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TV ad in Florida said PolitiFact is funded by George Soros, but that’s misleading

In this May 24, 2016 file photo, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo) In this May 24, 2016 file photo, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo)

In this May 24, 2016 file photo, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 26, 2018

A TV ad that misleads about U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ position on immigration also incorrectly describes a relationship between PolitiFact and liberal philanthropist George Soros.

The ads were paid for by the National Liberty Federation, a organization with ties to the tea party movement based in Palm Beach Gardens. DeSantis is running in the Republican primary for governor and is endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Here is the script of the TV ad:

"On Jan. 19, 2014, Congress voted on a bill which included a prohibition of food stamps for illegal immigrants. President Trump opposes food stamps for illegal immigrants. But Congressman Ron DeSantis voted against the bill. Yes, he voted to give food stamps to illegals. When DeSantis’ anti-Trump vote was exposed, the left-wing George Soros-funded PolitiFact tried to distort and defend DeSantis’ vote. Can we trust this swamp creature to lead Florida?"

A footnote cites a press release from the Poynter Institute about grants to the International Fact-Checking Network.

The National Liberty Federation also ran radio ads with a similar script, adding in some language that PolitiFact "even got a liberal Democratic congressman to defend DeSantis." That’s a reference to a column about the fact-check by former U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, PolitiFact's Democratic guest columnist. (PolitiFact’s Republican guest columnist is David Jolly. Guest columnists choose what to write about on their own.)

PolitiFact stands by its original fact-check. This article explains that Pants on Fire rating as well as PolitiFact’s ownership and funding structure.

The DeSantis fact-check

Here’s why we rated the claim against DeSantis Pants on Fire, our lowest rating reserved for inaccurate, ridiculous statements.

Facebook users in March marked the story by Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children as being potentially fabricated. (PolitiFact has a partnership with Facebook to fact-check fake news.)

"DeSantis voted in favor of food stamps for illegal immigrants," the headline said. The article drew from the Central Florida Post, a right-leaning website.

The attack referred to DeSantis’ vote on the 2014 farm bill, a sweeping piece of legislation that reauthorizes food and agriculture policy. This includes food stamps, known as SNAP for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

DeSantis was one of 63 Republicans to join 103 Democrats voting against HR 2642 (which still passed). Some liberals said the cuts in the bill were too steep, while some conservatives said it didn’t do enough to cut spending.

DeSantis stated at the time that he thought the bill was a bad deal for taxpayers and failed to rein in the food stamp program. By voting "no" he took a stand against the overall piece of legislation.

While the legislation was hundreds of pages, only a few sentences related to illegal immigrants. Section 4015 stated "a state agency shall be required to use an immigration status verification system." However, even before President Barack Obama signed the farm bill into law, undocumented immigrants were already generally blocked from getting food stamps.

PolitiFact’s funding structure

The ads say that Soros funds PolitiFact. That’s inaccurate.

PolitiFact is a nonpartisan fact-checking website initially launched by the Tampa Bay Times in 2007. In 2018, PolitiFact’s direct ownership was transferred to The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit journalism training institution that is also the owner of the Times.

PolitiFact receives support from online advertising, as well as revenue generated through content partnerships, grants, and a membership campaign for individual donations called the Truth Squad.

Neither Soros nor the organization he founded, Open Society Foundations, contributes to PolitiFact.

The Poynter press release cited by the National Liberty Federation announced $1.3 million in grants to another Poynter division, the International Fact-Checking Network. The goal of the network is to monitor trends, promote basic standards, provide training and advocate for fact-checkers worldwide.

The grants came from the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations.

Since its launch in 2015, the network has received funding from the following organizations: Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Duke Reporters’ Lab, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations and the Park Foundation.

Soros is a Hungarian-born hedge fund manager who has supported President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and criticized Trump. Open Society Foundations funds organizations in about 100 countries and started in Soros’ native Hungary in 1984 supporting anti-communist groups.

The Open Society grant was made to Poynter expressly to support the IFCN before PolitiFact moved to Poynter. What’s more, though both are under the administrative umbrella of Poynter PolitiFact and the IFCN have separate missions, separate staffs and maintain separate budgets and revenue sources. 

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Our Sources

National Liberty Federation, TV ad, Accessed April 24, 2018

National Liberty Federation, Website, Accessed April 25, 2018

Clark Hill, Letter to stations, April 10, 2018

President Donald Trump, Tweet, Dec. 22, 2017

Open Society Foundations, Website, Accessed April 25, 2018

Omidyar Network, Website, Accessed April 25, 2018

Breitbart, "DeSantis Goes Trump — Dispatches Cease and Desist Letter to Stop Attack Ad with U.S. Sugar ‘Fingerprints,’" April 23, 2018

Politico, "U.S. Sugar’s fingerprints on $700K in attack ads against longtime foe DeSantis," April 13, 2018

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Group Helps Other Charities Speed Up Their Success, Silicon Valley Style," March 7, 2018

Media Development Investment Fund, "Open Society Foundation of South Africa, Omidyar Network and MDIF launch South Africa Media Innovation Program," Aug. 29, 2018

Open Society Foundations, "Soros Economic Development Fund, Omidyar Network, and Launch Small to Medium Enterprise Investment Company for India," Feb. 19, 2008

PressGazette, "Pierre Omidyar and George Soros foundations give $500,000 to UK fact-checking organisation," July 4, 2017

Poynter Institute, International Fact-Checking Network Transparency Statement, Accessed April 25, 2018

Poynter, "$1.3 Million in Grants from Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations Will Expand Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network," Oct. 23, 2016

PolitiFact, "Who pays for PolitiFact?" February 2018

PolitiFact, "A ridiculous attack on Ron DeSantis about food stamps and immigrants," March 29, 2018

PolitiFact, "Guest column: False attack against Ron DeSantis shows how political attack ads are often crafted," April 4, 2018

PolitiFact, "We started fact-checking in partnership with Facebook a year ago today. Here's what we've learned," Dec. 15, 2017

Tampa Bay Times The Buzz blog, "Here's a very sweet reason Roger Stone has it in for Ron DeSantis," March 31, 2018

Interview, Brad Herold, Ron DeSantis campaign spokesman, April 25, 2018

Interview, Everett Wilkinson, National Liberty Foundation, April 25, 2018

Interview, Jim Peacock, Omidyar Network director of marketing and communications, April 25, 2018

Interview, Tom Watson, senior editorial advisor Open Society Foundations, April 25, 2018

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TV ad in Florida said PolitiFact is funded by George Soros, but that’s misleading