Fact-checking Georgia's tight U.S. Senate race

U.S. Senate candidates Michelle Nunn and David Perdue discuss their platforms in an August forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber at the Marriott City Center in Macon. Photo by  AJC Photographer Kent D. Johnson.
U.S. Senate candidates Michelle Nunn and David Perdue discuss their platforms in an August forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber at the Marriott City Center in Macon. Photo by AJC Photographer Kent D. Johnson.

The gap between the leading two candidates running for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat is the same as the margin of error, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released earlier this month.

The polls shows Republican candidate David Perdue with 45 percent of voters compared to Democrat Michelle Nunn’s 41 percent – and a 4 percent point margin.

The poll also shows a sizable group of crossover voters, who support one party in the Senate race but another in the close battle for governor.

That means we can expect more national attention to the razor-thin Senate battle – which could help decide which party controls the chamber.

And it likely means even more ads that talk up one candidate’s business background or attacks the rival’s real-world experience. We’ve vetted some of those claims already:

Nunn at Points of Light

Nunn has aired a television ad that criticizes the business tactics Perdue while trying to highlight her tenure at the nonprofit Points of Light.

The TV ad begins by introducing Nunn as "CEO of the world’s largest volunteer organization."

A reader questioned the claim, and we set out to investigate.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, shows a volunteer force worldwide of about 17 million. Points of Light, by comparison, showed 4 million volunteers.

Points of Light accurately described itself on its website as ""the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service."  But that’s substantially different from the world’s largest volunteer organization.

The rated the statement Mostly False.

Super PAC Ending Spending Action Fund went after Nunn’s tenure at the nonprofit, saying under her tenure it directed money to an Islamic group with ties to terrorists.

The attack centered on MissionFish, a business entity that Points of Light owned until 2012 that collected donations from eBay buyers and sellers for any of 20,000 charities.

One of those charities, Islamic Relief USA, received about $13,500. Islamic Relief USA is part of a global network of charities that is under the umbrella of Islamic Relief Worldwide. That organization has been accused by one top Israeli official of having links to the terrorist group Hamas.

Islamic Relief has denied any such connections. And the way MissionFish worked, there's no indication that Points of Light directed money to Islamic Relief USA or any specific charity.

We rated the attack as Mostly False.

Perdue’s business expertise

A separate Nunn ad was more on target about some of Perdue’s background.

Perdue has emphasized his time as an executive with Fortune 500 firms – most recently as CEO of Dollar General – as key to helping him tackle problems in Washington.

Nunn, however, went after one of Perdue’s first high-level jobs, as a senior vice president for Sara Lee between 1992 and 1994.

"In Georgia, Perdue’s company closed plants and moved jobs to China," Nunn’s TV ad claimed.

Perdue told PolitiFact Georgia that he was sent to Hong Kong to increase manufacturing and contracts in Asia for the firm.

Regulatory filings show Perdue was successful in boosting both manufacturing and sales in China, India and other Asian nations. In that same period, though, Sara Lee closed four plants in Georgia – eliminating at least 540 jobs.

For that reason, we rated the claim True.

The Democratic Party of Georgia accused Perdue of making "tens of millions of dollars piling a firm with billions on debt," an attack on his tenure at Dollar General.

Separate SEC filings show Dollar General's debt grew by $3.8 billion in Perdue's four years as company CEO.

But the debt came from a leveraged buyout, when Perdue successfully persuaded the board of directors for the discount chain to be acquired by private equity firm KKR for $7.3 billion.

As with all leveraged buyouts, it was KKR as the buyer, not Dollar General as the seller, that financed the deal --- and took on the debt.

Perdue acknowledges making $42 million over two years when KKR bought out his contract as part of the deal.

The claim mischaracterized how leveraged buyouts work, putting the buyer in debt instead of the seller. Perdue also could not act unilaterally to sell the firm but needed his board and shareholders to agree.

We rated the state Democratic Party's claim Mostly False.