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Ken Mercer, a Republican on the State Board of Education facing a challenger in the March 2 primary, popped a double-edged audio ad online earlier this month.
The spot opens with Mercer’s two daughters calling him a rock-solid conservative. "But what about Dad’s opponent?" one says, without naming the foe, lobbyist Tim Tuggey.
The other replies: "Dad’s opponent is a lobbyist who donated over $41,000 to Democrats who support abortion and same-sex marriage."
Mercer closes: "You bet, I approve this message."
But would the Texas Truth-O-Meter approve? We decided to appraise Tuggey’s donations and the viewpoints of Democrats who fielded his contributions.
Mercer shared with us a list indicating Tuggey has given nearly $43,000 to 19 Democratic candidates and three pro-Democratic political committees since 2001.
He's right. Our check of state and federal records shows that Tuggey's donations to Democrats amounted to $33,616 to nine candidates for federal office and three national political committees plus $9,100 donated to 10 Democratic candidates for state office.
Tuggey doesn’t deny he’s helped Democrats. But he also says that since 2004, he and his law firm have given about three times as much money to Republicans.
On his campaign Web site, he notes that his firm has represented the Bexar County Republican Party at no charge. The site says his firm also represented the state’s Republican U.S. House members in the last round of redistricting litigation and it represents only Republicans in campaign and ethics disputes.
Tuggey initially told us all his Democratic donations occurred because he was helping clients advance issues such as keeping taxes low or funding veterans’ care. He later conceded that in some cases, he pitched in for candidates simply because they asked for a donation.
Mercer said the second part of his blast—that the Tuggey-assisted Democrats "support abortion and same-sex marriage" is based on the Democratic Party platform.
"The Republican platform is clearly pro-life (and anti-abortion) and pro-traditional marriage," Mercer said. "The Democrat Party platform is not."
Mercer didn’t say so, but his ad's reference to Democrats supporting abortion was a shorthand stab that absurdly suggests Democrats want abortions to occur — a claim that's not the same as favoring a woman's right to have an abortion.
Besides, not all Democrats support abortion rights. "We are a big-tent party," said Kirsten Gray, spokeswoman for the state Democrats. "There are Democrats who support the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy and there are Democrats who don’t."
As for where Democrats stand on same-sex marriage, we didn't check with every Democrat who got a Tuggey donation. But one of them, state Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, said he’s never supported same-sex marriage.
"Absolutely not," Uresti said. "I’m a Marine, damnit." (Uresti said he voted in 2005 in favor of placing a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage before voters, who later approved the proposal. In the official House record, however, Uresti is listed as absent from the floor vote that advanced the measure.)
Mercer's reasoning presumes that every Democrat who fielded a Tuggey donation hews to the party’s state and national platforms, statements of beliefs drafted and adopted by party convention delegates every two years at the state level and every four years at the national level. So we looked for language relating to abortion and same-sex marriage in the latest Democratic platforms.
What we found: The state party platform of 2008 states Texas Democrats "trust the women of Texas to make personal and responsible decisions about when and whether to bear children, in consultation with their family, their physician, personal conscience or their God, rather than having these personal decisions made by politicians."
Texas Democrats also "support prevention measures which have proven effective at reducing unintended pregnancies, and which would reduce the rate of abortion when made affordable, accessible, and available as effective long-term programs," the platform states.
The national Democratic platform of 2008 states: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade (the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion) and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."
Same-sex marriage isn't mentioned in the state Democrats’ platform. But there is language indicating the party believes in protecting personal privacy and opposing discrimination in "all forms."
The national Democratic platform states: "We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us."
The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and provides that states need not recognize a marriage from another state if it is between persons of the same sex.
So does Mercer’s ad hold up?
Mercer got the math part right. Tuggey actually gave more than $42,000 to Democrats or Democratic committees, though Mercer's ad overlooks Tuggey's donations to Republicans and the history of Tuggey’s firm representing the Bexar County Republican Party and GOP candidates.
But the second part of Mercer's advertising statement doesn't add up.
For starters, Mercer doesn't back up his presumption that every Democrat hews to the party's platform. It also doesn't stand to reason that support for same-sex marriage amounts to non-support of traditional marriage, as Mercer said.
In Mercer's favor: Both the state and national Democratic Party platforms signal Democratic support for abortion rights. But the 2008 state platform doesn't address same-sex marriage while the national platform backs equal protections for same-sex couples with no reference to marriage.
Mercer accurately tallied Tuggey's donations to Democrats, but made sweeping judgments unsupported by facts.
We rate his statement as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.
DOMA Watch, accessed Feb. 23, 2010
E-mail and interview, Tim Tuggey, Feb. 19, 2010
E-mails, Ken Mercer, Feb. 22, 2010
Interview, Kirsten Gray, communications director, Texas Democratic Party, Feb. 23, 2010
Ken Mercer, member, State Board of Education, campaign Web site, audio ad, accessed Feb. 19, 2010
Texas Democratic Party, 2008 platform, June 2008
Texas House, Floor Vote on HJR 6, House Journal, Proceedings, April 25, 2005
Tim Tuggey, campaign Web site, "Getting the Whole Picture," accessed Feb. 23, 2010
University of California at Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project, Democratic Party Platform, Aug. 25, 2008
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