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With the 2022 election ramping up, we are returning to our monthly "High Five" feature, a quick look at the five items that drew the most readers in the preceding month.
Given the massive impact of the coronavirus, and the continuing economic fallout, it should come as little surprise that a virus-related item took the top spot for March 2022:
1. State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, said: "Over-vaccination causes faster mutation of the (COVID-19) virus, which causes a super virus we may not have the ability to fight off."
Felzkowski is way off base. Experts say the virus will always try to mutate to guarantee its own survival and evade people’s immunity — and it doesn’t care whether that immunity comes from a vaccine, from prior infection, or both. In other words, it’s not mutating faster because people are vaccinated.
In fact, vaccinations play a role in slowing mutations of the virus.
Each new infection gives the virus another chance to mutate. While it’s possible for people who are vaccinated to become infected with COVID-19, research shows getting the shot makes that less likely to happen. And vaccinated people who do contract the virus also have a shorter course of illness than unvaccinated people, reducing the time and thus the opportunity for it to spread further, which gives it a greater chance to mutate.
We rated Felzkowski’s claim False.
2. Former Lt. Gov. and GOP gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch said Gov. Tony Evers gave $2.4 million in COVID relief money to Planned Parenthood affiliates throughout Wisconsin "to bail them out and fund abortions."
A search of the state Department of Administration’s list of grantees shows the money was indeed awarded to Planned Parenthood clinics for "critical services to individuals in the areas of health care, housing and shelter, adult education" and other services, according to a Nov. 3, 2020 news release from Evers’ office announcing the grant program.
But abortion services make up a small share of Planned Parenthood’s overall services — 3% in 2019, according to the latest annual national report. And in Wisconsin, only three clinics can provide them (the Madison East location, Milwaukee’s Water Street Health Center and the Sheboygan clinic). None of those clinics got money from the grant program.
What’s more, some of the funds, those distributed through the federal CARES Act, are explicitly prohibited from being used for abortions under the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal dollars from being used for that purpose in most cases. The rest, part of the so-called ARPA funds, aren’t restricted by Hyde, but in this case still are not being directed toward abortions.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin does, of course, provide abortion services. But Kleefisch didn’t say Evers gave money to an organization that performs those services. She said he gave them the money specifically to fund abortions.
That’s off the mark. We rated the claim False.
3. Michael Gableman, the former state Supreme Court justice overseeing a Republican-ordered, taxpayer-funded review of Wisconsin’s long-settled 2020 election, said five Wisconsin cities received money for the 2020 election from Mark Zuckerberg, which amounted to "a wave of massive election bribery."
Multiple court rulings have held the opposite, that the grants – which went were meant to mitigate COVID-related costs went for such things as paying staff, ballot-scanning machines and protective gear – were permissible.
What’s more, far more than five cities received the money. Gableman is ignoring grant money that went to dozens of cities in largely Republican areas. And courts have repeatedly upheld the grants as lawful, not bribery – much less a "massive wave" of bribery. As a former state Supreme Court justice, that’s a point Gableman should be familiar with.
His claim was false and ridiculous. We rated it Pants on Fire.
4. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said gas prices are high "due to the Democrats’ war on fossil fuels."
When asked or backup, Johnson’s staff noted – among other things – Democratic moves to halt subsidies for oil companies, end fossil fuel company drilling on public lands and stop the Keystone XL pipeline. But stopping the Keystone pipeline did not affect existing supply. It was not projected to be finished until the irst quarter of 2023 anyway.
Experts say the various things cited by Johnson could have had a small impact, but it’s more likely that the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the supply and demand for oil, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions are having a much larger impact.
We rated this claim Mostly False.
5. Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Alex Lasry said Ron Johnson "is supporting the Republican plan that phases out Social Security and Medicare."
The claim falls short from multiple angles.
The Lasry ad is referring to the 11-point "Rescue America" plan released in February 2022 by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, head of the Senate Republican campaign committee. A plank in the plan calls for all federal legislation to sunset in five years, to be reviewed. And Medicare and Social Security are authorized under federal law.
But the Scott plan is not backed by all Republicans – notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said there is no way either program would be phased out. What’s more, Johnson has not signed off on every element in the plan, only voicing support for the idea that Scott laid out a specific platform. And Johnson in the past has said the opposite – that both programs should remain for generations.
We rated the claim Mostly False.