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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran October 5, 2010

American Crossroads attacks Lee Fisher for support of $1.1 billion sales tax ballot issue for education

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Ohio Democrats can feel positively fawned upon by American Crossroads, the deep-pocketed conservative political action group conceived by Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie.

A TV ad the group is running against Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher, in support of Republican Rob Portman, is almost a frame-by-frame copy of a spot run by Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008.

The Obama spot, "Rearview Mirror," opened with the shot of a highway and man inside a car adjusting the mirror. The voiceover said, "Wonder where John McCain would take the economy? Look behind you." The ad cut to a shot of George Bush in the mirror, followed by a series of blue and green signs, roadside and overhead, spelling out the ad's talking points. It closed with a shot of McCain and Bush in the mirror.

The American Crossroads spot, "Behind," opens with the shot of a highway and a man inside a car adjusting the mirror. The voiceover says, "Where will Lee Fisher take our economy? Just look behind you." It cuts to a shot of Fisher in the mirror, followed by a series of blue and green signs, roadside and overhead, spelling out the ad's talking points. It closes with a shot of Fisher in the mirror.

But imitation is also the sincerest form of television, and ads don't necessarily win or lose points for originality. Our concern is content, and the ad's three points also display a taste for recycling.

First is the statement, "Fisher served as Gov. Strickland's top official on job creation, yet Ohio has lost almost 400,000 jobs." PolitiFact examined this claim earlier, and rated it Half True. Fisher was in charge of the state agency most responsible for bringing new jobs to Ohio, but that doesn’t mean he is solely responsible for the job losses. And the state didn’t lose that many jobs while he was head of the Department of Development.

The spot also asserts that Fisher "even supported Obama's stimulus that failed to create jobs." The critical point is the contention that the stimulus failed to create jobs, another claim that PolitiFact has examined and found untrue and, in one case, rated as Pants on Fire.

Wedged between those claims in the Crossroads ad is the assertion that Fisher "wanted a $1.1 billion tax increase which could have driven countless jobs out of state."

That charge is new to this campaign, and the claim that PolitiFact Ohio decided to take a look at. But it’s such a blast from the past that you need the Hubble Space Telescope to see it, not a rearview mirror.

Asked for sources, American Crossroads said the charge is based on Fisher's support for a plan proposed in 1997 to raise the state sales tax from 5 cents on the dollar to 6 cents.

The so-called plan was a state ballot issue proposed by then-Gov. George Voinovich, a Republican, who was leaving office to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Glenn.

Both candidates to replace Voinovich -- Fisher, the Democrat, and Secretary of State Bob Taft, the Republican -- voiced support for the ballot issue. Fisher also vowed that as governor he would not seek any increase in state sales or income taxes without voter consent.

The 1-cent sales tax was intended to generate $1.1 billion a year -- $550 million for schools and $550 million for homeowner property-tax relief. Voters rejected it at the polls in May 1998.

But the way it is used in the ad is misleading:

  • The ad gives no indication that the issue is 12 years old. 
  • Raising it between a reference to Fisher’s term as state development director, 2007 to 2009, and a claim about the stimulus, passed in 2009, creates the impression that the issue is current or recent. 
  • There is no hint that the plan was an attempt to deal with school funding and that it had bipartisan support.

It is true that Fisher, as well as leading Republicans in Ohio at the time, supported the sales tax issue that would have raised $1.1 billion. That’s one element of accuracy. But the ad leaves out important details needed to fully present the statement in proper context.

We rate it Half True.

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Our Sources


New York Times, "Rove Returns, With Team, Planning G.O.P. Push," Sept. 25, 2010

Salon, "Billionaires give 91 percent of funds for Rove-tied group," Sept. 20, 2010

Federal Election Commission, American Crossroads itemized receipts

Obama campaign ad, "Rearview Mirror," posted to YouTube Oct 29, 2008

American Crossroads, Ohio "Behind" TV30, posted to YouTube Sept. 23, 2010

PolitiFact Ohio, "Rob Portman raps Lee Fisher for Ohio's job losses while he was the state's development director," Sept. 23, 2010, "Obama says Congressional Budget Office found the economic stimulus has created up to 1.6 million jobs," Dec. 14, 2009, "Obama says stimulus is responsible for 2 million jobs saved or created," Feb. 17, 2010, Scott Brown says stimulus 'didn't create one new job,’ Feb. 18, 2010, "Boehner says stimulus includes $7 million for bridge over railway to town of 168," Feb. 19, 2010

PolitiFact Georgia, Barnes part of the team to blame for failed policies, Deal spokesman says, Aug. 24, 2010

Congressional Budget Office, "Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output From April 2010 Through June 2010," report issued for August 2010

Ohio Council of Economic Advisors, "117,000 jobs created or saved by the Recovery Act in Ohio through June 2010,"  Fourth Quarterly Report, updated Aug. 18, 2010

Interview, American Crossroads communications director Jonathan Collegio, Oct. 1, 2010

The Plain Dealer, "Candidates Taft, Fisher join push for tax hike," Feb. 18, 1998

The Plain Dealer, "State Issue 2 crushed; tax hike for schools rejected by 4-1," May 6, 1998

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American Crossroads attacks Lee Fisher for support of $1.1 billion sales tax ballot issue for education

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