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A recent clickbait headline claimed Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was "busted" for routing millions of tax dollars into the pocket of her husband, business investor Joseph Shepard.
Affordable housing projects in which Shepard has invested have received millions in federal subsidies during McCaskill’s two terms in office.
But this headline spins the narrative in a way that could mislead readers — by making Shepard’s business success appear more nefarious than what has been reported.
"Shock report: Senator McCaskill busted funneling millions of tax dollars to her hubby," said a July 25 headline from Patriot Beat, a conservative website. The story quoted directly from a Breitbart News article, which in turn cited original reporting from the Kansas City Star.
This story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
"Well, well, well, with a tight election coming up, Senator Claire McCaskill does not need a ‘scandal’ to crop up," the Patriot Beat story said above its repost of the Breitbart News story. "However, that’s precisely what’s happened — and it’s a doozy … According to a new report, McCaskill has funneled her husband $131 million in federal subsidies."
While the Breitbart story relies on the Kansas City Star report, the Kansas City Star’s research does not support the implications embedded in the inflammatory Patriot Beat headline. Its loaded words, such as "busted" and "funneling," paint what could very well be a total coincidence as a deliberate attempt by McCaskill to profit off of taxpayer money.
Other headlines — such as the Kansas City Star’s "Businesses linked to McCaskill’s husband get $131 million in federal dollars" — were more precise.
Here’s what actually happened.
A July 24 analysis from the Kansas City Star revealed that businesses linked to Shepard have received approximately $131 million in federal subsidies since McCaskill took office in 2007.
Specifically, government-subsidized housing projects in which Shepard has invested were awarded $62 million and $69 million during McCaskill’s first and second terms, respectively.
The businesses Shepard has invested in participate in affordable housing programs through both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The USDA program subsidizes low-cost rental housing in rural areas for domestic farm laborers and low-income, disabled or elderly people. The federal subsidies compensate property owners on behalf of tenants who otherwise would not be capable of affording their full rent. Meanwhile, the HUD program contractually obligates private landlords and developers to reserve some housing units for cheap rental, and the subsidies again help to pay off part of the rent.
Although Shepard gets only a fraction of each federal award as income — most of each subsidy contributes to covering operating costs for the projects — the Kansas City Star report noted that his personal income grew during McCaskill’s two terms in the Senate, from between $1,608 and $16,731 in 2006 to between $365,374 and $1,118,158 in 2017.
According to the Kansas City Star’s analysis, "a growing percentage of Shepard’s personal earnings come from new businesses he has invested in that are receiving federal awards, primarily rural rental assistance through the USDA."
The Kansas City Star also made clear, however, that there is "no evidence that McCaskill played any part in directing federal funds to businesses affiliated with her husband."
McCaskill has voted for some omnibus spending bills that would have benefited affordable housing programs, but she has voted against others. She also does not sit on the Senate committees with jurisdiction over HUD and USDA, where she could have had more influence.
Additionally, the Kansas City Star report noted that Shepard is now just a limited partner with most of the federally subsidized housing projects in which he invests. This means that he does not control day-to-day operations or the distribution of profits.
The report also specified that Shepard’s investments in affordable housing predated his 2002 marriage with McCaskill. A spokesman for Shepard’s company, Sugar Creek, told the Kansas City Star that the company is involved with fewer government housing projects now than before Shepard married.
Similar articles detailing subsidies provided to Shepard’s businesses also surfaced in 2012.
"Claire's work in the Senate has absolutely nothing to do with her husband's business investments," said Meira Bernstein, McCaskill campaign spokeswoman.
Patriot Beat did not respond to a request for comment.
A misleading headline said, "Shock report: Senator McCaskill busted funneling millions of tax dollars to her hubby."
The article cited research from a credible newspaper — the Kansas City Star — showing that since McCaskill took office, her husband has seen his income increase at least in part because of federal subsidies awarded to housing projects that he has invested in.
However, we found no evidence that McCaskill personally or deliberately routed any money to her husband’s businesses. The use of the words "busted" and "funneling" in the Patriot Beat headline is not supported by the Kansas City Star’s research.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Patriot Beat, "SHOCK REPORT: Senator McCaskill BUSTED Funneling Millions of Tax Dollars to Her Hubby," July 25, 2018
Breitbart News, "Report: Businesses Tied to McCaskill’s Husband Get $131 Million in Federal Subsidies," July 24, 2018
The Kansas City Star, "Businesses linked to McCaskill’s husband get $131 million in federal dollars," July 24, 2018
CBS News, "Sen. McCaskill's spouse received $40 million in government subsidies," Oct. 9, 2012
Email interview with Meira Bernstein, communications director for the McCaskill campaign, July 26, 2018
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