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By Allie Morris October 7, 2016

Ad claims Kelly Ayotte voted for billion dollar tax breaks for 'big oil'

As the U.S. Senate race heats up, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee took out an ad bashing Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte’s record on climate.

The 30-second spot takes aim at Ayotte’s ties to "big oil."

"Kelly Ayotte voted to give big oil more than $20 billion in tax breaks, and they gave her campaign contributions," the narrator says.

PolitiFact decided to see if there was any truth to the claim.

Let’s look at Ayotte’s votes first.

Politifact has looked at similar claims, like when the Senate Majority PAC said former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown "voted to give oil companies big tax breaks." PolitiFact found that claim Mostly True.

In this fact-check, we’ll focus on Ayotte’s votes. We’ll tackle campaign contributions separately.

The DSCC pointed us to Ayotte’s votes in 2011 and 2012 against measures that would have stripped existing tax breaks from the "big five" oil companies: Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips.

The 2011 Democratic-backed proposal would have eliminated five tax breaks for the companies and generated an estimated $21 billion over a decade, according to the  New York Times.

The bill that came a year later would have eliminated $24 billion in tax subsidies from the five oil companies, according to the Boston Globe.

Specifically, the measures would have kept those five multinational oil companies from using these existing tax breaks:

• Deductions on taxes paid to foreign governments

• Deductions on domestic manufacturing costs

• Deductions for intangible drilling costs

• Percentage depletion allowance for oil and gas wells

• Deductions for qualified tertiary injectant expenses

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Three of these breaks applied specifically to the oil industry. The other two -- the ones about manufacturing costs and taxes paid to foreign governments -- can be claimed by businesses other than oil companies. If passed, these five provisions would still have applied to companies beyond the "big five" oil firms.

In each of the two years, the proposal failed to advance in the U.S. Senate by margins of 52-48 in 2011 and 51-47 in 2012. The bills needed 60 votes in order to cut off debate and take a final vote.

Ayotte joined most Republicans and a handful of Democrats from oil states to oppose the measure both times it hit the Senate floor.

The bill’s opponents sometimes cited a March 2012 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that concluded withholding subsidies from companies could increase prices at the pump.

In general the ad is correct that Ayotte sided with the position of "big oil" when she voted against advancing the bills. But the ad’s wording is misleading. It states Ayotte "voted to give big oil more than $20 billion in tax breaks." Ayotte really voted against stripping the companies of tax breaks they already enjoyed.

Meanwhile, Ayotte’s campaign pointed to several votes she has taken opposing tax credits for the oil and gas industry.

One amendment, to a highway bill, would have repealed more than a dozen various tax credits including those for alternative fuel mixtures, certain plug-in vehicles, biodiesel and renewable diesel used as fuel and electricity produced from certain renewable resources. The amendment did not propose to repeal any of the tax breaks for the "big five" oil companies mentioned above, but it did target two credits dealing with oil -- one for producing oil and gas from marginal wells, and another for enhanced oil recovery.

Neither was in effect when the amendment was offered and the marginal well credit hasn’t been used since its creation in 2004, according to a 2013 article from lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Ayotte was one of 26 senators who voted for the amendment. It was opposed by a bipartisan group of 76 senators, including Democrat Jeanne Shaheen.

Ayotte’s campaign also pointed to a February amendment that would have phased out tax credits for fossil fuels on the same schedule as those for wind farms.

The proposal, offered by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, targeted many of the same existing tax breaks for "big oil" as the bills from 2011 and 2012. For example, it would have phased out deductions for intangible drilling costs and deductions on domestic manufacturing costs, among others.

Ayotte joined most Democrats to vote for the amendment, which was defeated 50 to 45.

Our Ruling

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said Kelly Ayotte "voted to give big oil more than $20 billion in tax breaks."

In 2011 and 2012, Ayotte did indeed vote against measures that would have barred the biggest five oil companies from taking advantage of tax breaks they already enjoyed, which added up to more than $20 billion. But that’s slightly different than what the ad says.

Rather than vote to give the companies a new break, as the ad implies, Ayotte voted to support the status quo.

Ayotte’s record is more complex, however, and she cast more recent votes that would have repealed some tax breaks for big oil.

The statement is accurate but needs clarification. We rate the ad’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

DSCC, 90, Sept. 6, 2016

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 63, March 29, 2012

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 72, May 17, 2011, S.940 - Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, May 10, 2011

Congressional Research Service, "Oil and natural gas industry tax issues in the FY2013 budget," March 2, 2012

New York Times, Senate Refuses to End Tax Breaks for Big Oil, May 17, 2011

Boston Globe, Brown oil vote becomes instant issue, March 30, 2012.

Email interview with Lauren Passalacqua, National Press Secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, September 19, 2016

Email interview with Liz Johnson, Kelly Ayotte campaign spokesman, September 22, 2016

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More by Allie Morris

Ad claims Kelly Ayotte voted for billion dollar tax breaks for 'big oil'

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