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Romney’s ad: Why would Illinois trust Santorum?

at 10:00 AM ET, 03/20/2012


(Steven Senne - Associated Press)

By historic margins, Pennsylvania voters rejected Rick Santorum. Why? Santorum voted repeatedly to raise his own pay, voted with Big Labor against Right to Work, voted for billions in wasteful earmarks — even the “Bridge to Nowhere.” In 2006, Santorum took more special-interest money than anyone. Santorum even voted to confirm liberal judge Sotomayor. If his own state didn’t trust Santorum, why should Illinois?” — Illinois radio ad from Romney for President

Mitt Romney needs a victory in Tuesday’s Illinois primary to regain momentum in the GOP nominating race, which explains why he would go negative with this ad. Rick Santorum represents his top threat after finishing first in a series of Southern contests, but Santorum still needs to prove he can win a state along the Rust Belt — he already lost Michigan and Ohio.

Romney’s ad attacks Santorum’s conservative credentials, hitting the former Pennsylvania senator where it matters most among the Prairie State’s rural voters. We looked at the claims to determine how much truth they contain.

The Facts

First off, we should point out that Pennsylvania voters ousted Santorum during a year when Republican incumbents nationwide were swept out of office. He fell to moderate Democrat Bob Casey, which suggests that Keystone State constituents were looking for someone to legislate from the center.

With all that in mind, it’s a stretch to suggest that Santorum lost in the Keystone State because of his record alone. His incumbent status and his Republican affiliation almost certainly had something to do with the defeat.

As for whether Santorum supported increased congressional pay, that is correct. The former senator voted every year from 2001 through 2003 against forgoing cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers. His vote came out on the winning side only in 2001.

It’s worth noting that cost-of-living adjustments are a little different than straight up pay raises. They’re designed to keep salaries in line with inflation.

True to Romney’s ad, Santorum voted against a national right-to-work law. But he has flip-flopped on the issue.

Right-to-work laws prohibit “closed shops” that require their workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Twenty-two states have outlawed this practice, and Pennsylvania is not one of them.

In 1996, Santorum voted to continue a filibuster of the National Right to Work Act, effectively helping kill that measure. He said states should be able to decide for themselves whether to enact such laws. This is the same type of federalist argument that Romney has made to support his Massachusetts health-insurance mandate.

Santorum has changed his stance on right to work during the 2012 presidential campaign, saying time and again that he would support a national law prohibiting closed shops. Here’s what his campaign Web site says about the matter:

“In the Senate, Rick voted to allow states to determine their own right-to-work laws. These laws protect employees from having to join unions in order to work for a company. Today, Rick believes that a National Right-to-Work law is important to curb union abuses and further strengthen the manufacturing sectors of our economy.”

The evidence here supports Romney’s ad, but we should note that Santorum’s 1996 vote appears to be aimed toward winning over voters rather than appeasing union bosses.

Union leaders deny that Santorum was ever a friend to their organizations. Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale told the Morning Call of Lehigh Valley in February that the former senator snubbed his labor group when it tried to reach out to him.

“His thing was, ‘I won without you.’ He’s an arrogant guy, he thinks he’s right and everyone else is wrong,” Bloomingdale said. “Calling him a labor supporter would be similar to calling Mitt Romney a conservative. They’re both ridiculous.”

No labor group ever endorsed Santorum to the best of our knowledge, and they contributed little money to his campaigns. In fact, the category “miscellaneous unions” doesn’t show up on his list of top 50 contributors for 2006, though the sector does appear at the 36 spot for Sen. Bob Casey, who defeated him that year.

As for ratings, Santorum earned decidedly low marks from labor groups. Toward the end of his tenure, some of his best marks from unions included a lowly 7 percent from the AFL-CIO and a 36 percent from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 2006.

In terms of so-called pork-barrel spending, we’ve covered that issue in a previous column. Suffice it to say that the Club for Growth described Santorum as a “prolific supporter of earmarks,” and he staunchly defended the funding mechanism until it became too unpopular to support.

We asked the Romney campaign for proof that Santorum “took more special-interest money than anyone” in 2006. A spokeswoman pointed out that the former senator brought in more campaign funding from lobbyists than anyone running for office that year.

The problem here is that lobbyists represent only one type of special interest. FEC records show that Santorum claimed $24.8 million in receipts from all donor categories combined in 2006, finishing second to then Senate reelection candidate Hillary Clinton. (The online FEC database does not rank candidates by total donations. We found this information through a Washington Post database, also not online).

Out of curiosity, we held Romney to his own standard of measuring special-interest support. It turns out that he has garnered more lobbyist money than any other candidate for the 2012 election cycle, pulling in $450,000. That’s much more than the second- through fifth-place Democrats and well above Santorum’s $22,050.

Finally, we looked into whether Santorum ever voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor for a federal court position. He did indeed support her nomination for a judgeship with the U.S. Second Court in 1998.

However, under our “reasonable person” standard, we think it’s too easy for listeners to think Santorum voted to confirm Sotomayor for a Supreme Court position in 2009. That would have been impossible, because he was no longer in office at the time.

For what it’s worth, Santorum was one of 23 Republicans who voted to confirm Sotomayor’s nomination to the Circuit Court. Twenty-nine GOP members voted no, primarily due to concerns that the appointment would put Sotomayor in line for a quick appointment to the Supreme Court.

A news service report about her confirmation stated: “Sotomayor's nomination had become embroiled in the sometimes tortured judicial politics of the Senate. Some Republicans did not want to consider the nomination because, they charged, putting her on the  appeals court would enhance her prospects for elevation to the  Supreme Court. Those lawmakers claimed President Bill Clinton was eager to place a Hispanic, like  Sotomayor, on the  Supreme Court.”

Romney’s attack strikes us as odd considering his own record on judicial nominations. The Boston Globe reported in 2005 that 23 of the 36 judges and clerk magistrates the former governor appointed were either registered Democrats or unenrolled voters who had made multiple contributions to Democrats or voted in Democratic primaries.

Romney defended his selections by saying that the appointees’ political views “aren’t really going to come into play unless their views indicate they will be soft on crime,” a reference to the fact that they wouldn’t be ruling on higher matters.

The Pinocchio Test

Romney’s radio ad is a mixed bag — correct on some fronts, slightly misleading with others, and flat-out wrong in one instance.

Santorum has a well-established record of prolific earmarking. But the ad doesn’t tell the whole story in regard to the candidate’s 2006 defeat, his flip-flop on right to work, his support for COLA adjustments for congressional lawmakers, and his vote to confirm Sotomayor. Lastly, the former senator raked in a massive amount of special-interest money for his last campaign, but it’s factually incorrect to say that he brought in more than anyone — this alone deserves at least three Pinocchios. Romney, by the way, isn’t one to talk in that regard. Nor does he have much room to criticize the judicial-confirmation vote.

On balance, the former Massachusetts governor earns two Pinocchios for his attack ad.

Two 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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