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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan September 29, 2010

Ants in the stimulus? Office space for politicians? Ad attacks New Hampshire Senate candidate

In the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race, pork is the theme of dueling ads.

Paul Hodes, the Democratic candidate and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, started the ball rolling with footage of himself at a hot dog eating contest, promising he would be a senator "who gets rid of the pork."

The group American Crossroads fired back. American Crossroads is a conservative, Republican-backed political advocacy group that's launched ads against Democrats around the country. Some are calling the group a "SuperPAC" (PAC stands for political action committee) because of its fund-raising prowess and national reach.

The ad against Hodes features a hot dog cart and carnival music. Here's what the ad says:

"In New Hampshire, Congressman Hodes claims, 'You deserve a senator who's a real fiscal conservative... and who gets rid of the pork.' But Hodes voted for the pork-filled stimulus bill -- $1.9 million to study ants in Africa, $39 million for office upgrades for politicians. Billions wasted and unemployment still higher. No wonder the Union Leader says 'The guy just can't tell the truth.'"

We wanted to check whether the stimulus had "$1.9 million to study ants" in Africa and "$39 million for office upgardes for politicians." Both projects are on a list of stimulus projects put together by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that American Crossroads pointed us to. The list included  "100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues."

Let's start with the ants. Several candidates have been facing this line of attack over their votes in favor of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the economic stimulus. Our colleagues at PolitiFact Oregon looked at the charge made against Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon's Democratic incumbent.

We checked Hodes' voting record and found that he did indeed vote for the stimulus bill.

But the stimulus didn't release money for ant research directly, and you won't find a "study of ants" in the bill's text.

Instead, the federal stimulus gave $3 billion to the National Science Foundation, which otherwise had a budget of about $6.5 billion in 2009. The foundation is an independent federal agency devoted to the progress of science. It distributed the stimulus money using the same peer-review process that it normally uses to decide which scientific research deserves funding.

Here, it's best to quote from PolitiFact Oregon's report:

"As it turns out, one scientist's study on ants of the Southwest Indian Ocean and East Africa made the cut. PolitiFact Oregon caught up with Brian Fisher, the project's leader and curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences, to pick his brain about the recent political celebrity of ants. He was, maybe surprisingly, pretty unfazed.

"'I think it's legitimate,' he said. 'There's no reason why people shouldn't challenge this and question what we're doing.'

"What exactly are they doing? Well, over the course of the next five years, Fisher and his team will be studying arthropods -- a category that includes ants -- in a part of the world he describes as immensely diverse, biologically speaking. While ant research might not seem like an obvious target for government funds, Fisher provides a logical defense.

"Ants, Fisher says, offer insight into climate change, the spread of disease and natural disasters. 'You can't monitor every single living thing, (but) there are key groups that can serve as indicators for other taxa, ants being one of them,' he said. 'Without them, we wouldn't have a functioning ecosystem.' (Taxa are groups of organisms.)

"It's also worth noting that the project has so far helped employ 16 people, at Fisher's last count."

Now, what about the other claim, that the stimulus spent "$39 million for office upgrades for politicians"?

The basis for this claim is a project in to renovate the Kansas State Capitol, a historic structure that dates to the late 1800s. A major renovation has been going on since 2000 to improve the building's wiring, plumbing, heating and air conditioning. And yes, the legislators also wanted more office space and upgraded meeting rooms, according to a 2009 Associated Press report. Hence "office upgrades for politicians." The overall project is expected to cost upwards of $285 million.

The $39 million from the stimulus bill is not direct funding. Instead, it comes from a special bond program, Build America Bonds, created by the stimulus to help local governments save money on building projects.

"As a result of this federal subsidy payment, state and local governments will have lower net borrowing costs and be able to reach more sources of borrowing than with more traditional tax-exempt or tax credit bonds," said a statement on the U.S. Treasury Department website.

Last summer, state officials decided to use the program to pay for the project, and $39 million is the amount that the federal bond program subsidizes. A Kansas official said that it would save the state about $500,000 in debt service costs.

"There's not stimulus money that's directly going to the renovation," said Amy Jordan Wooden, press secretary for Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson. "It gives us a lower interest rate than we could get on the market."

Finally, a small bonus fact-check: We were curious about the ad's statement that "the Union Leader says 'The guy just can't tell the truth.'" The newspaper's conservative editorial page did indeed say that about an attack ad Hodes launched against his opponent, former attorney general Kelly Ayotte. Our friends at debunked Hodes' attack on Ayotte, finding he was inaccurate when he suggested she had hidden e-mails that were relevant to a state investigation of an alleged Ponzi scheme. In July, the Union Leader lashed him for "blatantly false attacks against his leading rival."

For our ruling, we're looking at the ad's statement that " Hodes voted for the pork-filled stimulus bill -- $1.9 million to study ants in Africa, $39 million for office upgrades for politicians." It's true that Hodes voted for the bill, but at the time he had no way of knowing that those particular projects would be funded. It is a stretch to say that he voted for "$1.9 million to study ants in Africa," because he voted to add $3 billion in funding for the National Science Foundation. Its explanation of "$39 million for office upgrades for politicians" also leaves out significant details. It's a bond program, not a direct subsidy, and the money supports a large historical renovation, not simply "office upgrades for politicians." So we rate the ad's statement 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.

Our Sources

American Crossroads, "Fiscal," (ad against Paul Hodes), Sept. 20, 2010

U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Clerk, vote on the economic stimulus, Feb. 13, 2009

Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn, Summertime Blues, August 2010

The Associated Press, Federal stimulus touches even Kansas Statehouse, Aug. 7, 2009, accessed via Nexis

The Bond Buyer, Kansas Using BABs for Statehouse Project, July 7, 2010, accessed via Nexis

PolitiFact Oregon, Jim Huffman attacks Ron Wyden for spending $2 million on the study of exotic ants, Sept. 24, 2010

National Science Foundation Website, Sept. 22, 2010

Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas State Capitol

U.S. Treasury Department, Build America Bonds press release, April 3, 2009

Text of H.R. 1 (the American Recover and Reinvestment Act) as approved by both the U.S. House and Senate

The Center for Responsive Politics, 'Shadow RNC' American Crossroads Raises Millions in August from Wealthy Individuals, Corporations, Sept. 20, 2010

The Washington Post, New 'Super Pacs' bringing millions into campaigns, Sept. 28, 2010

The Union Leader, Attacking Ayotte; Dishonest smears from Hodes, July 6, 2010, accessed via Nexis, Hodes Deletes Truth in NH Senate Race, June 30, 2010

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Ants in the stimulus? Office space for politicians? Ad attacks New Hampshire Senate candidate

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