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Romney versus Gingrich: a Super PAC’s over-the-top ad

at 06:02 AM ET, 12/21/2011

“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”

--from a new ad in Iowa sponsored by “Restore Our Future”

Super PACS will cause endless headaches for fact checkers this political season. The advertisements they produce are often insidiously inaccurate.

 A good example is the latest advertisement trashing Newt Gingrich, “Smile,” by Mitt Romney’s Super PAC--Restore Our Future--which is spending more than $3 million just in Iowa in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses. The former House Speaker certainly has some baggage from his long political career, as the ad asserts, but that would be all the more reason not to need to twist the truth.

Brittany Gross, a Restore Our Future spokesman, declined to answer questions. “We aren’t commenting on the ad,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for reaching out.”

 Let’s take a tour through some of the more egregious fouls in the ad.

“Freddie Mac, which helped cause the economic collapse, paid Newt Gingrich $30,000 an hour for a total of at least $1.6 million.”

The suggestion here is that Freddie Mac caused the 2008 economic crash, which is a simplistic assertion. Restore Our Future cited as a source an opinion article written by Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute.

Wallison objects to the ad lumping in his analysis of the economic crisis with the payments to Gingrich. “You will not be able to find a single thing in anything I’ve written that supports the Romney ad’s statements about Gingrich’s payments from Freddie Mac,” he wrote in an an email. (Note: an earlier version of this column linked to a New York Times column criticizing his analysis of Freddie Mac’s role. Wallison called this a “personal attack” and he says his analysis is supported by the recent SEC lawsuit against Freddie Mac. We should have contacted him before including the link to the the Times column. This is a link to his response to the Times.)

Meanwhile, the $30,000 an hour figure comes from a Washington Post back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it was intended to be a bit tongue in cheek, poking fun at Gingrich’s assertion of how little time he spent working on the Freddie Mac. Perhaps Gingrich was hoist on his own petard, but there is no evidence he was actually paid $30,000 an hour.

Nancy “Pelosi and Gingrich co-sponsored a bill that gave $60 million a year to a United Nations program supporting China’s brutal ‘one child’ policy.”

We looked up this bill, H.R. 1078, which was introduced in February 1989. (Note the date—this was almost 23 years ago.) The legislation was dubbed the “Global Warming Prevention Act of 1989,” and it sought to set goals to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The ad suggests the legislation was only about the U.N. program, when in fact that was just a minor part.

Moreover, Gingrich and Pelosi were among 144 co-sponsors of the bill; it was not just their bill. In any case, the proposed legislation never even advanced to a vote in a subcommittee or committee. The ad, using the word “gave,” strongly suggests that bill was successfully voted into law. But instead it sank without a trace, only to be resurrected more than two decades later by political opposition researchers.

“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”

This assertion is based on a somewhat uninformed Chicago Tribune account about an appearance by Gingrich on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on April 9, 1995.

Small wonder that the ad does not cite the actual text of the interview, because then it would have been clear that Gingrich was simply reiterating the text of the so-called Hyde Amendment at the time, which banned public funding of abortions except in cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the mother. (See, “some abortions”!)

This is again ancient history but at the time Gingrich faced a revolt from moderate Republicans over a push by conservatives (led by then Rep. Ernest Istook) to give states the right to refuse to fund abortions even in cases of rape or incest. Gingrich sidetracked that effort in order to hold onto moderate votes for economic-related bills, but the ad gives the impression that Gingrich was somehow not in the Republican mainstream. Far from it. In fact, even the conservative effort was not aimed at a complete ban of all abortions.

Asked if Gingrich believed Congress should block federal funding even in cases of rape and incest, Gingrich responded:

“No. First of all, I think you should have funding in the case of rape or incest or life of the mother, which is the first step. But, again, it often gets misreported. The Clinton administration has instructed states that they must pay for abortion in cases they don't agree with. Thirty states, in effect, have been told by the Clinton administration that the federal government will tell them what they have to spend their money on. All Istook's amendment did was allow each of the states to make their own decisions. He did not enforce on them not paying for it, nor did he enforce on them paying for it. He allowed each state to decide.”

In other words, this ad has a pretty sleazy mischaracterization of Gingrich’s anti-abortion position, clearly designed to alienate the religious right in Iowa.

Do we need to note that just months before Gingrich made these remarks, Romney had run for a Senate seat in Massachusetts pledging to protect the abortion rights enshrined in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling?

“Newt is the only Speaker of the House in history to be reprimanded.”

This was not Gingrich’s finest hour, and we have previously written how he mischaracterizes it himself. But it is worth noting that House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) resigned before he could be reprimanded (for an ethics complaint instigated by Gingrich). So it is a stretch to suggest that Gingrich is the only speaker to have landed in ethics trouble.

The Pinocchio Test

Interestingly, Romney on Tuesday expressed dismay at the growth of Super PACs, saying “campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season.” 

There is an easy way for him to deal with this issue—publicly demand that his Super PAC stop running such misleading ads. While he claimed that communicating with the Super PAC would land him in the “big house,” there is nothing to stop him from denouncing such ads as unbecoming to his campaign.

 The ad overall might merit three Pinocchios but the abortion language is so underhanded that it really discredits the entire ad.

Four Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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