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Truthfulness has become a persistent issue in the U.S. Senate campaign between Sherrod Brown, the Democratic incumbent, and Josh Mandel, Ohio's Republican treasurer.
The Brown campaign raised the issue explicitly this month in a 30-second TV ad titled "Pants on Fire."
The ad accuses Mandel of being "the candidate of the big lie," and displays a newspaper column as the source for the line.
"Now Josh is lying about his own record," the ad says. "The rating of Ohio's investment fund has NOT improved." The capital letters for emphasis are in the on-screen text of the words.
The claim sounded familiar to PolitiFact Ohio, and with reason. When we asked the Brown campaign for supporting sources, they cited a fact-check by us and another by our friends at FactCheck.org. When we looked further, we found a third related fact-check by PolitiFact Ohio.
The first item, from October 2011, reviewed the claim in a Mandel campaign email about the STAR (State Treasury Asset Reserve) Ohio fund, an investment pool with assets of more than $4.1 billion through which the state treasurer invests money for local governments.
The campaign email said the STAR Ohio fund "just received the highest possible credit rating one of these funds can receive."
The source for the claim was the credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, which sent the state a letter in August 2011 affirming a AAAm rating for the STAR Ohio fund.
While that is the highest possible rating, STAR Ohio has received a AAAm rating since 1995, the first year S&P rated the fund. Public finance experts told us the treasurer deserved credit for maintaining the bond rating but did not "achieve" it.
We found then that a reader could reasonably assume from his email that the rating had gone up. Because the rating already had been in place for 16 years and did not improve under Mandel, we said his email overstated the case. We rated the statement Half True.
FactCheck.org, in May 2012, looked at a Mandel ad that said he "earned the highest possible credit ratings as state treasurer."
That statement "could give viewers the impression that Mandel improved the state’s credit ratings, but that is not the case," FactCheck.org concluded. "Under Mandel, the state’s STAR Ohio investment fund has maintained its 'AAA' rating from Standard & Poor’s. But even the state treasurer’s office acknowledges that the fund has had that same rating since 1995."
We also looked at that same ad statement last May, and found it more carefully worded than the claim in the email we examined earlier. Unlike the email, the statement did not imply that the credit rating had "just" improved.
Because the statement was accurate but needed for clarification the additional information that the rating had been AAAm for 16 years, we rated it Mostly True.
That brings us back to the Brown campaign’s TV ad.
First, it is important to know that the fund already had achieved the highest possible rating. There was not room for improvement in the rating, as could be reasonably inferred from the TV ad.
More importantly, though, the ad targets Mandel’s character, questioning his truthfulness, and makes the claim that he "is lying about his own record. The rating of Ohio's investment fund has NOT improved."
Ohio's investment fund has not improved under Mandel. And a natural reading of that claim is that Mandel at some point claimed it had improved.
Except in the materials the Brown campaign cited in support of the ad, Mandel doesn’t actually say the rating went up. But that’s the clear implication the ad makes when it says he is now lying about his record.
And PolitiFact Ohio has never heard him make that claim.
PolitiFact Ohio previously rated as Mostly True the claim by Mandel's campaign that he "earned the highest possible credit ratings" for investment funds managed by the treasurer's office. We found that the claim needed additional information for clarification, but that it was accurate.
When we rated Mandel’s claim in his email Half True for overstatement, that was for his use of the words ""just received," which we said could give the impression that the rating was new. He did not say in that email that the rating for the STAR Ohio fund had gone up.
While the claims put the best possible spin on Mandel's performance, they do not qualify as "lying about his record." In that regard, the suggestion from the ad that he said the rating increased is just deceptive and incorrect.
On the Truth-O-Meter, the Brown campaign ad’s claim rates False.
Brown for Senate, "Pants on Fire," Sept. 8, 2012
Email from Brown campaign, Sept. 18, 2012
Mandel for Senate brochure, September 2012
PolitiFact, "Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel touts investment pool's credit rating," Oct. 27, 2012
FactCheck.org, "Mandel’s Deceptive Defense Against Sen. Brown," May 29, 2012
PolitiFact, "Josh Mandel campaign claims he 'earned the highest possible crediting ratings as state treasurer'," May 31, 2012
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