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Fact-checking the U.S. Senate candidates from Florida
Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin May 27, 2016
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 27, 2016

We put several statements from hopefuls looking to fill Marco Rubio’s seat to the Truth-O-Meter test.

This year’s presidential race has overshadowed the campaign for Rubio’s soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat, but the PolitiFact Florida Truth-O-Meter hasn’t forgotten.

There are five Republicans and two Democrats looking to replace Rubio. They range from current members of Congress to a homebuilder to a former Green Beret. (And although Rubio has been urged to run for reelection and Donald Trump has thrown his support behind him, Rubio has said he will leave the Senate when his term expires.)

PolitiFact has been keeping track of what all of the candidates are saying ahead of the Aug. 30 primaries. Here’s a look at our fact-checks so far.  

Ron DeSantis

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, has made terrorism a central issue in his campaign. He called a hearing of the House Oversight Committee’s National Security subcommittee to say that there’s more to worry about than ISIS.

"Recent reports state that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has apprehended several members of known Islamist terrorist organizations crossing the southern border in recent years," he said March 23.

We rated DeSantis’ statement Mostly True.

There have been several reported incidents along the U.S.-Mexico border of several agencies encountering people on terrorism watch lists or with ties (or suspected ties) to terrorist groups. There also have been a number of people from countries associated with terror groups stopped by authorities, although that’s not an indication they’re terrorist infiltrators. Experts noted that while border security is always a concern, this issue is far from a pressing crisis.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the state’s lieutenant governor from Miami-Dade County, tells voters he has saved them money.

"I'm also the only lieutenant governor to not take a security detail," he said.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

He largely went without a security detail when he started in 2014 — a break from most lieutenant governors in recent memory who have used state security.

The only one we could find who said he did not have security detail was Jim Williams, lieutenant governor from 1975-79. The state could not confirm one way or another.

That was about 40 years ago, so to us Lopez-Cantera’s point still holds water.

Carlos Beruff

Carlos Beruff, a Bradenton developer who has been appointed to several boards by two governors, attacked Democratic candidates over their support for the Iran nuclear deal.

The Manatee County Republican criticized President Barack Obama’s negotiation skills and berated Democratic foes and U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy for backing the deal.

"Both Congressman Grayson and Congressman Murphy supported President Obama’s disastrous deal, which allows Iran to produce a nuclear weapon," Beruff said in a May 5 news release.

We rated the statement False.

The terms of the deal expressly forbid pursuing a militarized nuclear program. Iran would have to either break the terms of the agreement or else wait it out and start building one anew once the deal’s provisions have expired (which would be counter to treaties that predated this deal). Either way, that doesn’t sound like an agreement that "allows Iran to produce a nuclear weapon."

Todd Wilcox

Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox is a former Special Forces commander and combat veteran who worked as a CIA officer. He recently cited that experience when he told the Miami Herald that he believed a controversial interrogation practice after the Sept. 11 attacks was effective.

"I can tell you that the enhanced interrogation techniques that have since been banned by this administration — specifically waterboarding — work," Wilcox said in a report published May 20. "They work on the terrorists, and there's a proven history of that."

Wilcox didn’t provide concrete proof and experts say virtually none exists. We rated the statement False.

While many top officials defended the CIA’s use of waterboarding in the past, there is no irrefutable evidence the practice provides results. Experts said there are few historical accounts of success, and even those are suspect.

Meanwhile, there’s scientific proof that a technique like waterboarding would affect brain function enough to make any prisoner’s statements unreliable. They may say anything to make the waterboarding stop, and could actually be physically unable to provide any cogent intelligence.

David Jolly

After his congressional district was redrawn to more Democratic-friendly borders, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, threw his hat into the Senate ring in the middle of his first full term in Congress. He recently participated in an online, open debate with Grayson.

One of the questions he answered was about wanting to defund Planned Parenthood. Jolly said he acknowledged other women’s health services deserved funding and decried government wasting too much time and money on attacking the health clinic network.

"When my side of the aisle asked for an investigation of Planned Parenthood, I actually voted no. I was the only Republican to vote no," he said on April 25. "Should the issue be looked at? Yes. But there were already three committees looking at the issue. We didn’t need a fourth. We’re either going to be the party of less government or not."

We rated his statement True.

Jolly made it clear at the time he was not in favor of spending more taxpayer dollars to investigate something already under the microscope.

Alan Grayson

While debating Jolly, Grayson used the mind-boggling salary of professional basketball superstar LeBron James to illustrate his point that the mega-rich should help shore up Social Security.

"Let's talk about LeBron James. Do you know when he stops paying his Social Security taxes? He stops paying his Social Security taxes at the beginning of the second quarter of the first game of the season," the Orlando Democrat said. "Rest of the game, pays nothing. Rest of the 81 games of the season, pays nothing. The offseason, still pays nothing. That's ridiculous."

We rated the statement Mostly True.

Grayson offered a broad statement meant to draw attention to the fact that Social Security taxes are capped at $118,500 of a person’s income, no matter how much they make.

There are a lot of factors that go into how much James is paid, and how much of that goes to various taxes. But the bottom line is that the athlete only faces Social Security taxes for a relative sliver of his income.

Patrick Murphy

Grayson’s primary opponent, Murphy, has been criticized by consumer groups for defending a payday lending bill that they say traps the poor in a cycle of debt.

"The regulations on the (payday lending) industry are some of the strongest here in Florida, stronger than almost any other state," Murphy said in a conference call with reporters April 6.

We rated Murphy’s claim False.

Consumer advocates, Pew researchers and the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have several criticisms of Florida’s law, including the high interest rate. Pew, an independent organization, says that Colorado has the best model law in the country. The Center for Responsible Lending points to 14 states — not including Florida — that cap interest rates at 36 percent as a better practice.

There are ways in which Florida’s payday law is better than some other states, but there is not evidence that it’s stronger than almost any other state.

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Fact-checking the U.S. Senate candidates from Florida