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By Sean Gorman November 21, 2011

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy claims $1.9 million of stimulus money went to African ant research

A new TV ad by a Republican-aligned advocacy group starts by taking aim at Democratic U.S. senate candidate Tim Kaine, but then veers off onto on an unusual topic: African ant research.

The ad from Crossroads Grassroots Policy Studies features Kaine talking about how the 2009 federal stimulus was important to getting people back to work.

The ad then gives short shrift to the stimulus, saying it funded things like "studying ants in Africa," a project that the ad says cost $1.9 million.

PolitiFact Virginia has found numerous times that stimulus did indeed save or create many jobs nationwide -- including thousands of positions at school divisions across Virginia.

But did the stimulus really provide $1.9 million for African ant research? We couldn’t resist checking this one.

Some political attacks are recycled year after year, and the ants analogy is one of them.

Our colleagues at PolitiFact Oregon examined the backstory behind the ants research in a Sept. 17, 2010 article.  The story noted the stimulus bill doesn’t even mention the words "ants" and didn’t directly pay for the ant research, but added that the stimulus legislation gave $3 billion to the National Science Foundation, which in turn decided which projects to fund. The ant research of the Southwest Indian Ocean and East Africa was one of them.

Brian Fisher, the project’s leader and curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences, told PolitiFact Oregon that ants offer insight into climate change, the spread of disease and natural disasters. He also said the project helped employ 16 people.

PolitiFact Oregon was weighing in on a claim that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden voted for $2 million in ant research because he voted in favor of the stimulus. That was ruled False because when Wyden voted for the bill, the ant research wasn’t yet funded by the measure. The stimulus sent money to the National Science Foundation, which funded the ant project later on.

But the Crossroads ad we’re examining words its ant claim a bit differently. The latest claim said that stimulus money went to study ants in Africa.

That is indeed where the money ended up going. Nate Hodson, a spokesman for Crossroads GPS, said pointed to the National Science Foundation synopsis of the project, which shows that the stimulus put $1.9 million towards the 5-year ant research project.

Still, political ads often cite eye-catching facts without providing much context.

We weren’t able to reach Fisher for an update on how things are going a year later, but we did speak with Philip Ward, an entomology professor at the University of California at Davis, who is also taking part in the research project.

Ward said the project has a number of benefits. First is the scientific pursuit of gaining a better understanding of the organisms on the planet, he said.

The research could have an economic benefit by helping find ways to deal with invasive pest ants, Ward said. He noted that one such pest ant, commonly called the Big Headed Ant, is believed to originate from Africa and is a nuisance in Hawaii and Florida.

"Some ants are pest ants, and to better understand and better control pest ants, you need to understand where they come from like where they organize, what their ecology is like in their original range, and what natural enemies they have," Ward said.

Our Ruling:

The Crossroads ad says that $1.9 million in stimulus money went to study ants in Africa.

Officials working on the project have said the research could help provide insight into climate change, the spread of disease, natural disasters and could also help findings ways to control pest ants in the United States.

But there’s no dispute that ant research is indeed where the money is going. We rate the claim True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies,"Crossroads GPS: ‘Applause’ VA,"November 10, 2011.

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies,"Crossroads GPS launches new TV ads on economy, spending in five Senate states,"November 10, 2011.

E-mail from Nate Hodson, Crossroads GPS director of state and regional media relations, November 11, 2011.

PolitiFact Oregon,"Jim Huffman attacks Ron Wyden for spending $2 million on the study of exotic ants,"September 17, 2010.

National Science Foundation,"Award Abstract #0842395,"accessed November 14, 2011.

Interview with Philip Ward, entomology professor at the University of California at Davis, November 17, 2011.

PolitiFact,"Ants in the stimulus? Office space for politicians? Ad attacks New Hampshire Senate candidate,"September 29, 2010.

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Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategy claims $1.9 million of stimulus money went to African ant research

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