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With Election Day just about five weeks away, and polls consistently showing a tight race with national implications, the battle to become Georgia’s next U.S. senator has turned ugly.
In a newly released television ad that carries echoes of the late-campaign attacks that pundits said worked during the GOP runoff, Republican candidate David Perdue goes after Democrat Michelle Nunn for a supposed weakness on border security.
Before he gets to that though, a narrator opens with a simple statement: "Michelle Nunn’s own plan says she funded organizations linked to terrorists."
If that wasn’t clear enough, an overlay in all capital writing spells out what it calls an "exact quote" from a Nunn campaign document: "awards to inmates, terrorists."
A simple sentence but serious implications. Is the ad right, that Michelle Nunn admits to financial ties to terrorists?
PolitiFact Georgia decided to take a close look.
The conservative National Review revealed in July that it had a 144-page series of Nunn campaign memos from last December. The story broke about a week after Perdue won the Republican nomination, in part by attacking rival U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston as "pro-amnesty" and in the pocket of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The leaked memos lay out Nunn's campaign strategy and include, among other things, detailed fundraising plans, a public relations strategy and list of anticipated attacks in the race.
In those anticipated attacks and vulnerabilities is the reference to "service awards to inmates, terrorists" during her Points of Light tenure.
The plan called for her team to have "pushback" documents ready for those anticipated issues as well as common, more broad attacks leveled against Democratic candidates.
That means Nunn’s camp correctly predicted the GOP would attack her on the issue, not that there is a connection to be made.
And about that connection? Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey said the statement was based first on Nunn’s leaked documents and then cited a National Review story following up on the leak as evidence of the terrorist connection.
"This isn’t something that we pulled out of thin air," Dickey said.
The story refers to a link that PolitiFact Georgia already ruled as Mostly False when used in an attack ad from Ending Spending Action Fund.
The Super PAC– which at nearly $2.8 million has injected the most outside money into the Georgia Senate race – centered its attack on MissionFish, a business that Points of Light owned until 2012 that collected donations from eBay users for about 20,000 charities.
One of those charities, Islamic Relief USA, received about $13,500 in donations from MissionFish, and has partnered with the umbrella group Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) on disaster relief programs.
A top Israeli defense official has accused IRW of having links to the terrorist group Hamas, and in June, the defense minister banned it from operating there.
In 2012, one British bank closed an IRW account over counter-terrorism concerns. But the U.S. State Department does not consider the group a terrorist organization or front.
The United Kingdom Charity Commission, which regulates IRW, also has found no such ties. The nonprofit released a statement following Israel’s ban, adamantly denying any links to terrorism.
Islamic Relief USA, meanwhile, earns a perfect score from Charity Navigator for its transparency and accounting. The group does give grants to IRW for humanitarian programs in developing countries, as it does with other groups, said advocacy counsel Sharif Aly.
But it also works with the American Red Cross and other charities in disaster relief, such as an ongoing effort to help with flooding in the Detroit area.
"We are not terrorists and we do not support terrorism," Aly said. "Any money disbursed, inside or outside the United States, follows all regulations to ensure that."
Nunn declined to be drawn into the debate this summer, when the memo was first unveiled. She did tell the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the memos, including the anticipated attacks, were more advice from supporters than a strict campaign blueprint.
Nunn spokesman Nathan Click told PolitiFact Georgia that of course Nunn "absolutely" did not support terrorism or have any connections to terrorists.
"That is not what the memo says," Click said. "It anticipates attacks that mischaracterize her record and distort her experience. That’s exactly what has happened."
So where does that leave us with an attack that states as fact that Michelle Nunn’s own internal documents says she funded organizations that have terrorist ties?
The Perdue ad plainly misconstrues what the Nunn internal memos said and why. PolitiFact Georgia has already ruled that tying Nunn’s nonprofit work to terrorism is off base.
The effort to make the connection by incorrectly citing her campaign’s leaked memos verges on the ridiculous.
We rate the claim Pants on Fire.
David Perdue, "Secure Our Border," Sept. 17, 2014
Michelle Nunn leaked campaign memos
PolitiFact Georgia, "Attack ad misfires on nonprofit," Aug. 8, 2014
The National Review, "Michelle Nunn’s campaign plan," July 28, 2014
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political insider blog, "Michelle Nunn pokes fun at campaign memo leak," July 31, 2014
OpenSecrets.org, "Georgia Senate race, outside spending," accessed Sept. 25, 2014
The Jerusalem Post, "Israel bans Islamic Relief Worldwide from West Bank due to Hamas ties," June 19, 2014
Civil Society Finance, "Banking sector nerves blocking international relief, says Islamic Relief FD," Nov. 8, 2012
Islamic Relief Worldwide, "Statement by Islamic Relief on operations in the Palestinian territories," June 19, 2014
Charity Navigator, Islamic Relief USA page, accessed Sept. 24, 2014
Interview with Sharif Aly, advocacy counsel of Islamic Relief USA, Sept. 24, 2014
Email and phone interview with Derrick Dickey, spokesman for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate David Perdue, Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, 2014
Phone interview with Nathan Click, spokesman for Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Michelle Nunn, Sept. 25, 2014
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