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Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll June 24, 2016

Clinton, Trump both say Moody's economist is on the other team

When respected financial analysis group Moody’s published a blistering report critiquing Donald Trump’s economic proposals, Hillary Clinton jumped on it.

"One of (Republican Sen.) John McCain’s former economic advisers actually calculated what would happen to our country if Trump gets his way. He described the results of a Trump recession. We would lose 3.5 million jobs. Incomes would stagnate. Debt would explode. And stock prices would plummet. And you know who would be hit the hardest? The people who had the hardest time getting back on their feet after the 2008 crisis," she said in a June 21 speech.

Not so fast, Trump responded. Mark Zandi, Moody’s chief economist and the report’s lead author, actually supports Clinton and President Barack Obama.

"Mark Zandi is an Obama adviser and Clinton donor," read the headline of a rapid response email from the Trump campaign.

So who is this guy Mark Zandi?

Zandi is a well-respected economist, one we have quoted as an expert in previous stories, and politicians and economists on both sides of the aisle like him. His latest report is sharply critical of Trump’s policy proposals, but it is a serious, methodical examination that looks at three possible scenarios: one where Trump’s proposals are adopted in full, one where they are adopted on a smaller scale, and one that envisions a compromise with Congress. (Moody’s says a similar report about Clinton’s proposals is forthcoming.)

Though others might take issue with some aspects of Zandi’s findings, the purpose of this fact-check is not to cast doubt on the quality of his Trump report or his work generally.

Rather, Clinton is using Zandi’s Republican credentials as a former McCain adviser to make the point that even Republicans think Trump’s proposals would be bad for the economy. But it turns out she is leaving out an important piece of information that leaves a giant hole in that particular line of argument — notably that Zandi has donated the maximum amount of $2,700 to her primary campaign.

Beyond this presidential cycle, Zandi has donated to a variety of Democrats going back to 2007. Zandi confirmed to PolitiFact that he is a registered Democrat.

In the 2008 presidential race, though, he did support Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He donated more than $2,000 to McCain’s campaign, and he was one of several economists advising McCain in an official capacity.

Zandi was a Democrat back then, too, but he told the Wall Street Journal he is "eclectic" and that he has done work for members of both parties, a point he has since reiterated.

After the 2008 election, though, Zandi turned out to be an important asset to the Obama administration.

Zandi told us he wasn’t an adviser to Obama or the White House, as Trump claimed, but he has produced research concluding the Obama administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis was a success. And Zandi was on Obama’s short list to regulate the Federal Housing Finance Agency, though he didn’t get the job.

We asked Zandi what he would tell people who question whether his report on Trump is neutral, given his sizeable donation to Clinton and past connections with Democrats.

"We used the same model of the economy we use for all our studies," he said. "And the study is completely transparent. Moreover, the approach we took is the same approach the (nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office) takes when evaluating similar fiscal policy proposals. I'm very interested in hearing substantive critiques of our work."

He also noted that one of the other three authors who worked on the report has donated to a Republican candidate this presidential cycle, though we were unable to confirm that point.

Our ruling

Clinton said that Mark Zandi, who wrote a report criticizing Trump’s economic proposals, is "one of John McCain's former economic advisers."

Zandi was a donor and adviser to the McCain campaign, but that’s not the full picture of his political affiliations. As it turns out, Zandi is a registered Democrat and donated the maximum amount to Clinton’s primary campaign.

Zandi is a well-respected economist, and we are not in this fact-check casting doubt on the credibility of his Trump report or his work generally. He has advised and worked on issues for politicians on both sides of the aisle for many years.

But Clinton is invoking Zandi’s name to make the case that even Republicans oppose Trump’s economic proposals, and this argument is nearly hollow. We rate her claim Half True.

Our Sources

Clinton campaign, Speech Attacking Donald Trump’s Economic Policies, June 21, 2016

Trump campaign email, "Mark Zandi is an Obama adviser and Clinton donor," June 21, 2016

Moody’s, "The Macroeconomic Consequences of Mr. Trump’s Economic Policies," June 2016

Moody’s, "How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End," July 27, 2010

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Blinder and Zandi: Policy Responses to Great Recession a Resounding Success," Oct. 16, 2015

Washington Post, "Moody's Economist Has Become a Go-To Guy on Stimulus Plan," Feb. 3, 2009

Washington Post, "The Obama campaign’s spin on the Romney tax plan," Oct. 17, 2011

Wall Street Journal, "All the Candidate’s Economists: McCain’s Team," July 13, 2007

Washington Examiner, "Mark Zandi: The go-to economist when fiscal war breaks out," July 18, 2014

New York Times, "The Moody’s Economic Report That Clinton Is Using to Attack Trump," June 21, 2016

CBS, "White House Makes False Claims About Economist Mark Zandi," Aug. 3, 2010

Reuters, "Obama considering economist Zandi to head housing regulator," April 18, 2013

Open Secrets, Mark Zandi donor search, conducted June 22, 2016

Email interview, Clinton campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin, June 23, 2016

Email interview, Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi, June 22, 2016

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