Pants on Fire!
"I'm the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against."

Hillary Clinton on Sunday, April 3rd, 2016 in comments on Meet the Press

Hillary Clinton's absurd claim that she's the only candidate being attacked by Wall Street

Hillary Clinton accepted $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for three speeches in 2013.

As challenger Bernie Sanders continues to hit Hillary Clinton over her Wall Street ties in Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton noted that she and the financial sector are more enemies than friends.

On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd played Clinton a clip of Sanders joking on the campaign trail that her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs must have been written in Shakespearean prose.

"I'm the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against," she responded.  "So I find this, again, a kind of, you know, circuitous way to raise questions about my record."

Is it true that Clinton is the sole target of Wall Street this cycle?

The Clinton campaign referred us to our own fact-check of an attack ad sponsored by the hedge fund-backed conservative super PAC, Future45. While this supports Clinton’s point that the financial sector has spent money against her, it doesn’t back the notion that Wall Street has only attacked her.

We consulted with Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics and Nancy Watzman of the Political TV Ad Archive. Their data shows that Clinton’s statement is inaccurate.

The trouble with her claim is Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers aren’t a monolithic group. Some have even expressed their support for Clinton and Sanders, and their donations are dispersed among Republican and Democratic groups.

While Clinton has been the target of more attack ads than Sanders, more money from the financial industry has been spent hitting each of the remaining Republicans. In fact, the candidate subject to the most Wall Street-funded hits is actually Donald Trump.

Ad blitzes against Clinton primarily come from three conservative groups. In addition to the ad we fact-checked, Future45 has run six others against Clinton. Wall Street donations account for half of the group’s funding.

American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove, has sponsored eight anti-Clinton ads and the Mitt Romney-affiliated group America Rising has released 10 ads attacking her, two of which also target Sanders. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the financial industry is responsible for roughly half of the Rove’s group total donations and two-thirds of the Romney group’s.

Future45 has also sponsored one ad against Sanders. ESA Fund, a conservative super PAC, is 56 percent funded by the financial sector and has aired one anti-Sanders ad in Iowa. And last summer, Generation Forward, a pro-Martin O’Malley super PAC, went after Sanders’ record on guns. A fifth of its donations come from Wall Street.  

Clinton’s own affiliated super PAC, Priorities USA Action, took a third of its donations from the financial sector. It has aired 11 ads against Trump and spent more than $61,000 targeting the Republican frontrunner. (Update: Priorities USA Action said that the 11 videos it produced only appeared on the Internet.)

But that pales in comparison to the amount of money and airtime Trump’s fellow Republicans have devoted to slamming him. Conservative groups have spent more than $28 million opposing Trump.

Our Principles PAC, launched by a former Romney aide, has spent more than $14 million against Trump and sponsored at least 27 ads attacking him. A third of the group’s funding comes from Wall Street.

Marco Rubio’s affiliated super PAC, Conservative Solutions, aired seven anti-Trump ads and received about 40 percent of its funding from the financial sector. Rubio himself was the subject of 11 attack ads by Ted Cruz’s Keep the Promise I super PAC (hedge fund manager Robert Mercer was responsible for $11 million of its $11,036,250 total donations), and 12 by Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise, which is half funded by Wall Street.

Here are the 10 groups with the largest share of Wall Street donations and their opposition opponents, compiled with help from Maguire and Watzman:


Wall Street support*

Opposition ads**

Keep the Promise I

99.7 percent

11 against Rubio, 7 against Trump, 6 against Clinton

America Rising

68.2 percent

10 against Clinton, 2 against Sanders

Citizen Super PAC

61.0 percent

1 against Trump


58.0 percent

7 against Clinton, 1 against Sanders

America Leads

53.1 percent

2 against Clinton, 1 against John Kasich

American Crossroads

53.1 percent

8 against Clinton, 1 against Trump

Right to Rise

51.1 percent

12 against Rubio, 9 against Trump, 5 against Kasich, 4 against Clinton, 2 against Cruz, 2 against Chris Christie

Patriot Voices PAC

47 percent

1 against Clinton

New Day for America

46 percent

10 against Trump, 5 against Cruz, 4 against Clinton, 4 against Bush, 3 against Rubio, 2 against Christie

Conservative Solutions PAC

39.8 percent

9 against Bush, 8 against Trump, 7 against Ted Cruz, 6 against  Clinton, 2 against Christie, 1 against Kasich

* Includes financial, insurance and real estate donations.
** Many of these ads target multiple candidates at once, so the counts overlap. Some of these ads are clearly ads attacking a candidate, while others compare one candidate favorably against others.

As you’ll notice, Sanders — who rails against Wall Street daily — has been largely spared by the attack ads. That’s because the finance sector takes Clinton seriously and Sanders less so, according to John G. Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who wrote the book In Defense of Negativity: Attack Advertising in Presidential Campaigns.

"Sanders has an important message that is resonating with many. But that is not enough to win the nomination," Geer said. "Why spend money that will have little return on the investment?"

Our ruling

Clinton said, "I'm the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against."

Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are running ads against Clinton. But to say she’s the only one being attacked by people associated with the financial sector is preposterous.

The financial sector has contributed to both sides of the aisles, including to Clinton’s own campaign. Groups backed by Wall Street have run attack ads against virtually every candidate.

Clinton’s claim rates Pants on Fire!

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Pants on Fire
"I'm the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against."
In comments on NBC's Meet The Press
Sunday, April 3, 2016

After the Fact

Clinton, Sanders camps react

Added on April 4, 2016, 11:43 a.m.

After we published this fact-check, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns both forwarded us some additional information about attack ads.

The additional information does not change our rating.

Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin contended that the ads attacking Sanders were really blessings in disguise.

"The Sanders ads were pretty much universally viewed as actually trying to help him, not hurt him," Schwerin said. "Those should not be considered attack ads."

Multiple media outlets speculated that the anti-Sanders ad sponsored by ESA Fund, founded by former investment executive Joe Ricketts, was intended to encourage liberals to turn out for Sanders in Iowa. The ad lists Sanders’ proposals for free college tuition, single-payer health care and higher taxes on the rich and calls them "too liberal."

Ricketts, according to news reports, was a taking a leaf out of Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s 2012 playbook. During her re-election race, McCaskill ran ads calling GOP Rep. Todd Akin  "too conservative." Akin, whose controversial comments on "legitimate rape" made him a favorite Democratic talking point, won his party’s nomination but lost to McCaskill by 15 points.

While this "faux" attack ad is worth noting, there are plenty of unabashed attack ads undercutting Clinton’s original statement (that she’s the only candidate "who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against"). Take, for example, this ad knocking Sanders for raising taxes and killing jobs and small businesses or this one drawing parallels between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler.

We should also note that the ads chronicled by the Political TV Ad Archive only cover nine key primary states and 23 markets, so it’s likely that other blitzes hits under our radar. In fact, Sanders policy director Warren Gunnels pointed to some other ones from the Clinton camp.

Correct the Record, a super PAC hybrid known as a Carey Committee supporting Clinton, had planned to air an ad challenging the 74-year-old Sanders to release his medical records. (Clinton campaign chair John Podesta told the group’s founder David Brock to "chill out" in a tweet, and Sanders agreed to make his records available.)

Recently, Correct the Record sponsored an ad comparing Sanders to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The group has taken donations from bankers private equity directors, and real estate executives.

The bottom line: Wall Street-funded groups have certainly gone after Clinton hard, but they’ve also slammed Sanders and every Republican candidate in the race.