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Federal spending is a major issue in the U.S. Senate campaign of Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown. Mandel says spending is wasteful and unsustainable, and he names Brown as a reason.
Among several claims in Mandel's TV ad "Change," which accuses Brown of trying to hide his record, is one that says "Brown sent billions of our tax dollars to foreign countries."
PolitiFact Ohio can't say if spending is wasteful, and we don't have a crystal ball to judge if it is sustainable. But we can assess if Brown is "hiding" (as the ad states) that he has sent billions of tax dollars overseas.
The ad's claim is spoken by an announcer and appears on screen next to a photo of Brown. In the background is a blended collage of the flags of Panama, China and South Korea.
The source cited in the ad for the claim is an article that appeared Sept. 9, 2010 in the Washington Times. The article said the Department of Energy had acknowledged that "as much as 80 percent of some green (energy) programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States."
The story also referred to a report by American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, in February 2010, that more than 79 percent of the first $2.1 billion in stimulus grants to wind energy companies went to foreign firms.
The report noted, however, that the grant money was distributed under a program administered by the Energy Department and Treasury, and not by Congress. In some instances, it said, the money went to the American subsidiaries of foreign companies.
The Washington Times story goes on to say that the Investigative Reporting Workshop report "raised alarms in Congress. Leading Democrats insisted that the money be spent at home, but restrictions on the funds proved impossible without the specter of a trade war."
Brown, who is not mentioned in the Washington Times article, was actually one of the senators who called for the Obama administration to suspend the program indefinitely "until the law can be fixed so that funds only flow to projects that will create jobs in the United States."
Co-sponsoring legislation to make that a requirement, Brown said, "Taxpayers expect the government to use their dollars to support American jobs."
PolitiFact Ohio looked at the wind project with the Chinese connection earlier this year and found it never got completed. Since companies could only collect money after completion and the program expired last year, it is safe to say that the amount that went to China was "zero," Russ Choma, the reporter who performed the digging at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, told us.
Our friends at FactCheck.org, who also examined the Mandel ad's claim, found it to be "highly misleading" and not true.
Because the citation in the ad did not support the claim, we asked Mandel's campaign if it had additional sources.
"The charge in the ad is also supported by Sen. Brown's votes relative to foreign aid appropriations," spokesman Travis Considine said, citing a story from Politico as "the most recent example of a vote held on the Appropriations Committee Sen. Brown sits on that approved $52.1 billion in foreign aid."
He also provided a voting record to show that Brown "has voted for at least $257.9 billion in foreign operations funding since he came to Washington in 1993." The list included votes on omnibus appropriations bills, which cover many areas of spending and often enjoy wide bipartisan support.
The $52.1 billion figure in the Politico story refers to the State Department and foreign operations budget. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, that budget funds U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid activities, and "has been the primary legislative vehicle through which Congress reviews the U.S. international affairs budget and influences executive branch foreign policy making in recent years."
Included in the budget are the cost of building, staffing and protecting embassies and consular activities; funding for the war-related states of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were exceeded by Israel as the top U.S. foreign aid recipients; foreign economic and security assistance, and contributions to international organizations and missions and multilateral financial institutions.
"U.S. national security, trade promotion, and humanitarian interests are rationales for most international affairs activities," the Congressional Research Service said in its report on the budget.
The CRS also summed up debate about the budget: "International affairs expenditures typically amount to about 1.5 percent of the total federal budget. While some foreign policy and defense experts view that share as a small price to pay for a robust foreign affairs budget that they believe is essential to meeting national security and foreign policy objectives, others see international affairs spending, particularly foreign aid, as an attractive target for significant spending cuts in order to reduce deficit spending."
How much could spending practically be cut?
Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is a fiscal conservative who has been called "the Senate's chief waste-watcher." He released a $9 trillion deficit reduction plan last year that would trim "wasteful, duplicative and low-priority spending" from the Department of State and its foreign operations budget.
He estimated the 10-year savings at $192 billion, which still would leave a multi-billion dollar foreign operations budget annually.
As for the ad's flags of China, Panama and South Korea, we have previously found Brown to be one of the Senate's most ardent critics of U.S. foreign trade policies. He has voted against trade deals with China, Panama and South Korea -- and Colombia, Central America, Mexico and Canada.
Let's bring it home.
The ad claims Brown sent billions of dollars to foreign countries. The information that the ad uses to back up that claim, that Brown voted for the stimulus bill, has been proven false. Brown did not make decisions on how that money would be spent, and he was one of the senators who called for its suspension after the foreign grants were reported.
When confronted with those facts, the Mandel campaign offered as support for its claim that Brown votes for appropriations for U.S. foreign operations. That's the money for embassies, war-related spending to help establish new governments and the U.S. portions of international missions. That's a ridiculous stretch from what the ad implies, which is that Brown tried to hide that he irresponsibly sent billions or our tax dollars to foreign countries.
We have a rating for statements that are both false and ridiculous. It's Pants on Fire.
Josh Mandel Campaign, "Change," May 23, 2012
Mandel for Senate, "Issues"
Washington Times, "'Green' jobs no longer golden in stimulus," Sept. 9, 2010
FactCheck.org, "Mandel’s Deceptive Defense Against Sen. Brown," May 29, 2012
Investigative Reporting Workshop, "Renewable energy money still going abroad, despite criticism from Congress," Feb. 8, 2010
News release, "Schumer, Casey, Brown & Tester urge Obama administration to suspend stimulus program," March 3, 2010
Email from Mandel communications director Travis Considine, May 25 and July 23, 2012
Politico, "Foreign aid bill being considered by Senate," May 22, 2012
Sen. Tom Coburn, "Releases $9 Trillion Deficit Reduction Plan," July 18, 2011
Sen. Tom Coburn, "Dept. of State and Foreign Operations Funding," July 18, 2011
Washington Times, "Feds use tax dollars to fund pet shampoo ad, reality show in India," June 14, 2012
PolitiFact, "Josh Mandel says Sherrod Brown is responsible for Ohio jobs moving to China," March 20, 2012
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