rise USA, the super PAC that supported Jeb Bush, ran this ad at least 400 times, mostly in South Carolina before Bush dropped out, according to the TV Political Ad Archive.

Rubio has been dealing with the attendance issue since the summer, when he had been missing more than half of all Senate roll call votes. Rubio has missed 14.9 percent of the votes since taking office in January 2011. The typical senator currently serving has missed just 1.7 percent.

Obama, during his four years as a senator, missed 24.2 percent of his votes. During his time in the Senate, the median for missed votes was 2.2 percent.

More to the point for this fact check, GovTrack has ranked Rubio compared to his colleagues based on the number of votes he's missed in the past year and the year before that. The Florida senator is in the 100th percentile — the worst — for the 12-month period and in the 95th percentile — almost as bad — for the previous 12 months.

At this stage of Obama's campaign, the Illinois senator's record for missed votes in the previous 12 months put him in the 98th percentile. He was in the 32nd percentile the year before that.

Their attendance records certainly qualify as "one of the worst." We rate the statement True.

— C. Eugene Emery Jr., PolitiFact National

Pro-Cruz PAC hits Rubio for missed votes on defense

A PAC supporting Sen. Ted Cruz picked up on Rubio’s Senate record and zeroed in on missed votes for defense spending.

"Did you know Marco Rubio skipped 18 defense votes, including one to arm the Kurds to fight ISIS?" asks the narrator in an ad from Keep the Promise 1, a PAC largely funded by a New York hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer.

Yes, Rubio skipped the votes. But this ad this ad doesn’t tell viewers that all of Rubio’s skipped votes pertain to one bill. Also, Rubio voted for the overall bill, and Cruz voted against it.

The majority of the skipped votes were amendments, many procedural except for one two days before the final vote dealing with weapons and training for the Kurdistan Regional Government. On June 16, the Senate voted 54-45 for the amendment, but that wasn’t high enough to meet the 60 votes threshold for passage. Rubio skipped the vote but was a co-sponsor of the amendment.

The Obama administration urged the Senate to reject the amendment, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter wrote a letter saying it could push the government of Iraq closer to Iran, Politico wrote.

On June 18, Rubio voted in favor of the overall bill, which passed the Senate by 71-25 about a month after the bill passed the House. Cruz voted against it because, "I would not vote for an NDAA that continued to allow the president to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by indefinitely detaining them without due process."

We rate the ad’s statement Half True.

— Amy Sherman, PolitiFact Florida

Rubio's home sale

Trump has released a new campaign ad that attacked Marco Rubio's history as a Florida lawmaker. 

"As a legislator he flipped on a key vote after making a quick $200,000 from selling the house to the mother of the bill's lobbyist," the ad said.

This claim starts back in 2007, when Rubio was speaker of the House in Florida's Legislature. A West Miami chiropractor was pressuring (if not outright lobbying, by the state's definition) Rubio to pass an extension of a type of auto insurance called personal injury protection, or PIP. Rubio was holding out for better fraud protections in the legislation.

But Rubio also was selling his house in West Miami, which the chiropractor's mother bought during the legislative session at more than $200,000 over what Rubio had paid. That was considered a fair price at the time, and it seems the mother simply wanted to live near her chiropractor son.

The session ended after the sale, with no resolution to the insurance flap. But when Gov. Charlie Crist called a fall special session, Rubio asked to fix the issue. The Legislature came to an overwhelmingly approved compromise and PIP was restored.

Trump’s claim has a basis in real events, but there are several problems with the ethical implication he’s making about Rubio’s time in the Legislature. We rated the statement Mostly False.

— Joshua Gillin, PolitiFact Florida

Are there 20 million Americans "out of work"?

Republican presidential candidate John Kasich emphasized his record on jobs as Ohio governor in an ad that begins with grainy footage of what seems to be an unemployment line. The narrator’s first words are, "Twenty million Americans are out of work."

This figure sounded high to us, since the official number of unemployed Americans during the most recent month, February, tops out at about 7.8 million.

So we asked the Kasich campaign for their evidence, and they proceeded to cite a source that caught us off-guard: Us. They pointed to our fact-check from August in which we analyzed a statement by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump: "We have 93 million people out of work. They look for jobs, they give up, and all of a sudden, statistically, they're considered employed."

We rated this claim False, largely because the 93 million number included lots of people who would not be expected to want or be able to work, including full-time students, senior citizens, the disabled, and those who have chosen to take care of their children full-time. However, in the process, we conducted a mathematical experiment in which we played with possible numbers of Americans who are "out of work" that fit somewhere between the official unemployment rate (on the low end) and Trump’s number (on the high end).

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the campaign simply updated our math with more recent data in preparing the television ad. That resulted in exactly 20 million.

However, we noted our calculation was not intended to determine the actual number of out-of-work Americans, but rather to suggest the highest figure with any sort of credibility as a way of seeing how far out of line Trump’s assertion was. The statement was partially accurate but took things out of context, so we rated it Half True.

—  Louis Jacobson, PolitiFact National

Kasich's 'largest' tax cut (that isn't)

The same Kasich ad says he "delivered the largest tax cut in the nation." 

"There are at least half a dozen reasons why there has to be an asterisk after that sentence," said Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank.

While Ohio’s cuts are significant, when you factor in state population and economic size, Kansas’ reduction may be larger over time. Ohio’s shifting of the tax burden, from individual income tax to taxation on consumption, is what some consider more of a tax shift than a tax cut, and forces local governments to raise taxes in turn. Plus, the size of the tax cut wasn’t entirely Kasich’s idea, since it was the Legislature that made it bigger than he first proposed. 

This Kasich claim rates Mostly False.

— Nadia Pflaum, PolitiFact Ohio

Clinton claims car parts company asked for bailout and got it

Hillary Clinton stood outside of Johnson Controls Inc. when she cut a TV spot that attacks the suburban Milwaukee-based global firm.    

"This is Johnson Controls," Clinton says in the ad. "When the auto industry was going under, car parts companies like them begged taxpayers for a bailout and they got one."

Did the company beg for a bailout — and get one? Yes. And no.

In 2008, the entire auto industry was in very bad shape as the recession took hold. Layoffs at auto plants and among auto parts suppliers were on track to reach 250,000 workers. General Motors was virtually out of cash to pay its bills and Chrysler was not far behind.

That December, President George W. Bush used $17.6 billion in TARP money to keep GM and Chrysler afloat. And in 2009, President Barack Obama continued the rescue of the two automakers that was financed with about $80 billion in taxpayer money, about $70 billion of whichwas repaid.

But Johnson Controls was in much better condition. It certainly would've taken a major financial hit had the automakers gone under. But it did not directly receive any bailout funds.

The claim rates Half True.

— Tom Kertscher, PolitiFact Wisconsin

PAC’s claim about Trump selectively edited

Another ad from Keep the Promise I that played prominently in South Carolina makes the case that Trump supports a government-run health care program in which Washington pays for everybody. The last half is an edited version of an interview Trump did on CBS News’ 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley in September last year.

Voiceover: "We can't afford TrumpCare."

Trump: "Everybody's got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say."

Pelley: "Universal health care?"

Trump: "I am going to take care of everybody."

Pelley: "Who pays for it?"

Trump: "The government's gonna pay for it."

Case closed? Harly. The ad left out crucial parts of Trump's interview, including Trump saying that he was talking about people of limited means, the lower 25 percent, who can't afford private insurance. Also missing: Trump saying that for the most part, he sees people picking the deal they like from competing private plans.

By omitting those key phrases, the ad delivers the message that Trump backs government-sponsored health care for everyone. And that message rates False.

— Jon Greenberg, PolitiFact National

Clinton, big banks' cash

Conservative PAC Future45 blasts Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections in a spot that opens with an actress portraying Clinton opening up a check from Goldman Sachs.

"Hillary Clinton gave speeches to the biggest banks on Wall Street after one of the worst financial crises in American history," the narrator says. "But Hillary won’t tell us what she said to those banks who paid her over $1 million and are contributing millions more to elect her."

Based on records released by her campaign, Clinton has made nearly $4 million speaking to financial services firms, and half came from big banks like Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, UBS, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, where she spoke three times in 2013, each appearance raking in $225,000.

The Future45 ad, though, makes it seem like the big banks that paid Clinton for speeches are the same ones that are donating millions to elect her. According to data, donors from these five big Wall Street banks have contributed a combined $628,435 to her campaign and allied outside groups so far. That’s far less than "millions."

The statement is Half True.

— Lauren Carroll, PolitiFact National

No raises in 15 years

Clinton pledged to "root out" several barriers to progress in a TV ad that aired ahead of the South Carolina primary in February, offering one one specific statistic to underscore the challenges facing average Americans.

"Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years," she says in the 30-second ad, which aired more than 150 times in the Columbia, S.C., market the week before the Feb. 27 Democratic primary there, which Clinton won.

According to an analysis of census data performed by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, median household income dropped from $57,843 in January 1999, to $53,657 in January 2014, the most recent period for which statistics are available. That’s a 7 percent drop.

Another way to measure whether Americans have "had a raise" would be to look at a narrower slice of the population: full-time workers over the age of 16. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which draws on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median usual weekly earnings increased 2 percent from $334 a week in January 2000 to $341 in January 2015.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

— Jason Noble, PolitiFact Iowa

First ‘pro-life’ first lady?

Cruz proudly hails wife Heidi Cruz’s anti-abortion views in an ad featuring James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family in Colorado who endorsed Cruz. Dobson said she "will be the very first pro-life first lady," in the ad, which aired mostly in Iowa before the caucuses.

The campaign’s supporting documentation is a story stating that all first ladies since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in 1973, have supported a woman’s choice on abortion. But Dobson said she would be the "very first," and experts say it is very difficult to find a first lady commenting on abortion before the court ruling.

The Vietnam War was a turning point for first ladies being asked about their views on political issues, said Carl Sferrazza Anthony, who is considered the foremost historian on the political and social power of first ladies.

Every first lady since since Roe vs. Wade has publicly expressed their support for a woman’s choice on abortion, including Nancy Reagan and Barbara and Laura Bush. But it’s hard to know if Heidi Cruz would be the first "pro-life" first lady ever. We rate the claim Mostly True.

— Alan Gathright, PolitiFact Colorado

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Fact-Check-A-Thon calls out misleading TV ads in 2016 primaries