Senate Majority PAC’s nonsensical attack ad in Louisiana

An ad from the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC targets Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), for his ties to the Koch brothers and efforts to cut flood relief for Louisiana families. We put that ad to the Truth Teller test. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

 

“We’ve been battered by hurricanes, lost everything to floods. And for thousands of Louisianans, flood insurance and hurricane relief are our only protection. But the out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar, helping the insurance companies and cut off hurricane relief for Louisiana families. Now they’re spending millions to buy a Senate seat for Bill Cassidy so he can fight for them. If the Kochs and Cassidy win, Louisiana loses.”

–voiceover for new Senate Majority PAC ad attacking Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D)

This ad from the Senate Majority PAC, which is run by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), is an example of a very deceptive technique: stringing together a variety of true (or semi-true) statements in an effort to completely mislead viewers.

This ad is a particularly egregious example, and yet it managed to fool television stations in Louisiana. The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a letter to 34 television affiliate demanding that they “stop airing this advertisement immediately.”  But the television stations refused, saying the material appeared factual.

Here at The Fact Checker, we view such ads with greater skepticism. An Obama campaign film, for instance, earned Pinocchios in 2012 for stringing together quotes about his mother’s health situation that, while correct, when combined together skirted close to the edge of falsehood.

Let’s look at tricks played here, going through the lines one by one. The accompanying Truth Teller video also highlights the problems with the ad.

“But the out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers funded the fight to let flood insurance premiums soar, helping the insurance companies…”

First of all, we can’t resist noting that Senate Majority PAC itself is funded by out-of-state billionaires, such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $2.5 million to the organization earlier in 2014.

But, indeed, Bloomberg’s fellow billionaires, David and Charles Koch, have backed the group Americans for Prosperity, which has unleashed a torrent of ads attacking Democrats for supporting the Affordable Care Act. AFP promotes limited government, and so it has also taken stands against what it views as wasteful spending and government intrusion in the economy.

In that policy role, AFP and other conservative groups fought against an effort to roll back changes in a law regarding flood insurance that had passed Congress with overwhelming margins in 2012. The 2012 law cut federal subsidies for flood insurance, which sent insurance rates soaring and angered constituents in Louisiana. (AFP argued that taxpayers should not be on the hook for insuring private property.)

So what’s wrong with this claim? While factual, it fails to mention that one of the key lawmakers who fought against AFP—and prevailed—was Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). His amendment in the House, crafted with Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), formed the core of the legislative solution.  President Obama in March signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act into law.

Why is that important? Cassidy is the subject of this attack ad. So Senate Majority PAC is setting up a straw man.

“…and cut off hurricane relief for Louisiana families.”

This is a false claim. AFP did oppose an omnibus bill concerning Hurricane Sandy, but not because it opposed disaster relief but because, as AFP put it, “Washington politicians are using this tragedy to secure billions in spending for their own pet projects like fisheries in Alaska, new cars for Homeland Security or tree planting on private property.” AFP said the spending should be balanced with other spending cuts.

As far as we can tell, the Sandy bill did not have hurricane relief for Louisiana families. Previously, Senate Majority PAC has made this claim without any specific reference to Louisiana. This part of the ad cites no source and Senate Majority PAC did not respond to repeated queries about this ad. Thus we can only assume the ad makers simply invented the connection to Louisiana.

“Now they’re spending millions to buy a Senate seat for Bill Cassidy so he can fight for them.”

This is where the ad veers off the rails. Having noted that the Kochs opposed flood legislation—without mentioning that Cassidy was one of their chief opponents—Senate Majority PAC claims Cassidy would be in their pocket to do further damage to the flood victims of the state. This is nonsensical. It’s almost as if Senate Majority PAC claimed that 1 plus 1 equals 5.

If anything, Cassidy could run an ad saying that he took on the Kochs—even though they are backing him–and beat them. But the opposite can’t be true.

The Pinocchio Test

Television stations in Louisiana should be ashamed of falling for such an obvious gambit. Individual lines may be true, but the net effect is highly misleading. Surely, the standards for political advertising in Louisiana need to be higher if residents are going to have a civil political debate.

This is the third time in a month that the Fact Checker has given Four Pinocchios to an ad sponsored by Senate Majority PAC. That’s a pretty dreadful track record, and does little for the organization’s credibility more than six months before the midterm elections.

Four Pinocchios

 


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An ad from the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC targets Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), for his ties to the Koch brothers and efforts to cut flood relief for Louisiana families. We put that ad to the Truth Teller test. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)
Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.
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