The Fact Checker: GOP Candidates

Reaffirmed: 4 Pinocchios for a misleading Mitt Romney ad on Chrysler and China

“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

— voiceover of a Mitt Romney ad that ran in the final week of the 2012 campaign

The Fact Checker received a letter earlier this week from Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Mitt Romney campaign. He asked us to reconsider a Four-Pinocchio ruling for Romney’s ad on Chrysler and China, which aired in the campaign’s last week.

 Stevens said his note was prompted by Chrysler’s announcement that it would begin building Jeep models in China.

 “I would hope that you would take another look at this and stress test it for accuracy away from the heat of a campaign,” Stevens wrote. “I've been doing campaigns and writing about campaigns for some time and I believe that the ad and Romney's statement were completely accurate, unusually so by any standards.”

 As Stevens put it: “It seems that the crux of the argument revolves around the question of Chrysler (Fiat) moving production from the U.S. to China. That question has been answered. They are moving production to China and other countries.”

 Several other readers had written us about this issue, asking if Romney’s assertion had turned out to be right. So, given those questions, we thought it would be worthwhile to review what we said, and what actually happened.


The Facts

First of all, we should note that our critique of the ad covered more than the Jeep issue. We also faulted the ad for incorrectly citing a PolitiFact column to suggest all fact checkers were critical of Obama’s comments on the bailout. And we noted the Detroit News endorsement cited in the ad was highly critical of Romney’s position on the bailout — and lauded Obama for his “extraordinary” response to the auto industry crisis.

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Mitt Romney’s analysis of the election results


“It’s a proven political strategy, which is, give a bunch of money from the government to a group and guess what? They vote for you.”

— Mitt Romney, speaking privately to donors, Nov. 14, 2012


We had thought we wouldn’t have to fact-check Mitt Romney again, or at least for a while. But his private remarks this week to a group of donors require some closer examination.

 The quote above makes it sound as though the Obama campaign was handing out “walking around money” to get out the vote.

Instead, Romney was speaking of what he called “gifts” to specific demographic groups, such as “forgiveness of college loan interest” to voters under the age of 29, “free health care” to African Americans, “amnesty” to the children of illegal immigrants  (to lure Latinos) and “free contraceptives” for young, college-age women.

Republicans have quickly distanced themselves from Romney’s remarks, which struck many as tin-eared or sour grapes. (Latinos, for instance, also might have been turned off by Romney’s harsh rhetoric on immigration during the primaries.) It is also worth recalling that Romney in the presidential debates said the opposite about many of these so-called “gifts,” frequently suggesting he had virtually the same policies.

 We will leave the political analysis to others, but we wondered: How do Romney’s assertions stand up to the facts revealed in the national exit polls?


The Facts

 Let’s compare how Obama did in 2008 versus 2012 among the groups mentioned by Romney, using the exit polls from the two elections.  The figures below show the percentage of votes that Obama received. (We used the data for non-married women because the sample size for single women ages 18-22 is too small to be useful.)


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Tracing impact of negative ads on presidential race

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Negative ads often work. But clearly some negative ads work better than others.

 Going over the exit poll data, it is striking to see that the messages sent by the Obama campaign were effective, while the messages of the Romney campaign largely fell on deaf ears.

Let’s take a look at three examples.


The Bain attacks

 The Obama campaign — with an early assist by former House speaker Newt Gingrich — sought to define former governor Mitt Romney as a corporate raider with little regard for the concerns of middle-class Americans. Regular readers of this column will recall that we were frequently highly critical of these ads (for those who still care, here is a collection of columns), because the ads often stretched the facts and took complex business deals out of context.

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The biggest Pinocchios of Election 2012

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe this nasty and brutish presidential campaign has come to an end.

According to our Pinocchio Tracker, through most of the race President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney were neck and neck for the average number of Pinocchios, averaging about 2 Pinocchios each. But then, in the final months, Romney suddenly pulled ahead (so to speak) with a series of statements and commercials that stretched the limits. Obama’s average also got worse — and was nothing to be proud of.

In the end, Romney finished with an average ranking of 2.4 Pinnochios, compared to 2.11 for Obama. Not counting debates (when we awarded no Pinocchios), we rated 92 statements by Obama and 77 by Romney, as well as more than 200 claims made by surrogates and interest groups, as well as Republican presidential contenders.

Among the primary aspirants, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) finished with the worst rating overall of any candidate — an average of 3.08 Pinocchios.

Here are some of the lowlights of the 2012 campaign.

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President Obama’s claims of ‘Romnesia’

“Mr. ‘Severely Conservative’ wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year.... We’ve got to name this condition he’s going through. I think it’s called ‘Romnesia.’”

— President Obama, Oct. 19, 2012

In his stump speeches, President Obama has added a light-hearted attack on Mitt Romney that argues that the GOP presidential candidate suffers from “Romnesia” — an ailment that Obama mischievously adds is a preexisting condition that would be covered under the new health-care law.

Early in the election campaign, Democrats tried to make the argument that Romney is a flip-flopper, and we took an extensive look at their claims. (We found three correct statements out of ten items.) But then Democrats dropped the idea--until now.

Obama is fairly specific in his examples, so here is a quick round-up and analysis of Obama’s claims of “Romnesia” made during in appearance in Fairfax, Va., earlier in October.

“If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you’d sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have Romnesia.”

Obama is referring to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the first bill he signed as president. The law updated the statute of limitations for wage discrimination claims, making it easier to pursue such claims.

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4 Pinocchios for Mitt Romney’s misleading ad on Chrysler and China

“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama. Fact checkers confirm that his attacks on Mitt Romney are false. The truth? Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He is supported by Lee Iacocca and the Detroit News. Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”

— voiceover in unannounced Mitt Romney television ad running in Ohio

When a campaign does not announce a television ad, it’s a good sign that it knows it is playing fast and loose with the truth. Indeed, this is an excellent example of an ad that has a series of statements that individually might be factually defensible, but the overall impression is misleading.

The ad also comes on the heels of Mitt Romney’s mistaken claim in a speech last week that Chrysler was moving Jeep production to China — a statement immediately denied by the auto manufacturer. Yet the story apparently was too good for Romney to give up, because the ad repeats the claim, tweaked slightly to make it more accurate.

The Facts

Here’s what Romney said last Thursday in Ohio: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China. I will fight for every good job in America, I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair.”

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Romney and the cherry-picking of economic data

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“After the stimulus was passed, the White House promised the economy would now be growing at 4.3 percent, over twice as fast.”

--Mitt Romney, Oct. 26, 2012

“New business starts are at a 30-year low because entrepreneurs and investors are sitting on the sidelines, weary from the President’s staggering new regulations and proposed massive tax increases.”

--Mitt Romney, Oct. 26, 2012

These lines from a major economic speech by the Republican presidential contender are interesting examples of how politicians selectively pick and choose data to make their case.

The sentence about gross domestic product growthline—intended to show that Friday’s announcement of 2 percent growth in the third quarter is inadequate-- undercuts another Romney talking point, which he used in the presidential debates: “He said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent.”

Meanwhile, the second line is an updated version of a Romney claim that had previously earned Three Pinocchios, but it also has major issues. Let’s examine what’s going on.

The Facts

When we asked the Romney campaign for evidence of the White House’s “promise” of 4.3 percent economic growth, we were directed to the mid-session 2010 budget review by the Office and Management and Budget. This is a mid-year update issued every year by the White House budget office, and there on page 13 is a list of economic projections, including one for 4.3 percent growth in 2012.

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Romney doubling down on debate misstatements

“Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.”

— Mitt Romney, in a new television ad

“The president began an apology tour of going to various nations and criticizing America.”

Mitt Romney, in another new television ad


When readers ask whether we get annoyed that politicians often ignore fact-checking criticism, our answer is always the same: We write for voters, not politicians. Politicians are not going to change their behavior unless voters begin to make choices based on adherence to the truth.

 But this is an interesting case in which Mitt Romney has taken two moments from the third presidential debate — both of which were faulted by fact checkers — and turned them into television ads.

In both cases, Romney also misspoke, making his statements even less accurate. The campaign commercial for the “apology tour” selectively snips out Romney’s errors, but apparently it was impossible to clean up Romney’s error on the size of the Navy.

 Let’s examine these issues once again.  We had earlier given Three Pinocchios for the Navy comment and Four Pinocchios for the “apology tour.”


The Facts

The Navy


When Romney talks about the size of the Navy, he generally uses the year 1916. But in the last debate, he used “1917.” (You can tell that Obama’s response was precooked because Obama actually refers to the year 1916.)

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Did Gov. Romney ‘find a way’ to succeed where President Obama struggled?

“Most Americans believe we’re heading in the wrong direction: higher deficits, chronic unemployment, a president who admits he can’t work with Congress. But he says he’s only had four years. That’s all Mitt Romney needed. He turned Massachusetts around, cut unemployment, turned the deficit he inherited into a rainy day fund, all with an 85 percent Democratic legislature. Some can’t live up to their promises. Others find a way.”

-- Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad

This ad, titled “Find a Way,” compares the four-year terms of President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts from January 2003 until January 2007. It suggests the GOP candidate succeeded where his opponent supposedly failed: in preventing chronic unemployment, higher deficits and partisan gridlock.

The ad also quotes the president saying in a recent interview, “You can’t change Washington from the inside,” which suggests that Obama hasn’t lived up to his 2008 slogans of “change” and “yes we can.”

It’s interesting that the campaign video ignored Romney’s signature accomplishment as governor: overhauling the Bay State’s health-care system. Perhaps that’s because Democrats ended up using it as the model for the federal Affordable Care Act.

Regardless, let’s examine the two candidates’ records to determine whether the claims in this ad are correct. It’s a well-established fact that deficits grew under Obama and unemployment has remained stubbornly high. But did Romney truly cut the jobless rate in Massachusetts and turn a deficit into a rainy day fund, all while working with members of the opposite party?

The Facts


Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that Massachusetts had an average unemployment rate of 5.3 percent in 2002, the year before Romney took office. The rate dipped to 4.8 percent during his final year as governor, which supports the notion unemployment fell during his tenure. Still, it is hard to credit all those jobs to Romney; a state is obviously affected by broader economic trends.

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Obama ad takes Romney remarks on Iraq and Afghanistan out of context

“President Obama ended the Iraq War…Mitt Romney would have left thirty thousand troops there … and called bringing them home ‘tragic.’ Obama’s brought thirty thousand soldiers back from Afghanistan. And has a responsible plan to end the war. Romney calls it Obama’s ‘biggest mistake.’”

— Voiceover from a new Obama campaign television ad

On the eve of the final presidential debate — which focused on foreign policy — the Obama campaign released a new television ad that uses Mitt Romney’s words to indict how he would have handled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the president echoed some of those claims during the debate:

“What I would not have had done was left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. And that certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”

— Obama

“I’m sorry, there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”

— Romney

But both campaigns have often taken their opponent’s words out of context. Is that the case here as well?

The Facts

Ending the war in Iraq was a central Obama campaign promise in the 2008 election. But Romney is correct that the Obama administration tried to negotiate a “status of forces agreement” (SOFA) with the Iraqi government that would have allowed the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq after an earlier agreement reached by the Bush administration lapsed at the end of 2011.

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Fact checking the third presidential debate

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 23 print edition of The Washington Post.)

Foreign policy is generally a difficult area to fact check — differences can be more of opinions than numbers — but that did not stop President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney from making questionable claims.

“Just a few weeks ago, you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now…. You said that we should still have troops in Iraq to this day.”

— Obama

“There was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement, and I concurred in that, and said that we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.”

— Romney

Romney has the better part of this argument. Here’s what he said in his Oct. 8 VMI speech: “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. The president tried — and failed — to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.”

Romney did not technically say that troops should still be in Iraq. And Romney is correct — Obama did try to extend a status of forces agreement that had been originally signed by the Bush administration, but could not get a deal with the government of Iraq that would have given immunity for U.S. forces from prosecution under Iraqi law. So now Obama stresses the fact that he has removed all troops from Iraq, while knocking Romney for supporting what he originally had hoped to achieve.

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Looking for fact checks during the last presidential debate?

(Teresa Crawford/AP)

During Monday night’s presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney on foreign policy, we will again be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. We will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Tuesday.

(Watch live streaming video and join the conversation.)

Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.

 In the meantime, here are links to our fact checks of the first and second presidential debate and the vice presidential debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate. We are fairly certain some previously debunked claims will be repeated.

The First Presidential Debate

We looked at a baker’s dozens of suspect claims.

The Vice Presidential Debate

Lots of fishy facts were tossed around by Biden and the Republican vice presidential nominee, and we examined 18.

Debate leftovers

Some further digging into claims from the first two debates.

The Second Presidential Debate

We examined 15 suspect claims in the feisty second debate between Obama and the Republican presidential nominee.

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A ‘greatest hits’ of misleading Romney claims

“If Barack Obama is reelected, what will the next four years be like? One, the debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars. Two, 20 million Americans could lose their employer-based health care. Three, taxes on the middle class will go up by $4,000. Four, energy prices will continue to go up. And five, $716 billion in Medicare cuts that hurt current seniors.”

— Voiceover in new Mitt Romney campaign ad titled “The Obama Plan”

We have often said that politicians in both political parties will stretch the truth if they think the misleading claim will move voters. As we enter into the final weeks of this bruising presidential campaign, we expect to hear all sorts of poll-tested, factually-challenged messages again and again — simply because the campaigns have data that shows these claims resonate with votes.

In that vein, a new ad released by the Romney campaign is almost a “greatest hits” version of claims that have been thoroughly debunked by fact checkers, including this column. Let’s spin the record once again!

The Facts

“The debt will grow from 16 trillion to 20 trillion dollars”

Here, the Romney campaign is using “gross debt,” which includes U.S. Treasury bonds held by Social Security and Medicare. Generally, what matters for the federal budget is the publicly held debt, particularly the percentage of debt compared to the overall economy (gross domestic product.) The House GOP budget plan authored by Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for instance focuses on its impact on publicly-held debt, no gross debt.

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Obama’s claim that Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion

(Scott Eells/BLOOMBERG)

“Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military’s not asking for them.”

— President Obama, in the second presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

The assertion that Mitt Romney wants to boost defense spending by $2 trillion over 10 years, even though the military does not want it, has been a key claim by President Obama in presidential debates and Vice President Biden in the vice presidential debate.

It is such a large sum that it is probably difficult for most readers to grasp. But, as we often warn about big budget numbers, it is also a figure subject to so many variables that it should be treated with skepticism. It is certainly not a number that the Romney campaign accepts, though for some reason Romney has not tried hard to rebut it in the debates. (GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan disputed the number in his debate with Biden.)

There are two parts to this statement we will examine — the $2 trillion number and the claim that the military has not asked for this budget. We obviously take no position on the proper size of the U.S. military or the right defense policy. We just want to explain the numbers. Warning: It’s complicated.

The Facts

The $2 trillion figure stems from a statement in Romney’s National Security White Paper:

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Fact checking Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ anecdote

“I said: ‘Well, gosh, can’t we find some women that are also qualified? And so we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.”

— Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during presidential debate, Oct. 17, 2012

Mitt Romney shared this anecdote when asked to discuss pay equity for women during Tuesday’s presidential debate. The story seemed to prove the GOP candidate’s sensitivity toward workplace inequality, but critics say he simply sidestepped the issue by not addressing it directly.

The Twitter-sphere quickly lit up with comedic chatter about Romney’s reference to “binders full of women,” but a bigger issue arose shortly after the debate ended. The Phoenix, a Boston-based publication, reported that the candidate had overstated his involvement in starting the hiring initiative. What’s more, it said the number of women who held senior-level positions with the Republican’s government actually declined at the end of his term.

Let’s look at the facts to determine whether Romney told this story accurately.

The Facts

In 2002, a women’s advocacy group known as the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus asked Bay State gubernatorial candidates to sign a pledge saying they would “make best efforts” to ensure that the number of women appointed to high-level positions would more fairly represent the proportion of women in the population. Romney and his Democratic opponent both signed that commitment, says Liz Levine, who was chair of the group during that time.

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The Obama-Romney clash over Libya

Video: Watch the exchange between President Obama and Mitt Romney on Libya at Tuesday night’s presidential debate.

The White House took issue with our instant fact check of the exchange on Libya between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. This is probably the pivotal moment of the second presidential debate.

“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”

— Obama

“I think interesting the president just said something, which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.... I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”

— Romney

The moderator, Candy Crowley then jumped in. The first part of her comment has been often replayed, but less focus has been on the second part.

“He did call it an act of terror,” Crowley told Romney. “It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”

This is how we assessed the exchange:

What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? We covered this previously in our extensive timeline of administration statements on Libya.
“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for,” Obama said.
But the president did not say “terrorism”— and Romney got tripped up when he repeated the “act of terror” phrasing.

Otherwise, Romney’s broader point is accurate — that it took the administration days to concede that the assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad. (The reporting is contradictory on whether there was indeed a demonstration outside the mission.) By our count, it took eight days for an administration official to concede that the deaths in Libya was the result of a “terrorist attack.”

More to Romney’s point, Obama continued to resist saying the “T” word, instead repeatedly bringing up the video, even in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25. On Sept. 26 — 15 days after the attack — the White House spokesman felt compelled to assert “it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president’s view, that it was a terrorist attack.”

But White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor wrote us to dispute this assessment. He noted that Obama made three statements that referenced “act of terror” in the days following the attack. He further stated that the statement by counterterrorism director Matt Olsen was based on specific criteria regarding the term “international terrorism” and that “there was considerable confusion on the ground” about what actually happened in Benghazi before the attack.

The debate over Libya has become so politically charged and confusing that it’s time for a refresher course to sort this out.

The Facts

Just as it is sometimes possible for Supreme Court justices to pick and choose among legal precedents in deciding a case, here too one can construct different narratives about the administration’s words. Here’s the case the administration is trying to make now.

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Fact checking the second presidential debate

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 17 print edition of The Washington Post.)

We heard some oldies but goodies in Tuesday night’s feisty debate between President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney. Here are some factual highlights — or lowlights:

“When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we’re going to bet on American workers.”

— Obama

“He said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt. And that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did.”

— Romney

“What Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs.”

— Obama

This interesting exchange is drawn from a headline — “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” — on an opinion article written by Romney for the New York Times. But he did not say that in the article. (He repeated the line, however, on television.)

Although “bankrupt” often conjures up images of liquidation, Romney is correct in that he called for a “managed bankruptcy.” This is a process in which the company uses the bankruptcy code to discharge its debts, but emerges from the process a leaner, less leveraged company.

Ultimately, along with getting nearly $80 billion in loans and other assistance from the Bush and Obama administrations, GM and Chrysler did go through a managed bankruptcy.

But many independent analysts have concluded that taking the approach recommended by Romney would not have worked in 2008, simply because the credit markets were so frozen that a bankruptcy was not a viable option at the time.

Here’s how the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, in a unanimous finding, framed the issue in a January 2011 report: “The circumstances in the global credit markets in November and December 2008 were unlike any the financial markets had seen in decades. U.S. domestic credit markets were frozen in the wake of the Lehman bankruptcy, and international sources of funding were extremely limited.”

Obama’s claim of 1 million jobs being saved is based on a Bush administration estimate when it extended loans to the automakers. The Bush administration’s Council of Economic Advisers said that “the direct costs of American automakers failing and laying off their workers in the near term would result in a more than 1 percent reduction in real GDP [gross domestic product] growth and about 1.1 million workers losing their jobs, including workers for automotive suppliers and dealers.”

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Looking for fact checks during the second presidential debate?

(Charlie Neibergall — AP)

During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, we will be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. Then, we will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Tuesday. (WATCH: Live debate video)

Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.

 In the meantime, here are links to our fact checks of the first presidential debate and the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate. We are fairly certain some previously debunked claims will once again be repeated.

The First Presidential Debate

We looked at a baker’s dozens of suspect claims.

The Vice Presidential Debate

Lots of fishy facts were tossed around by Biden and Ryan, and we examined 18.

Debate leftovers

Some further digging into claims from the two debates.

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Mitt Romney’s ‘new math’ for jobs plan doesn’t add up

“Let me tell you how I will create 12 million jobs when President Obama couldn't. First, my energy independence policy means more than 3 million new jobs, many of them in manufacturing. My tax reform plan to lower rates for the middle class and for small business creates 7 million more. And expanding trade, cracking down on China and improving job training takes us to over 12 million new jobs.”

— Mitt Romney, “in his own words,” in a campaign television ad

Romney’s 12-million-jobs promise has garnered a lot of attention. We became interested in this ad after a reader asked whether the campaign had provided much detail on how he would reach this total. This television ad is also prominently featured on the Romney campaign’s “Jobs Plan” Web page.

 The math here appears pretty simple: 7 plus 3 plus 2 equals 12. But this is campaign math, which means it is mostly made of gossamer. Let’s take a look.


The Facts

 As we have noted before, the 12 million figure is not a bad bet by Romney. Moody’s Analytics, in an August forecast, predicts 12 million jobs will be created by 2016, no matter who is president. And Macroeconomic Advisors in April also predicted a gain of 12.3 million jobs.

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The clash over Medicare Advantage, and other debate leftovers

Rep. Paul Ryan: “7.4 million seniors are projected to lose their current Medicare Advantage coverage they have. That’s a $3,200 benefit cut.”

Vice President Biden: “That didn’t happen.”

Ryan: “What we’re saying. . .

Biden: “More people signed up.”

Ryan: “These are from your own actuaries.”

Biden: “More people signed up for Medicare Advantage after the change.”

— exchange during the vice presidential debate, Oct. 11, 2012

We had done a quick roundup of many claims in the vice presidential debate but wanted to dig deeper into this interesting exchange. Afterward, we also have a look at a pair of outstanding items from the first presidential debate.

Many viewers were probably puzzled by this back-and-forth over Medicare between Vice President Biden and the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis). The strange thing is that both are right — but Ryan has a distinct edge in the argument.

The Facts

Medicare Advantage is the private alternative to the traditional insurance program for seniors, with 13.1 million beneficiaries, or about 27 percent of the Medicare population. We’ve previously explored some of the debate concerning the $145 billion reduction in projected spending for Medicare Advantage contained in the health-care law, which is intended to reduce costs in a program in which the government pays more per senior than in traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

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Fact checking the vice-presidential debate

VIDEO: Highlights from Thurday night's debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky. 

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 12 print edition of The Washington Post.)

There were lots of feisty words and fishy facts in Thursday’s debate between Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. Here are some quick highlights.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security.”

— Biden, speaking of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya

Biden’s bold statement was directly contradicted by State Department officials just this week, in testimony before a congressional panel and in unclassified cables released by a congressional committee.

“All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources,” said Eric Nordstrom, the top regional security officer in Libya earlier this year. A Utah National Guardsman who led a security team, Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, said: “We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met.”

Maybe Biden was too busy in debate prep to watch?

UPDATE: In a bit of post-debate clean-up of Biden’s remarks, the White House on Friday said Biden was speaking for himself and President Obama, not the administration.

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Looking for fact checks during the vice presidential debate?


During tonight’s vice presidential debate, we will be posting live fact checks on The Washington Post’s Election 2012 Blog. Then, we will have a full report on this Web page that will post in the wee hours of Friday.

Remember, if you hear something fishy, send a tweet to #FactCheckThis.

 In the meantime, here are links to some of our previous fact checks about Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, as well as links to some of the key issues likely to come up in this debate.

Joe Biden

 “Romney vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature that would have stopped the state from outsourcing contracts overseas.”

Biden loves this claim, which he said could be fact checked. We did, and it does not add up. Romney had a plan to curb the outsourcing of jobs out of state, but the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that both the liberal Boston Globe and conservative Boston Herald said was so poorly conceived that they urged a veto. The Democratic-dominated Massachusetts legislature did not override his veto, even though it overturned 117 others, suggesting there was little real support for the measure.


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A complete guide to the deluge of campaign ads

Pity the poor voter in a swing state in the final weeks of this campaign. Whenever you turn on the television, there is yet another campaign ad from either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — and most of the time they are bashing the other guy.

We have reviewed and rated many of these ads over the past months, but as the ad spending reaches a crescendo, we thought it would be useful to once again examine some of the most frequently aired ads. With the help of Kantar Media, we identified the 10 ads from each campaign with the greatest spending on them. We then selected five from each side, with a bias toward picking ads that were released recently. (There is one additional Romney ad that we note — but do not rate.) Where appropriate, we also include links to our original column on the ad.

 Looking at these ads, we are struck by the consistent themes, with Obama portraying Romney as a heartless corporate raider and Romney portraying Obama as a hapless president.

Obama campaign ads

Obama: ‘Firms’

 This sly, almost wicked ad features Mitt Romney signing “America the beautiful” while images flash of his alleged connections overseas — his Bain Capital firms shipping jobs to Mexico and China, outsourcing jobs to India as governor, and his use of a Swiss bank account and tax havens overseas.  We did not rate this specific ad, but have investigated most of these claims and they are exaggerated or lack evidence.

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Romney’s claim that the Navy is as small as in 1916

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916. I will restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines.”

— Mitt Romney, speech at Virginia Military Institute, Oct. 8, 2012


We will leave analysis of the GOP presidential nominee’s major foreign-policy address to the pundits, though we were pleased to see that he did not repeat his frequent claim that Obama “apologized” for America — a phrase we and other fact-checkers have long debunked.

 Still, we were interested in his assertion about the size of the Navy. Is the Navy really in the worst shape it has been in 96 years?


The Facts

 The historical records of the Navy show that in 1916, the Navy had 245 ships. This was also the year that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Naval Act of 1916, which put the United States on a crash course to build a world-class Navy.  

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Mitt Romney’s claims about ‘Obama’s defense cuts’

“$500 Billion In Cuts . . . $500 Billion In Proposed Cuts. Fewer Troops. Fewer Planes. Fewer Ships. 136,000 Fewer Jobs In Virginia.”

— messages in a new Romney campaign Web video

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has repeatedly hammered President Obama for cutting military spending — in last week’s debate, in a new Web video and in mailers sent to residents in vote-rich Virginia. “Over 130,000 Virginia jobs and American’s national security are on the line,” the glossy pamphlet says. “Barack Obama’s agenda ignores Virginia’s families and security.”

The mailer even quotes Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta as decrying the impact of the cuts. That’s actually a clue that something more complex is going on here — why would Panetta be complaining about his boss’s policies?

This is a classic Washington food fight. But any fair reading of the facts would show the blame game is much more complex than Romney’s rhetoric.

The Facts

In 2011, Democrats and Republicans had a bitter showdown on whether to raise the ceiling on the national debt. The impasse was ended with bipartisan passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which cut spending by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years by setting new budget caps for “security” and “nonsecurity” discretionary spending.

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The $5 trillion question

“President Obama continues to distort Mitt Romney’s economic plan. The latest? Not telling the truth about Mitt Romney’s tax plan.”

— new Mitt Romney campaign ad

“So lowering the rates, as Mitt Romney has said he would do, to 20 percent — $2.7 trillion over 10 years; eliminating the AMT [alternative minimum tax] — $700 billion; repealing high-income payroll tax — $300 billion; ending estate tax — $150 billion; lowering the corporate rate from 35 to 25 [percent] — $1.1 trillion. That adds up to $4.8 trillion. If you factor in interest for additional borrowing, you get to $5 trillion.”

— Jennifer Psaki, Obama campaign traveling press secretary, Oct. 7, 2012

$5 trillion! It’s such a big figure.

President Obama says Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes by $5 trillion over 10 years; Mitt Romney adamantly denies it. He has a new ad slamming Obama for this claim — while repeating a charge that Obama has a secret plan to raise taxes that we already deemed worthy of Three Pinocchios.

So the question arises: Is the Obama claim accurate?

The Facts

Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, laid out the math to reporters on Sunday. There’s just one problem: Romney also has said he will make his plan “revenue neutral” by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, much as Ronald Reagan did when he passed a tax reform in 1986.

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Mitt Romney’s claim that the unemployment rate is really 11 percent

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“If you just give up and say, ‘Look I can’t go back to work, I’m just going to stay home,’ why, you’re no longer part of the employment statistics. So it looks like unemployment is getting better, but the truth is, if the same share of people were participating in the workforce today as on the day the president got elected, our unemployment rate would be around 11 percent.”

Mitt Romney, Oct. 5, 2012

The announcement Friday that the unemployment rate had dropped below 8 percent deprived the Romney campaign of one its favorite talking points (“42 months of unemployment above 8 percent”). Never mind that this is more of a psychological barrier than anything else, since the rate has bounced around enough that it will take some time to see if this is a permanent shift.

But Romney was quick to point out a new figure — a suggestion that the real apples-to-apples unemployment rate with the start of Obama’s term would be 11 percent. We have previously explored the details of another unemployment rate — the U-6, which includes part-timers looking for full-time work — that conservatives have touted. But what is this new metric?

The Facts

On the surface, Romney’s point seems reasonable. The labor force participation rate in January 2009 was 65.7, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Had the rate remained the same, the labor force would be about 160,158,000. At the current employment level, the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent.

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Dueling studies in new ads by Romney and Obama

 “Who will raise taxes on the middle class? According to an independent, non-partisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000. The same organization says the plan from Mitt Romney and common-sense conservatives is not a tax hike on the middle class.”

— voiceover from a new Mitt Romney campaign ad

 “Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan, which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because according to experts, he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class — or increase the deficit to pay for it.”

— voiceover from new Obama campaign ad

Dueling studies!

Politicians love nothing more than to point to an “independent” study that backs up their political position. Thus, in the first presidential debate, President Obama could claim that GOP rival Mitt Romney has a plan to cut taxes by $5 trillion, with tax breaks for the wealthy and tax hikes for the middle-class. And Romney could adamantly deny that, citing six studies of his own.

 There is usually less to such studies than the claims they are said to support. Let’s explore how such studies are used in new advertisements the campaigns released just hours after the debate ended.


The Facts

 First, the Romney ad. The “independent, nonpartisan” organization cited by the Romney campaign is the American Enterprise Institute, which bills itself as “committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” A who’s who of Republican heavyweights — such as Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Marc Thiessen, Danielle Pletka, John Yoo, and John Bolton — is affiliated with it, but in order to maintain its tax status as a 501(c)3 organization it cannot proclaim any political affiliation.

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Factchecking the first presidential debate of 2012

(This is an expanded version of material that originally appeared in the Oct. 4 print edition of The Washington Post.)

There they go again.

Both President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney tossed out a blizzard of statistics and facts, often of dubious origin. Here are some highlights from the first presidential debate of 2012, with thanks to the readers who tweeted suggestions to #FactCheckThis

“Governor Romney’s central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut — on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts — that’s another trillion dollars”
— President Obama
“I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut”
— Governor Romney

How can both facts be true? The $5 trillion figure comes from the fact that Romney has proposed to cut tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that would reduce tax revenue by nearly $500 billion in 2015, or about $5 trillion over 10 years

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Another misleading China ad from Mitt Romney

“Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office. It doesn’t have to be this way if Obama would stand up to China. China is stealing American ideas and technology — everything from computers to fighter jets. Seven times Obama could have taken action. Seven times he has said no. His policies cost us 2 million jobs.”

-- Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney continued to stress President Obama’s handling of U.S.-China relations last week, claiming with this ad that the policies of the current administration have cost the U.S. 2 million jobs.

What policies have done this? The ad refers to China’s alleged stealing of “American ideas and technology -- everything from computers to fighter jets.”

Let’s examine those issues and determine whether the president has said “no” to taking action on them. This ad is the lastest in a series of tit-for-tat exchanges on China between the two candidates. (President Obama, for instance, previously earned Three Pinocchios for making misleading claims about Romney’s business record.)

The Facts

There’s little doubt that Chinese companies have infringed on U.S. intellectual property rights, just as the Romney ad claims. China essentially acknowledged the problem by agreeing to implement stricter measures to curb piracy and counterfeiting during the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade meetings in 2010.

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Some debate questions for Obama and Romney to lob at each other

(Marc Serota/GETTY IMAGES)

“Mitt Romney plans to turn himself into a one-man truth squad during the first presidential debate next week, casting President Barack Obama as someone who can’t be trusted to stick to the facts or keep his promises.”

Politico, Sept. 27, 2012

“At the First Debate, Facts Will Matter”

Memo by Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod, Sept. 28

There has been a campaign to arrange for independent fact-checkers to be present at the presidential debates. We’re not sure what that would accomplish. Would we be like Olympic judges, holding up signs after each exchange with a numerical score for truthiness?

But we do applaud the idea of keeping the conversation grounded in facts, with either the moderator or the candidates themselves challenging misstatements, half-truths and exaggerations that have appeared in campaign ads and speeches throughout this election season. All too often, neither man has been directly challenged about his misleading statements. So here are some questions we would like to see.

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Fact checking a Romney appeal toward women

“Dear daughter. Welcome to America. Your share of Obama’s debt is over $50,000. And it grows every day.

“Obama’s policies are making it harder on women. The poverty rate for women -- the highest in 17 years. More women are unemployed under President Obama. More than 5.5 million women can’t find work.”

-- Narration from a new Romney campaign ad

Polls show that Mitt Romney has always lagged far behind President Obama when it comes to support from women and Hispanics. This week, the GOP presidential nominee focused much of his attention on appealing to those demographics.

The Romney campaign’s “Dear Daughter” campaign ad features a fictional mother telling her newborn girl about female unemployment and poverty numbers, as well as the infant’s share of “Obama’s debt.” The message: women are worse off since the president took office, and the future won’t look any brighter if he wins a second term.

Let’s check the Romney claims for factual accuracy and context.

The Facts

The national debt, including money owed to Social Security and Medicare recipients, stands at about $16 trillion. Meanwhile, the U.S. population was 314 million in September, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock. That means the debt rate for each resident is roughly $51,000, which seems to cover the Romney ad’s claim at first glance.

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A bipartisan foul: ‘Medicare is going broke’


“Medicare is going broke. It’s not politics. It’s math.”

— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a new Romney campaign ad titled “Least We Can Do.”

“What they didn’t tell you is what they’re [the Romney campaign] proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”

— Vice President Biden, at the Democratic convention, Sept. 6, 2012

 Medicare “is going broke.”

— President Obama, Aug. 15, 2009


We have bipartisan agreement! Medicare is going broke, busted, bankrupt…or is it?

 We have touched on this before but decided to take another stab after the new ad featuring Sen. Rubio was released by the Romney campaign. It’s actually a fairly effective ad, with the calm message that the GOP Medicare plan — so often inaccurately attacked by Democrats — is designed to “save” it for current retirees and be different for younger Americans, in what Rubio pitches as a bit of a gift from one generation to another.

 But his line that Medicare is going “broke” — using simple “math” — repeats a bit of political hokum that both parties persist in repeating.  For instance, here’s Obama in 2009:

“Broke,” the word Rubio and Obama used, is an informal way of saying “bankrupt.” Or, as the dictionary says, “penniless.”


The Facts

 First of all, there are four parts to Medicare: Part A (hospital insurance), Part B (medical insurance), Part C (Medicare Advantage — private plans for parts A and B), and Part D (prescription drug plans).

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4 Pinocchios for a truncated, 14-year-old Obama clip

“As we think about the policy research surrounding the issues that I just named — policy research for the working poor, broadly defined — I think that what we're gonna have to do is somehow  resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all. There has been a systematic, I don't think it's too strong to call it a propaganda campaign, against the possibility of government action and its efficacy. And I think some of it has been deserved. Chicago Housing Authority has not been a model of good policy making. And neither necessarily have been the Chicago public schools. What that means then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we're all in this thing together, leave nobody behind, we do have to be innovative in thinking how, what are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live, and my suggestion I guess would be that the trick, and this is one of the few areas where I think there have to be technical issues that have to be dealt with as opposed to  just political issues, how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody's got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

— State Sen. Barack Obama, at a conference at Loyola University, Oct. 1998 [missing section in bold]

Just as we have not been very impressed about many of the Obama campaign’s claims about Mitt Romney’s business career many years ago, we were not initially that impressed with the Romney campaign’s effort to dredge up a 14-year-old quote to demonstrate that President Obama wants to “redistribute wealth.”  The clip was so old — he was just a state senator — and the context was rather unclear. Also, it appeared as if the YouTube version was clipped in mid-thought.

 But now NBC News has obtained the rest of Obama’s comments, and it is clear his remarks were taken completely out of context. Obama is not talking about redistributing wealth at all — instead, he speaks about competition, the market place and innovation in an effort to improve government services in Chicago.

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More flawed graphs in a Romney campaign ad

“This was household income when President Obama took office. This was the national debt. Under Obama, families have lost over $4,000 a year in income, and the national debt is now $16 trillion and growing. Barack Obama: More spending, more debt — failing American families.”

— Narration from Mitt Romney campaign ad

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has turned his attention back to spending and the economy after attacking President Obama last week on foreign policy and trade relations with China. This ad reminds voters that the national debt has grown while incomes have largely fallen, suggesting that the outlook for future generations is bleak under the current administration.

In a previous column, we examined an ad that used similar brick-layer bar graphs to make a point that the U.S. is losing ground to China on manufacturing. The illustrations in that video were badly inaccurate, exaggerating the severity of the situation.

Let’s see whether the graphs in this ad are more true to the facts.

The Facts

The last available data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that median household income was $50,054 in 2011 — the 2012 numbers won’t be available until next year. That’s compared to an inflation-adjusted $52,546 in 2008, so the difference during Obama’s tenure is $2,492, which seems to disprove Romney’s claim of a $4,000 drop.

So where does the GOP candidate get his numbers?

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President Obama’s jab at Mitt Romney: ‘All you’ve done is send [China] our jobs’

(Tony Dejak/AP)

“I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and he’s going to take the fight to China. Now, here’s the thing.  His experience has been owning companies that were called ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China.  He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China.  Pioneers.  Now, Ohio, you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs.”

— President Obama, at a rally in Cincinnati, Sept. 17, 2012

 “I guess he’s also not going to apologize for the investments he still holds in China or the American jobs he outsourced to China as the president, CEO, chairman and sole shareholder of Bain Capital.”

— Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, in a video released over the weekend

President Obama traveled to the battleground state of Ohio on Monday, where he responded to a tough (and misleading) ad by Mitt Romney on his record on China with barbed comments on Romney’s record as an investor. (For good measure, the White House also filed a trade complaint against Beijing.) The president’s remarks were foreshadowed by a video released by the Obama campaign over the weekend, in which Cutter asserts that the GOP presidential nominee outsourced jobs to China.

 This is a pretty serious charge. What’s the evidence for this?


The Facts

 Obama’s reference to Romney owning companies that were “pioneers” comes directly from a front-page article in The Washington Post. This was the opening sentence:


Mitt Romney’s financial company, Bain Capital, invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India.

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Romney’s ad on manufacturing dominance and ‘China’s cheating’

“Under Obama, we’ve lost over half a million manufacturing jobs. And for the first time, China is beating us. Seven times, Obama could have stopped China’s cheating; seven times, he refused.”

— Narration from Romney campaign ad

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney focused much of his attention last week on manufacturing jobs and President Obama’s trade policy toward China. His campaign released an ad suggesting that U.S. manufacturing as a share of global output has shriveled in comparison with that of its Asian trading partner. The video also said the current administration has refused to stop China’s cheating.

Let’s take a look at the facts to determine whether those claims are true.

The Facts

The Romney campaign ad features a pair of bar graphs supposedly representing U.S. vs. Chinese shares of world manufacturing during Obama’s tenure in the White House. The illustrations suggest a giant shift in output between the two nations since the president took office in 2009.

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Romney’s Medicare remarks: Would he pass costs on to seniors or not?

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GOV. ROMNEY: It strikes me the best deal for [future generations of seniors] is to let them either buy current Medicare or to have a private plan — a lot like Medicare Advantage today. I like Medicare Advantage.

DAVID GREGORY: But that didn’t drive down prices, Governor.

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, it sure did. Actually, what you’re seeing Medicare today, with Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, is that Congress, in putting this together, said, ‘Look, we’re going to allow companies to compete for a package of prescription drug benefits.’ And the cost that they’ve come up with is far less than anyone predicted. Look, competition works.

— Exchange between GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, aired Sept. 9, 2012

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney faced questions about his policy proposals during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The exchange above deals with Romney’s support for the Medicare-overhaul plan his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), proposed this year.

The Ryan plan would eventually cap government payments toward Medicare and provide future generations of seniors with premium-support payments — that Democrats label a “voucher” — to purchase coverage through traditional Medicare or on the private market.

Gregory asked Romney: “If competitive bidding in Medicare fails to bring down prices, you have a choice of either passing that cost on to seniors or blowing up the deficit. What would you do?”

Instead of selecting choice A or B, Romney pointed to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D as proof that competitive bidding works to bring down costs. Let’s look at how those entitlement programs impact federal spending and determine how much they really compare to the Ryan plan.

The Facts

We’ll start by pointing out that Medicare Advantage has not reduced Medicare spending. The program, which is used by 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, actually costs the government more per senior than traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

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An embassy statement, a tweet, and a major misunderstanding

“A statement by the U.S. Embassy just moments ago….”

— Fox News host Bret Baier, Sept. 11, 2012

Sometimes, timing is everything.

 It is clear now that much of the misunderstanding surrounding the statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo stems from the fact that some commentators thought it had been issued after protesters stormed the embassy compound. Instead, the embassy had released it hours before the protests began, in an apparent effort to cool down emotions over a film that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

 But elements of the statement also were placed in the embassy’s Twitter feed — and it gained new prominence in retweets after the storming of the embassy.

 Take a look at the Fox News video clip, from Tuesday evening, and one can see how such impressions take hold.

First, host Bret Baier shows scenes of protesters storming the embassy and replacing the American flag with a black flag. Then, reading from a piece of paper, he adds, “A statement by the U.S. Embassy just moments ago: ‘The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.’”

 After quoting from the embassy statement, Baier turns to our colleague Charles Krauthammer and asks for his reaction. Krauthammer, apparently under the misimpression the statement had just been released, terms it an embarrassment.

“That's a hostage statement,” Krauthammer said. “That's a mob of al-qaeda sympathizers in Egypt, forcing the United States into making a statement essentially of apology, on 9/11 of all days, for something of which we are not responsible.”

 Small wonder Mitt Romney campaign officials thought they should take advantage of that — and why the White House decided to distance itself from the statement. 

On Wednesday morning, Romney incorrectly reiterated the idea that the statement had been issued after the attacks, apparently hoping to place the incident in the campaign’s narrative that President Obama had been on an “apology tour” — a claim that has earned Romney Four Pinocchios.

 “The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached,” Romney told reporters on Wednesday. “Protesters were inside the grounds. They reiterated that statement after the breach. I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.”

Romney’s reference to the idea that the statement was “reiterated” appears to be a reference to a tweet — since deleted — that said: “This morning’s condemnation (issued before the protest began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy.”

Even in this day and age, a tweet seems a pretty thin reed on which to hang a major policy pronouncement. In fact, the so-called reiteration makes clear that the first part of Romney’s comment — that the statement was issued after the breach — is incorrect.

 In context, the embassy statement appears similar to previous statements issued by embassies or spokesmen for the U.S. government in response to provocative actions that might inflame Muslims. The practice dates back at least to the appointment of Karen Hughes as undersecretary of state for public affairs in the second presidential term of George W. Bush.

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History lesson: What Ronald Reagan said

(Keystone/Getty Images)

Some six hours before protesters gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, at 12:17 p.m. local time Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” Thanks to the miracle of Twitter, and retweets, an impression emerged that the statement was issued in response to the protests, rather than the release of a YouTube clip that defamed the prophet Muhammad.

 That in turned sparked a blast from GOP nominee Mitt Romney, saying, “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

 We will leave aside the politics of the statement — or Romney’s decision to stand by it.

But because Republicans have frequently likened President Obama to Jimmy Carter, we were curious to learn how candidate Ronald Reagan responded to the worst foreign policy disaster on Carter’s watch — the failed mission to rescue U.S. diplomats in Iran, resulting in the deaths of eight servicemen.

 In April 1980, Reagan was still battling George H.W. Bush for the GOP nomination, while Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was challenging Carter for the Democratic nomination. This is excerpted from The Washington Post reporting on the political fallout:

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Bill Clinton’s defense of Obama’s new welfare rules

(David Goldman/AP)

“When some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened because we all know it’s hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today. So moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge. And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less.”

— Former President Bill Clinton, at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 5, 2012

Readers may recall that in August we gave Four Pinocchios to Mitt Romney for a television advertisement accusing President Obama of gutting Bill Clinton’s welfare overhaul — and also Three Pinocchios for the Obama administration’s counterspin that Romney himself had sought a similar waiver when he was governor of Massachusetts.

What’s the fuss about? Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. But in July the Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.

HHS’s action set off a firestorm of criticism by Republicans, which was echoed in Romney’s ad.

In his high-profile speech at the Democratic convention, Clinton himself came to Obama’s defense, claiming that the change in rules actually would require “more work, not less.” Last week, we said we wanted to spend some time digging into this statement before making a ruling. After talking to many people on all sides of the welfare debate, we can certainly say it is a very complex issue — which makes it ripe for fact-checking.

The Facts

There are three basic rules in Washington: 1) Nothing happens by accident, 2) Personnel determines policy, and 3) No argument is ever settled. That dynamic is central to understanding the controversy surrounding the HHS memo. In this case, conservatives suspected that the administration was trying to achieve through regulatory fiat what liberals had not been able to accomplish through legislation in the past 16 years.

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Understanding the battle over the looming defense cuts

“I voted for a mechanism”

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan

The Sunday public affairs shows sometimes leave ordinary Americans lost in a blizzard of Washington gobbledygook, especially when it comes to the federal budget. A lengthy exchange between Norah O’Donnell and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday is a good example of that, in which two people are simply talking past each other. 

 We are fairly convinced that 99.99 percent of the people watching this exchange had little clue what they were arguing about. In an effort to promote understanding, we will annotate it. Both Democrats and Republicans have their own narratives of what happened in the debt ceiling debate, so we will not try to adjudicate that dispute.


O'DONNELL: Let's talk about some of the cuts that have been agreed to. Mitt Romney said in an interview on NBC that Republicans were wrong to agree to a deal last summer that included automatic cuts to defense spending in exchange for this agreement to raise the debt ceiling. He said it was big mistake by Republicans.
He's talking about you because you voted for those cuts, correct?

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Fact checking Democratic convention claims about Romney’s Bain Capital experience

(J. Scott Applewhite — Associated Press)

“America cannot afford Romney economics. Mitt Romney will stick it to working people.”

— Former Ampad employee Randy Johnson during a speech at the Democratic convention, Sept. 5, 2012

The Democratic convention on Wednesday featured three speakers billed as “former employees at companies controlled by Romney’s Bain Capital,” who shared their experiences with layoffs, benefit reductions and plant closings while under the private-equity firm’s control. Each speaker tried to cast doubt on the notion that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is uniquely qualified to create jobs because of his work as a corporate executive.

Opponents have accused Romney of leading a firm that looted companies and drove them toward debt-induced bankruptcy. But a number of prominent Democrats have defended the firm.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company,” while Newark, N.J. Mayor Corey Booker said President Obama’s campaign should “stop attacking private equity.” Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, Jr. said “private equity’s not a bad thing; in fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.”

Former president Bill Clinton cautioned voters not to judge Bain’s management practices based on a few deals that turned bad for workers. “I don’t think that we ought to get into the position where we say, ‘This is bad work, this is good work,’” he said, noting nonetheless that he strongly prefers Obama’s vision for the future over Romney’s.

We’ve noted in previous columns that former Obama administration “car czar” Steve Rattner also wrote a piece for Politico that said, “Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path.”

For easy reference, we’ve compiled a collection of Fact Checker columns dealing with the attacks on Romney’s record at Bain, most of which either lacked context or blamed the Republican candidate for job losses that occurred after he left the private-equity firm. Let’s examine the claims of these “former employees” to see how they hold up.

The Facts

First, a little background on private equity. A December Washington Post article described how the practice works, explaining that firms like Bain acquire businesses, trim costs, often borrow money and acquire competitors in an effort to make the companies more profitable. The goal is to eventually sell the businesses for a gain.

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Fact checking Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the GOP convention

In his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination, former governor Mitt Romney focused more on his biography than his policy positions. But there were moments when his facts went awry or were missing important context.

Let’s take a tour through the rhetoric.

“And unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs.”

This sounds like a pretty bold statement, especially considering that only two presidents — Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — created more than 12 million jobs. Romney, in fact, says he can reach this same goal, in just four years, though the policy paper issued by his campaign contains few details. It is mostly a collection of policy assertions, such as reducing debt, overhauling the tax code, fostering free trade and so forth.

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Previewing the ‘facts’ in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech

(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The details of Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night are not known, but he’s been road-testing various claims about President Obama’s record for months. Here are five dubious assertions that he frequently makes on the campaign trail or in his campaign advertisements. (Republicans, no worries! We will also do this exercise for Obama next week.)

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Fact checking the GOP convention’s second night


The highlight of the second night of the Republican National Convention was Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech accepting the vice presidential nomination. (As a longtime Condoleezza Rice watcher, The Fact Checker was also fascinated by the enthusiastic response to her prime-time speech.) We will devote most of this column to analyzing claims in Ryan’s speech, but at the end we will also assess a few other interesting claims made by other speakers.

“Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.”

In his acceptance speech, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan appeared to suggest that President Obama was responsible for the closing of a GM plant in Ryan’s home town of Janesville, Wis.

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Did Romney avoid taxes with Swiss bank accounts and Cayman investments?

(Relevant segment begins at 8:35 mark)

“First of all, there was no reduction, not one dollar of reduction in taxes, by virtue of having an account in Switzerland or a Cayman Islands investment. Those — the dollars of taxes remained exactly the same. There was no tax savings at all. And the conduct of the trustee in making investments was entirely consistent with U.S. law and all the taxes paid were those legally owed and there was no tax savings by virtue of those entities.”

— GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney during an interview aired Aug. 26, 2012, on “Fox News Sunday”

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has so far released just one year of complete tax returns and an estimate for another year, leaving voters with little idea how much the former Massachusetts governor generally pays in taxes or how he built his fortune. But the few forms he disclosed combined with some leaked documents from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded, have provided ammunition to the GOP candidate’s critics, showing that he has Swiss bank accounts and invested in the Cayman Islands.

Opponents have criticized Romney for these financial arrangements, saying he must have something to hide — perhaps tax avoidance — and that a candidate with Swiss bank accounts can’t possibly relate with the average working American.

In an interview that aired over the weekend, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace pressed Romney on these issues, asking him why he didn’t pull his money from the Swiss banks and the Cayman Island investments when he decided to run for president. Romney said none of that mattered in the context of taxes, because “there was no tax savings by virtue of those entities.”

We examined the financial information available on Romney to determine whether the GOP nominee mislead viewers with his Fox News remarks.

The Facts

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the perks associated with Swiss bank accounts and investments in the Cayman Islands.

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Paul Ryan added to the Pinocchio tracker

(Evan Vucci/AP)

We’re sorry to have missed Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate — and the ensuing battle over Medicare — but we will try to make it up in the coming days with more detailed looks at the charges and countercharges about the old-age health-insurance program. Our standard rule applies: The more detailed and complex an issue is, the more susceptible it is to truth-twisting by politicians. Readers may recall that more than a year ago we offered this advice: “Mute the sound whenever a Medicare ad by either party comes on television.”

In the meantime, we have added Ryan to our “Pinocchio Tracker,” which provides an average rating of all columns on his statements as well as links to every column written about a presidential or vice presidential candidate.

Statements by Ryan—the chairman of the House Budget Committee-- have already been vetted seven times in past year and a half, and he starts out with a 1.86 average rating. This is largely because he once earned a rare “Geppetto” for a correct statement, which mitigated the effect of his other incorrect statements. (More on that below.) He’s also earned as high as Three Pinocchios for his claims.

Here is a guide to the previous columns on Ryan, in the order in which they appeared.

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Romney’s economic scorecard: Promising success, comparing records

Presidential Accountability Scorecard (ROMNEY CAMPAIGN)

“My Plan for a Stronger Middle Class will get our economy moving again, and Americans can use this scorecard to hold me accountable.”

— From the Mitt Romney campaign Web site

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week unveiled an “accountability scorecard” that invites voters to track his performance on the economy if he defeats President Obama in November. A quote on the sheet reminds potential scorekeepers that the president predicted that his administration would be “a one-term proposition” if his policies didn’t turn the economy around in three years.

The scorecard outlines Romney’s goals for future measurements, but it also compares Obama’s presidency with Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts, using simple up and down arrows to signify the two men’s respective records on various economic indicators: jobs, unemployment, home prices, budget deficits and family income.

For what it’s worth, Romney’s campaign first presented its scorecard after the Tax Policy Center released a report saying that the net effect of the GOP candidate’s tax proposals would be a higher burden for the middle class. We deemed that study to be fair after examining it for a column that covered an Obama campaign ad.

Romney also unveiled a new five-point “Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” that essentially repackages his older and relatively detail-deficient proposals for boosting the sluggish economy. His points include trimming the deficit, expanding trade, improving education and job-training programs, achieving energy independence and promoting small-business growth — pretty standard campaign fare.

As for the scorecard, let’s go through it to determine whether Romney’s simple arrows paint an accurate picture of the candidates’ records.

The Facts

Jobs and Unemployment

Data from the Bureau of Labor statistics shows that Massachusetts added 50,000 jobs during Romney’s tenure in office. But that number represents only 1.5 percent growth for the Bay State, compared to a higher 5 percent increase for the nation as a whole during the same period. (We used seasonally adjusted data for our comparisons).

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Wind credits, part 2: the Romney campaign’s attacks on current policy

(Bill Roth — Associated Press)

“President Obama’s promise to ‘easily’ create 5 million green energy jobs has become a particularly depressing punch line amidst the endless disappointments of the last four years. The president spent $90 billion in taxpayer stimulus dollars, some of which went to his donors and political allies or was sent to create jobs overseas instead of here in America. Now we have American wind and solar energy sectors that combine to produce only one percent of our energy — and our wind industry has actually lost 10,000 jobs.”

— Remarks from Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams, July 31, 2012

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams made these remarks last week as he responded to criticism of the campaign’s newly stated opposition to tax breaks for the wind-energy industry. We covered a claim from President Obama’s campaign in a previous column, and now it’s time to examine this follow-up from Romney’s team.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) authored the original tax credit in 1992, and he is seeking an extension for it. He expressed disbelief over the Romney campaign’s statement, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would reach out to the former governor’s campaign for answers.

“I have got to get to the bottom of what they are doing,” Grassley said, “because I think people that didn’t know what they were doing said it, because [Romney] was over in Poland, he obviously wasn’t thinking about wind energy.”

The Romney campaign showed no signs of reversing its position. Instead, Williams described Obama’s green-energy promises as a joke, claiming that success of the federal investments had been minimal and that much of the funding went to the president’s allies. He added that the wind-energy sector lost 10,000 jobs while the wind and solar industries have produced only 1 percent of America’s electricity.

Let’s examine Williams’s claims to find out how much truth they contain.

The Facts

In terms of Obama promising 5 million green-energy jobs, Williams was referring to an October 2008 debate in which then-Sen. Obama talked about climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our time. Here’s what the Democratic nominee said:

“It’s absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity, because if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily, here in the United States.”

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Spin and counterspin in the welfare debate

“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”

— Mitt Romney campaign ad released Aug. 7, 2012

“This is a common sense reform to give governors — including some of Romney’s supporters — flexibility to live up to the goals of the welfare reform law. Romney should know: He used to support these kinds of waivers. In 2005, he joined other Republican governors in a letter to Senator Frist, urging the Senate to move quickly on ‘increased waiver authority’ for the welfare program.”

— Obama campaign defense on its Web site

When Bill Clinton signed the bill overhauling welfare 16 years ago, the 42nd president declared: “After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue. The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it. There are no encrusted habits, systems, and failures that can be laid at the foot of someone else.”

Oops, guess he was wrong about that.

In an effort to reopen the welfare war, Mitt Romney this week began airing a tough ad that accuses President Obama of wanting to do away with the work requirements embedded in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. In effect, Romney is trying to suggest that Obama is such a left-winger that he would undo a central achievement of a Democratic icon.

People forget that Clinton’s signing of the bill — a few months before the 1996 presidential election — was highly controversial. Clinton, in his signing speech, spent almost as much time talking about the things he disliked in the GOP-crafted bill as he did about the parts he liked. Key members of his administration resigned in protest. And a young state senator in Illinois named Barack Obama also expressed his opposition.

This is a complex issue, and highly technical, which makes it ripe for spin and counterspin. Neither side necessarily conducts itself with glory here.

The Facts

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the centerpiece of the 1996 legislation, established work requirements and time-limited benefits for recipients. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services, without much fanfare, issued a memorandum saying that it was encouraging “states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” As part of that, the HHS secretary would consider issuing waivers to states concerning worker participation targets.

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Is Obama challenging voting privileges of Ohio military members?

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“President Obama’s lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage … If I’m entrusted to be the commander in chief, I’ll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them.”

-- Facebook message from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Aug. 4, 2012

“In their lawsuit, the Obama campaign and the DNC argue it is ‘arbitrary’ and unconstitutional to provide three extra days of early, in-person voting to military voters and their families. At least 20 times in their legal papers, they argue that there is no good reason to give special flexibility to military voters – and that this policy adopted by the Ohio legislature is so wrong it is unconstitutional.”

-- Memo from Katie Biber, general counsel for the Romney campaign, Aug. 5, 2012

These statements concern a lawsuit that Democrats filed against Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general to stop a new law that pushes the state’s early voting deadline back by three days for everyone except military personnel and their families. The measure, which was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature in 2011, changed a previously uniform deadline for all residents of the Buckeye State.

Ohio is a closely contested battleground state where the presidential candidates need every vote they can get to win the 2012 election. The state went to Barack Obama in 2008, with more than 1.4 million Ohio voters casting their ballots early, according to the United States Election Project of George Mason University.

Right-wing bloggers have weighed in on the Democratic lawsuit, with Breitbart saying that the president was seeking to “restrict [service members’] ability to vote in the upcoming election.” The Romney campaign fed that notion with its recent comments.

Plaintiffs in this case include Obama’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party. Meanwhile, a group of 15 fraternal military organizations filed a motion last week seeking to add themselves to the list of defendants officially fighting the suit.

We read the court documents for this case and researched Ohio’s new voting law to determine whether Romney and his campaign’s general counsel hit the mark with their comments. Does the Democratic lawsuit really try to undermine the voting rights of service members, arguing, as Biber contends, that “there is no good reason to give special flexibility to military voters – and that this policy adopted by the Ohio legislature is so wrong it is unconstitutional”?

The Facts

Ohio changed its voting laws after the 2004 election, allowing voters to cast early ballots until the Monday before Election Day — mainly to prevent long lines at polling stations. Obama seems to have benefitted from this during his 2008 presidential run, as many African-American churches drove congregants to the polls after Sunday services.

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Four Pinocchios for Harry Reid’s claim about Mitt Romney’s taxes

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“The word's out that he [Romney] hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Aug. 2, 2012

Reid has generated a lot of controversy with his claim that presumptive GOP nominee did not pay any taxes for 10 years. He originally told the Huffington Post that a person who had invested with Bain Capital had called his office and told him this. Then, he told reporters in Nevada that “I have had a number of people tell me that.”

Reid has refused to identify his source (or sources). Romney and his campaign aides have emphatically denied the charge but Reid has stood firm. “I don't think the burden should be on me,” he said. “The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes.”

This whole exchange poses a fact-checking conundrum. Generally, we maintain that the person or the campaign making the charge must back it up. Reid has refused to provide any evidence, except for the (unproven) fact that someone called him up and told him something that may be true — or simply a rumor.

But we can still examine how credible this rumor might be.

The Facts

 Romney has refused to release more than two years of tax returns, citing a precedent that is not very credible; he earned three Pinocchios for that claim. Most presidential candidates in recent years have released more than two years of returns, so Romney may be paying a political price for failing to release more.

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A tough new Obama ad that — surprise! — is accurate

“Chances are you pay a higher tax rate than him [Mitt Romney]….Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010 but paid only 14 percent in taxes…probably less than you. Now he has a plan that would give millionaires another tax break. And raises taxes on middle class families by up to two thousand dollars a year.”

— Voiceover of new Obama campaign ad, “Stretch”

The Obama campaign rushed to take advantage of a new Tax Policy Center study about Mitt Romney’s tax plan, combining it with information about Romney’s 2010 tax return. We have looked at these issues before but as these ads go, the language is fairly careful and restrained. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Facts

Romney certainly made a lot of money in 2010 — $21.7 million, according to his tax return — and yet his tax rate was about 13.9 percent. As we have noted before, he achieves this rate because much of his income is treated as capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at a preferential rate of 15 percent, and because he donates about 14 percent of his income to charity. (Reuters wrote an interesting article showing that Romney’s donations of appreciated stock to the Mormon church further shielded him from possible capital gains taxes.) 

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Obama’s new campaign ad on dueling budget plans

“Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires …increase military spending…adding trillions to the deficit.  Or President Obama’s plan? A balanced approach …Four trillion in deficit reduction.”

— Voiceover in a new Obama campaign ad

In just 30 seconds, this new Obama campaign ad covers a lot of ground, evoking images of the George W. Bush administration (“two wars …tax cuts for millionaires”), tying presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to those policies and then ending with positive words for President Obama’s plans. (There’s even an amazing shot of a super-millionaire’s home.)

 At least the ad is about policy differences, rather than the usual campaign fare of outsourcing, Bain and verbal gaffes. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Facts

 The Obama campaign has to perform some leaps of logic because, frankly, the Romney campaign has not explained how his budget and tax numbers add up. Romney has proposed to cut tax rates, but keep revenue neutral with unspecified offsets, while also boosting defense spending while reducing the deficit through largely unspecified cuts.  Pinning down the actual figures is a bit like nailing Jello to a wall.

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Romney’s pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

“A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.”

Republican Party platform of 1996

 “Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.”

Republican Party platform of 2000

“Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem.”

Republican Party platform of 2004

“We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

Republican Party platform of 2008

“My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital. That is something which I would agree with. But I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.”

— Mitt Romney, interview with CNN, July 29, 2012

Like Lucy and the football, the pledge to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is a campaign promise that is never fulfilled. But once again it is in the news, particularly after White House spokesman Jay Carney last week could not answer whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, so let’s take a closer look at this issue.

The Facts

 The Israeli government is located in Jerusalem, including the prime minister’s office and parliament, and yet all but two countries have chosen to locate their embassies outside of Jerusalem, most commonly in Tel Aviv. The United Nations also does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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An Obama quote taken out of context, yet again

“Barack Obama on the Economy”

— headline in a Romney campaign ad, followed by President Obama speaking:

“We tried our plan — and it worked. That’s the difference. That’s the choice in this election. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”

Another day, another out-of-context quote?

Readers should be very wary of television ads showing a snippet of the opposing candidate speaking. There is often too much context missing.

Both campaigns have crossed the foul line in this regard (remember Mitt Romney supposedly saying he liked to fire people?) but this is the second week in a row we have had to examine how the Romney campaign is using one of the president’s quotes. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

There is a dead giveaway here that something is missing: Why would Obama be bragging that his plan “worked” when the unemployment rate is still above 8 percent? That doesn’t sound like smart politics.

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Romney’s claims of misspent stimulus money

“Where did all the Obama stimulus money go? Friends, donors, campaign supporters, special interest groups. Where did the Obama stimulus money go? Solyndra: 500 million taxpayer dollars, bankrupt. So where did all the Obama stimulus money go? Windmills from China, electric cars from Finland.”

-- Narration from Romney campaign ad

“Seventy-nine percent of the $2.1 billion in stimulus grants awarded through it went to overseas companies -- $2.1 billion.”

-- 2010 remarks from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), featured in Romney campaign ad

We’ve covered most of these claims in the past, with each one receiving Pinocchios to one degree or another. But GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his campaign must have missed all that, because they repeated and combined the assertions in this ad, even adding in a comment from a Democrat to bolster their case.

Let’s review how President Obama’s administration handled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act --better known as the stimulus--to determine whether this ad bears a closer resemblance to the straight truth.

The Facts

Crony capitalism

Romney claims the Obama administration funneled stimulus money to friends, donors and campaign supporters. In large part, this assertion starts with a federal loan that went to Solyndra, the now-defunct solar-panel maker that received $535 million as part of the stimulus program’s clean-energy initiative.

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Did Mitt Romney get a ‘bailout’ for Bain & Company?

“Ironically, Mitt Romney knows better than anyone that business can’t always do it alone. When Bain & Company was on the verge of bankruptcy Romney himself negotiated a $10 million bailout with the FDIC.”

— Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in Web video issued July 24, 2012

Once again some ancient Massachusetts history has entered the 2012 campaign.

Seeking to rebut Mitt Romney’s claim that President Obama believes business owners don’t build their own companies — for which we gave Romney Three Pinocchios — Cutter has now tried to turn the tables on Romney by arguing that Romney himself could not survive without the help of government assistance.

This issue briefly flared up during the GOP primary season, when former House speaker Newt Gingrich raised it, so let’s see what really happened.

The Facts

First of all, Bain & Company is not the same thing as Bain Capital, the private equity firm from which Romney made his fortune. Bain Capital is a spin-off from Bain & Company, which is a traditional consulting firm. But in the early 1990s, Bain & Company overextended itself after an ill-advised decision in 1985-1986 by the firm’s eight founding partners to take $200 million out of the firm, for themselves, with borrowed money. (Romney, who had left in 1984, was not a founder.)

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Obama uses out-of-date data to criticize Romney’s Medicare plan

(John Raoux/AP)

“He [Romney] plans to turn Medicare into a voucher program. Now, understand how that works.  If the voucher isn’t worth what it takes to buy health insurance in the private marketplace, you’re out of luck.  You’ve got to make up the difference. You’re on your own.  So one independent, nonpartisan study found that under a similar plan, seniors would have to pay nearly $6,400 more for Medicare than they do today.  Where are you going to get that from?  Where are you going to get it from — $6,400?”

— President Obama, remarks in West Palm Beach, Fla., July 19, 2012

On a campaign trip to Florida last week, President Obama — no surprise! — brought up the subject of Medicare.

 This is a highly emotional and difficult subject to understand. There’s a reason why we suggested last year that readers would be best advised to mute the sound if any ad concerning Medicare aired — for either party.

Let’s look more deeply at the president’s remarks. 

The Facts

 The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health-care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and co-insurance.

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An unoriginal Obama quote, taken out of context

“To say what he said is to say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple Computer or that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft or that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor Company or that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s or that Papa John’s didn’t build Papa John’s Pizza. This is the height of foolishness. It shows how out of touch he is with the character of America. It’s one more reason his policies have failed. It’s one more reason why we have to replace him in November.”

— Mitt Romney, July 18, 2012

There are few original ideas in politics, just old arguments.

We were reminded of this as we considered the ruckus over comments by President Obama that his GOP rival, former governor Mitt Romney, criticized as an attack on free enterprise. Romney immediately began jabbing Obama on the campaign trail and the Romney campaign rushed out an attack ad focused on Obama’s words — though, as we shall see, it sliced and diced the president’s quote to make it seem much worse.

We will stipulate that taking snippets of quotes and twisting them is an age-old political tactic. In May, we gave Two Pinocchios to President Obama for performing out-of-context quote-snipping on Romney’s words. But that doesn’t make it right. Let’s take a look at what Obama actually said, and then how it has been interpreted.

The Facts

The president, during a campaign speech in Roanoke, tried to make the case that wealthy people need to have higher taxes in order to help serve the public good. Here is what he said, with the words used in the ad in bold type:

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Mitt Romney and Bain: a Fact Checker collection

(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain after I went off to the Olympics and that`s been demonstrated by people who work at Bain, by all of the documents but I still retained an ownership interest. . . . I had no involvement with the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, interview with CBS News, July 13, 2012

Given the extensive interest in the question of when Mitt Romney stopped managing Bain Capital, we have compiled a summary of 11  Fact Checker columns that assessed claims that, at least in part, needed to deal with this question. We evaluated each claim on a case-by-case basis, so the Pinocchio count has varied depending on the importance of the 1999-2002 period to the facts at hand.

 At the end of this column we also provide some additional commentary on this question, especially in light of Romney’s assertion that that he had “no role whatsoever” in the management of Bain after February, 1999.

“Mitt Romney and 100,000 jobs: an untenable figure” (Jan. 10. 2012)

Claim: Romney said that businesses in which Bain had invested had created “net-net” more than 100,000 jobs.

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‘Crony capitalism:’ the RNC’s look at the case of Steve Westly

“Meet Steve Westly. He raised over $500,000 for Obama's campaign. With Obama in office, Westly Group Investments have received 500 million taxpayer dollars. Westly was even appointed  to a top advisory role, influencing how federal taxpayer money was spent…Westly raised money for Obama, then got a half a billion taxpayer dollars. Obama’s friends are doing fine, but the middle class isn’t.”

--voiceover of new Republican National Committee ad, “The Obama Connection.”

We’re shocked, shocked that anyone thinks that big campaign contributors get special access to politicians.

 Just as “Big Oil” appeared to have special sway in the Bush administration, now too “clean energy” types appear to have special connections in the Obama administration. Is this a matter of coincidence … or “crony capitalism”?  Republicans have tried to make this charge an issue this week, and we have already examined one such example and found it wanting.

 Let’s play connect-the-dots in the case of Steve Westly.


The Facts

 The figures in this ad are relatively accurate. (Westly raised more than $500,000  for Obama, in 2008, according to Westly Group is a big player in clean technology, investing in companies that develop promising technologies. He also has not been shy about advertising his connections in the Obama administration, famously sending an email to top presidential aide Valerie Jarrett, warning that the president might be making a mistake in visiting Solyndra. (For all his apparent influence, his advice was not taken.)

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4 Pinocchios for an unproven Romney claim of ‘crony capitalism’

“I am ashamed to say that we’re seeing our president hand out money to the businesses of campaign contributors, when he gave money, $500 million in loans to a company called Fisker that makes high end electric cars, and they make the cars now in Finland. That is wrong and it’s got to stop. That kind of crony capitalism does not create jobs and it does not create jobs here.”

— Mitt Romney, Irwin, Pa., July 17, 2012

Hoping to turn attention away from questions about his departure from Bain Capital a decade ago, Mitt Romney this week has sought to focus attention on what he calls President Obama’s “crony capitalism.” We have dealt with this charge before, but this week it seems the Romney campaign has upped the ante, trying to make a connection between the president’s contributors and the president’s policies.

We will deal with some of these claims in more detail at a later date, but today we will look at the question of Fisker Automotive. This case keeps coming up, and it really feels like whack-a-mole. Romney now has raised the stakes by asserting a connection between the loan and campaign contributors. And his campaign was sufficiently proud of his statement that it e-mailed it to reporters.

The Facts

Fisker has developed a luxury plug-in electric sedan called the Karma that retails for $108,000, currently manufactured in Finland. It hopes to develop a $50,000 sedan named the Atlantic that would be manufactured in Delaware.

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Romney’s misleading history of tax returns issued by presidential contenders

(Evan Vucci/AP - AP)

“John McCain ran for president and released two years of tax returns. John Kerry ran for president; you know, his wife, who has hundreds of millions of dollars, she never released her tax returns. Somehow this wasn’t an issue.”

— Mitt Romney, on Fox News, July 16, 2012

 “It's standard for the last Republican nominee, the last Democratic nominee.”

— Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” July 15, 2012, answering a question on why Romney will release only two years of tax returns.

In trying to fend off demands — from both Democrats and even some Republicans — that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney release more than two years of tax returns, his campaign has sought to claim that releasing two years of tax returns is normal. (Romney so far has released his 2010 return and an estimate for his 2011 return.)

 Is that really the case? Let’s check out Gillespie’s claim, presumably about McCain and President Obama, and Romney’s claim that the tax returns of Teresa Heinz Kerry were “not an issue.”


The Facts

 The Tax History Project run by TaxAnalysts has a fascinating Web page with the tax returns of presidents and presidential candidates, dating all the way back to Franklin D. Roosevelt. McCain, it is correct, released two years of tax returns, but Obama released seven years of tax returns.

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Weighing the evidence on Romney’s departure from Bain: A response to readers

It’s not often that one of my columns gets more than 5,000 comments, many of them angry. I tried responding via Twitter and various e-mail exchanges but eventually gave up because I was overwhelmed. My analysis was also roasted on the web by various people I often admire, and the Huffington Post rewrote my column to highlight exclusive material that they thought I had played down. My best friend from third grade even sent me a message on Facebook saying I “was carrying the Republicans’ water.”

It was that kind of day!

I always value informed critiques. Given the many comments, I will try to make a general response.

First of all, as The Fact Checker, I began looking into Mitt Romney’s departure from Bain Capital in January in response to Obama campaign allegations that he was responsible for the closing of hundreds of stores at KB Toys. The question is not whether Romney left Bain in 1999 or 2002 — everyone knows he took a leave to run the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, then decided to run for governor in 2002 and officially backdated his resignation to 1999 — but whether he had a direct role in Bain deals during this period.

For some readers, this may not be important. He is listed as chief executive in SEC documents, he hired the people at Bain, and so they might believe he bears responsibility for these deals. End of story. But that’s really an opinion, not a fact.

When evaluating an attack ad, I have to look at the actual facts behind that ad. Can you really say Romney was responsible for the closing of 600 stores at KB Toys in 2004, given that the initial Bain investment took place in 2000, when he was at the Olympics, and he had clearly left Bain by 2002? It would have been fuzzier if the investment had started under Romney’s confirmed leadership, but I could find no evidence of his direct involvement in this deal.

The years 1999-2002 are a gray period in Romney’s life. The importance of whether you pick 1999 or 2002 as the end of his tenure at Bain is best illustrated by the Obama video ad above.

I hold campaign attack ads to a high standard, especially since they can be highly misleading. On balance, I would expect a campaign to provide direct evidence that the rival had a role in the activities being denounced. I would have come to the same conclusion if the person’s name on the Securities and Exchange Commission documents was Barack Obama, rather than Mitt Romney. Indeed, this column gave three Pinocchios to Republicans who claimed that Obama had a secret plan to raise gas prices because of long-ago comments by his aides.

Some readers who complained about the column may not be regular readers. When checking the facts, I pay little attention to the political party making the claim. I look at everything on a case-by-case basis. On the day new questions emerged about Romney and his departure from Bain, I wrote a long column that critically evaluated 22 claims by Republicans about Obama’s alleged “outsourcing,” finding many of them thinly sourced or absurd. I have repeatedly roasted Romney for misleading claims about the number of jobs he claims to have created at Bain. At the moment, I have given four Pinocchios more often to Romney than to Obama.

Regarding Romney and Bain, the question for me remains whether one can specifically tie Romney to the questionable deals. So far, I have not seen enough evidence that he was actively managing Bain and its investments during this period.

Thus I am standing with my assessment that Romney essentially left Bain in 1999. Our colleagues at have done the same. But of course I remain open to new evidence or information, and will adjust Pinocchio ratings accordingly.

But readers can judge for themselves. Here is a roundup of the evidence, pro and con.

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Do Bain SEC documents suggest Mitt Romney is a criminal?


"Romney and Bain claim that he was not involved with Bain, but Bain and its portfolio companies in their required filings under the Securities Exchange Act continuously certified to the Securities and Exchange Commission say precisely the opposite — asserting without qualification that he was a controlling person, fully in charge of Bain, under the Federal securities law. Under normal circumstances, the question of the truth of this representation would result in an investigation by the SEC into possible criminal, as well as civil, violations of the law."

— Robert Bauer, Obama campaign counsel, July 13, 2012

There is a journalistic convention that appears to place great weight on “SEC documents.” But these are public filings by companies, which usually means there are not great secrets hidden in them. The Fact Checker, in an earlier life covering Wall Street, spent many hours looking for jewels in SEC filings.

 As we wrote yesterday, we are standing with our assessment that Mitt Romney left the helm of Bain Capital in 1999, when he departed to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. The date is important because some questionable investments by Bain took place between 1999 and 2002, when he ran for governor. But a Boston Globe article on Thursday raised new questions about that timeline, citing SEC filings, and the Obama campaign jumped to take advantage of it.

Despite the furor, we did not see much new in the Globe article. We had examined many SEC documents related to Romney and Bain in January, and concluded that much of the language saying Romney was “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president” was boilerplate that did not reveal whether he was actually managing Bain at the time. (For instance, there is no standard definition of a “chief executive,” securities law experts say, and there is no requirement for anyone to have any responsibilities even if they have that title.)

 The one thing new we saw in the Globe story was the assertion that “Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain ‘executive’ in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.” But then we realized we had already reviewed those documents in January. The 2001 form describes him as a “former executive” (see page 1 of form A-5) — the campaign says this was retirement pay — but the 2002 form says “executive.” So either you believe he suddenly rejoined the firm, after leaving it, or someone made a typo.

 Romney’s sudden departure from Bain had left the partnership in flux, in fact almost breaking up the firm, and a final resolution was not reached until he ended his Olympic sojourn and decided to run for governor. At that point, he signed retirement papers that set his departure date as February 1999, the month he left for the Olympics.

 Fortune magazine on Thursday reported that it had obtained the offering documents for Bain Capital funds circulating in 2000 and 2001. None of the documents show that Romney was listed as being among the “key investment professionals” who would manage the money. As Fortune put it, “the contemporaneous Bain documents show that Romney was indeed telling the truth about no longer having operational input at Bain — which, one should note, is different from no longer having legal or financial ties to the firm.”

 Let’s also not forget that Massachusetts Democrats tried to keep Romney off the ballot in the 2002 governor’s race on the grounds that he had been living and working in Utah, even paying taxes there, and thus had failed to meet the requirement to have lived seven consecutive years in Massachusetts. The effort failed, but not after Democrats waged an expensive, months’ long battle to prove he worked so much on the Olympics that he was in effect a citizen of Utah. (More on this below.)

Still, the Obama campaign has raised a very serious charge of potential criminal behavior. Does it have much credibility?


The Facts

 One of the SEC documents in question that has received attention in recent days is a Form 13D that was posted by Talking Points Memo.  A Form13D is filed when an investor or investment group announces that it has acquired more than five percent of the company.

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Obama and outsourcing: a guide to the GOP’s charges

(Susan Walsh/AP)

“Over his four years in office, Obama promised that he would focus on creating "jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced." However, as he racked up trillions in new debt, billions of dollars did go to create jobs that were outsourced or spent overseas. Whether it is electric cars made in Finland or solar panels in Mexico, taxpayers would be astonished to learn that their hard earned money went abroad for jobs that weren't created in the United States.”

— New Republican National Committee Web site ,

 “This president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States. If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it’s the president of the United States, not the guy who’s running to replace him.”

— Mitt Romney, July 10, 2012

We have written at length about the inaccurate and misleading claims of outsourcing made against presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by the Obama campaign — and surely will again. Now the Republican National Committee has tried to turn the tables on President Obama, and the Romney campaign is jumping aboard.  As The Washington Post reported this week, Obama also has critics on the left for his record on outsourcing.

Some of these claims on the Web site we have seen before, when we awarded Four Pinocchios to a pair of over-the-top television ads attacking Obama. Now the RNC has expanded the list to include examples from more than 20 countries. Are these claims any more valid? We’ve dug deep into the RNC’s documentary evidence so you don’t have to.

Remember: Outsourcing generally means that a company hires another company to do work for them. This is increasingly a common practice. Some of these “outsourced” jobs may be sent overseas.


The Facts

 First of all, the Obama quote used by the RNC is from a campaign speech he made on Oct. 30, 2008 — before he became president. The full context of Obama’s statement makes clear that he is referencing jobs in the renewable energy business — “jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and a new electricity grid”— and that he is talking about creating jobs over a 10-year period. His point was that the United States is lagging in those areas. 

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More tenuous claims about Romney’s Bain Capital record

“Mitt Romney the businessman. Take a look at his record. Romney bought companies; drowned them in debt; many went bankrupt; thousands of workers lost jobs, benefits and pensions. But for every company he drove into the ground, Romney averaged a $92 million profit.”

— Voice-over from Priorities USA Action ad attacking GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney

“14,000 workers laid off.”

— Text from Priorities USA Action ad

Most of the anti-Mitt Romney ads in recent weeks have focused on Romney’s record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, accusing the Republican presidential candidate of being everything from an outsourcing pioneer to a corporate raider. For what it’s worth, we debunked those notions in several previous columns.

We’ve also awarded Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supports President Obama, with one Pinocchio for an ad that, in part, accused Romney of making “millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.” In addition, we’ve examined some of the companies that laid off workers while Romney served as Bain’s chief executive officer.

The Bain exaggerations are on the other side as well. We dinged the GOP challenger with three Pinocchios for laying claim to job growth that occurred after his tenure with the private-equity firm had ended. We also gave three Pinocchios to Bain Capital — and the Romney campaign — for sugarcoating their business record.

This latest video is unique. It blames Romney for the highest and most specific number of job losses we’ve seen anyone attribute to him as a former businessman. Let’s take a look at the Bain companies that filed for bankruptcy and fired workers to determine how much blame the presumptive GOP nominee deserves.

The Facts

First, a bit of background on Bain Capital. Romney founded the firm, which started out in venture capitalism and helped launch a few massive successes such as Staples and Sports Authority.

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4 Pinocchios for Romney’s claim on an Obama health care pledge

“Promise: President Obama promised to lower annual health insurance premiums by $2,500…Result: Annual health insurance premiums have increased by $2,393....Gap: health premium costs are $4,893 higher per family than President Obama promised.”

— new Facebook/Twitter post by the Romney campaign

 Promises made during the heat of an election campaign sometimes come back to haunt politicians.

 The campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is trying to nail President Obama for making an iffy promise during the 2008 campaign — that premiums will be $2,500 lower under his health care plan. Instead, the Romney campaign argues in an effort to create a viral Facebook post, the swing has gone $4,893 the other way.

 The Romney graphic is false on several levels, though Obama certainly left himself open to scrutiny with imprecise language in the 2008 campaign. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

 The Romney campaign cites a statement from a 2007 speech by Obama, but it’s a pledge that was repeated often: “When I am president, we will have universal health care in this country by the end of my first term in office. It's a plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by $2,500 a year.”

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Obama’s new attacks on Romney and outsourcing

“The Washington Post has just revealed that Romney’s companies were pioneers in shipping U.S. jobs overseas.... Does Iowa really want an outsourcer-in-chief in the White House?”

— one in a series of new Obama campaign ads

“Pioneers! Let me tell you, Tampa, we do not need an outsourcing pioneer in the Oval Office. We need a president who will fight for American jobs and American manufacturing. That’s what my plan will do.”

— President Obama, June 22, 2012

“Offshoring is the shipment of American jobs overseas. And in that Washington Post story, which the president is using now to attack American companies by name, there are no examples of jobs being taken from the United States and shipped overseas. What you have are companies that are expanding into new markets.”

— Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 24, 2012

“Just last week, it was reported that Governor Romney’s old firm owned companies that were ‘pioneers’ — this is not my phrase, but how it was described in the report — ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing American jobs to places like China and India. Yesterday, his advisers tried to clear this up by telling us that there was a difference between ‘outsourcing’ and ‘offshoring.’ Seriously. You can’t make that up.”

— Obama, June 25, 2012

The Obama campaign has seized on a recent front-page article in The Washington Post to argue that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is an “outsourcer-in-chief,” while the Romney campaign has pushed back, asking for a retraction of the article. (The Post has refused and stood by the reporting.)

The Fact Checker does not check the facts in the reporting of Washington Post writers or columnists, despite the many pleas of readers to do so. We even avoid checking most pundits. We generally confine ourselves to checking the rhetoric used by politicians and interest groups.

In this case, both campaigns have seized on a news report in The Post, and both are describing it inaccurately for their own political purposes. The Obama campaign has even made the report the centerpiece of its current ad campaign. This puts us in a bit of a strange position.

So we will try to describe what the report is about, without venturing into the realm of media criticism.

The Facts

The article, by reporter Tom Hamburger, appeared on the Web on the evening on June 21 with a headline that said: “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas.” The headline was different in the print edition: “Bain’s firms sent jobs overseas.”

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Tim Pawlenty’s losing bet: Obama’s had no entitlement proposals

“We have in the White House now the president of the United States, the leader of our nation, who has not put out any specific proposals on some of the most pressing issues of the day. For example, where is President Obama’s specific proposal on reforming Medicaid and Medicare? Anyone who understands the budget crisis facing this country understands that entitlements have to be talked about. And we need a leader to address that in detail.

I’ll come to your house, Bob Schieffer, and mow your lawn if you can find President Obama`s specific proposals on reforming entitlements in this country.”

— Tim Pawlenty on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 24, 2012

In an interview on ”Face the Nation” Sunday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty issued a light-hearted but bold challenge while suggesting that President Obama hasn’t done anything to address the skyrocketing costs of entitlement programs. (His remarks begin at the 5:45 mark of the video).

Host Bob Schieffer laughed about the wager, noting that he lives in an apartment and wouldn’t be able to hold Pawlenty accountable.

We’re not going to let his guest off the hook so easily.

Let’s take a look at Obama’s record on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to determine whether the president has made any “specific proposals” for reforms during his tenure.

The Facts

We’ll deal with Medicare and Medicaid first, since Pawlenty named those entitlements during his interview. Obama didn’t just propose changes to those programs; he enacted some of them by signing the Affordable Care Act — which the Supreme Court upheld this week.

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Spinning the Supreme Court ruling on ‘Obamacare’

(Luke Sharrett/AP)

“The highest court in the land has now spoken.”

— President Obama, June 29, 2012

 “What the Court did today was say that Obamacare does not violate the Constitution. What they did not do was say that Obamacare is good law or that it's good policy.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, June 29, 2012

Soon after the Supreme Court ruling upholding the health-care law, President Obama and his presumed GOP rival Mitt Romney emerged with talking points so dissimilar you’d wonder if they were speaking about the same law. We will try to disentangle some of the differences.

 But, first, a word about the claim, advanced by Rush Limbaugh and others, that because of the ruling that the individual mandate is a tax, “Obamacare” is now the biggest tax increase in history. That’s an absurdity.

The health-care law did include substantial taxes, such as an additional tax on investment income for the wealthy, but those were always disclosed and never hidden. The penalties it included for failing to get health insurance — which the Supreme Court has now labeled a tax — amounted to just about $13 billion a year, or $65 billion in the first 10 years of the law, according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. (See Table 2.)

 That compares to a total of $525 billion in new revenues contained in the bill. (The CBO always listed the penalties as a revenue, along with the other taxes and fees contained in the bill.)

 As to whether this is the biggest tax increase in history, the best way to measure the impact of taxes over a long period is to consider a tax increase or decrease as a percentage of the overall economy, also known as the gross domestic product.

A 2006 Treasury Department study listed a tax increase passed in 1942 as the clear winner for the title of biggest tax increase — worth more than 5 percent of GDP. (Yikes, now that’s a tax increase. But the United States was fighting a world war at the time.)

 The health-care law doesn’t even come close — 0.49 percent of GDP. That’s one-tenth the size of the 1942 tax cut. Essentially, the health-care law’s taxes are about the size of Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase and significantly smaller than Ronald Reagan’s 1982 tax hike. (Our friends at PolitiFact beat us to the punch on this, awarding  “Pants on Fire” to Limbaugh, and they have all of the math, plus other statistics.)

 Now, let’s review the political statements.

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Romney’s claim that Obama did ‘nothing on immigration’ until now

“Well, as you know, he [Barack Obama] was president for the last three and a half years, did nothing on immigration. Two years, he had a Democrats’ House and Senate, did nothing of permanent or long-term basis.”

-- Mitt Romney during interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 17, 2012

President Obama announced last Friday that his administration would no longer deport some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Former governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee, did not condemm or support Obama’s initiative, but criticized the president for failing to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform. Obama ”did nothing of permament or long-term basis,” he said.

Obama promised such reform while making his bid for the White House in 2008, and he has indeed failed to deliver on that pledge. But how much is the president to blame for the government’s inaction? After all, it takes more than just the executive to implement anything more than piecemeal reforms, and even then the options are limited.

Let’s review what’s happened with immigration reform during Obama’s term to determine whether the president has truly done “nothing.”

The Facts

Obama pushed for passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act before Republicans won the House majority in November 2010. The bill would have made children of illegal immigrants -- technically up to age 35 -- eligible for residency if they attend college or serve in the military and don’t have criminal records.

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A fierce tax debate, without much light

"Now, an independent study says that about 70 percent of this new, $5 trillion tax cut would go to folks making over $200,000 a year.  And folks making over a million dollars a year would get an average tax cut of about 25 percent.”

— President Obama, June 14, 2012, speaking about Romney tax plan

 “One of the absolute requirements of any tax reform that I have in mind is that people who are at the high end, whether you call them the 1 percent or 2 percent or half a percent, that people at the high end will still pay the same share of the tax burden they’re paying now. I’m not looking for a tax cut for the very wealthiest. I’m looking to bring tax rates down for everyone.”

— Former governor Mitt Romney, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” June 17, 2012, also speaking about his tax plan

How are such opposing statements even possible?

 The president declares on Thursday that his GOP rival will give the rich a 25 percent tax cut, citing an “independent study.”And then three days later, Romney insists that the rich will still “pay the same share of the tax burden.” In other words, no real tax cut.

 Part of the explanation is that Obama is trying to nail Romney with specifics — and Romney is trying to avoid them. Let’s take a closer look.

The Facts

 First, let’s examine the tax burden under current law. When it comes to federal income taxes, the wealthy already pay most of the taxes. (The percentages change a bit when payroll taxes are included, but not much.) People at the lowest levels have a negative share because they get refundable tax credits. Here are the figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center: 

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Romney’s claim that the federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters, police

Brian Kilmeade: “He [President Obama] says you’re out of touch. He says you want to cut firefighters and teachers, that you don’t understand what’s going on in these communities. What do you say to that, Governor?”

Mitt Romney: “That’s a very strange accusation. Of course, teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states. The federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters or policemen. So obviously that’s completely absurd.”

-- Exchange between GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade, June 12, 2012

Fox News invited Mitt Romney on the air Tuesday to discuss the recent Gaffe-fest that featured President Obama and the GOP challenger himself -- whether he wants to admit it or not -- setting themselves up for easy attacks. To review, Obama said during a Friday news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Romney quickly pounced on that comment, telling voters the president is out of touch.

“He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” Romney said during a stump speech in Iowa. “Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

Obama’s supporters responded by suggesting the GOP challenger wants to start eliminating firefighters, teachers and police from the public workforce -- a reasonable assumption given his comments Friday. Romney described the accusation as “strange,” but we found it just as curious that he claimed the federal government doesn’t pay for such government employees.

Let’s take a look at who pays for what.

The Facts

We figured Romney may have misspoke, so we asked his campaign to explain exactly what he meant with his comment that the federal government doesn’t pay for teachers, firefighters and police. After some prodding, spokeswoman Andrea Saul provided this terse response: “As Gov. Romney said, ‘teachers and firemen and policemen are hired at the local level and also by states’ – that is a fact.”

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Fact checking the dueling Obama and Romney economic speeches


“This is not my opinion. This is not political spin.”

— President Obama, remarks at Cuyahoga Community College, June 14, 2012


President Obama and former governor Mitt Romney delivered dueling speeches on the economy Thursday, but they need to freshen up their facts. With the exception of a few odds and ends, we have heard much of this before. But we are amused, as The Fact Checker, to see that the president believes he needs to tell his audience that he is not spinning them.

 Let’s do a quick round-up. We will keep the focus mostly on Obama, since he claimed to have lots of facts. As is our practice, we will not do a Pinocchio rating at the end, in part because we have given ratings in the past for various statements that have been repeated.

President Obama


“They haven't specified exactly where the knife would fall, but here's some of what would happen if that cut that they proposed was spread evenly across the budget.”

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A wrong-headed question on ‘Obamacare’

KTIV (Sioux City, Iowa):  “One of those businesses that I mentioned said very specifically when they said they needed to close up shop and move their jobs back to Wisconsin was that it was a direct result of the health care reform that you initiated, that Congress passed. How do you react to that?”

President Obama:  “Yeah, that would be kind of hard to explain, because the only folks that have been impacted in terms of the health care bill are insurance companies who are required to make sure that they’re providing preventive care, or they’re not dropping your coverage when you get sick. And so, this particular company probably wouldn’t have been impacted by that.”

— exchange on June 11, 2012

This is a story of how an uninformed question became fodder for the presidential campaign.

 Shortly after this interview aired, the Weekly Standard posted a blog item with this headline: “Obama Surprised to Learn Obamacare Is Hurting Small Businesses.”

 Then, the next morning, the presumptive GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, appeared on Fox News and declared: “He’s had a number of very revealing comments that show just how far out of touch he is with what’s happening in the country. Yesterday he said, among other things, that he didn’t realize that Obamacare is having any impact on small business.”

 Romney suggested Obama read a new survey of small businesses from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which purported to show that small businesses were less likely to hire workers because of the health care law. (More on that survey below.)

 Now, watching the video clip, it’s hard to see why someone would think Obama appears surprised. Despite Romney’s claim, he certainly doesn’t say he did not realize this problem. But he does seem a bit puzzled by the question, as should anyone: Why would a company consolidate offices in another state because of a national health care law?

 We decided to investigate.


The Facts

The company in question is Nemschoff Inc., which makes chairs and other furnishings for the health care industry, including hospitals. This should have raised a red flag because it is no small business. It is a subsidiary of Herman Miller Inc. (which makes super-nice office furniture), an international company with $1.6 billion in annual revenue. When Herman Miller acquired Nemschoff in 2009, it reported that Nemschoff had annual revenue of more than $90 million.

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Mitt Romney’s nonsensical claim about ‘Obamacare’

(Nati Harnik — Associated Press)

“Today, government at all levels consumes 37 percent of the total economy or GDP. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will reach half of the American economy.”

— Mitt Romney, economic speech, June 7, 2012

This is a startling assertion by the presumptive GOP candidate, which he has made in several forms in recent weeks.

David Corn of Mother Jones first spotted it when Romney made a victory speech in New Hampshire, arguing, “With Obamacare fully installed, government will come to control half the economy, and we will have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society.” Corn quoted a number of economic experts finding fault with Romney’s reasoning, such as former Ronald Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett saying “this analysis is so stupid it is hard to know where to begin.” then weighed in when Romney had tweaked the language somewhat, but also found it wanting, saying it was “a pure partisan fantasy” and “patently false and misleading.”

With such harsh reviews, one would think that Romney might drop the assertion from his speeches. But now a new iteration has appeared, so we will examine it.

The Facts

The Romney campaign says this line is based on three separate claims. First, that in 2011, government expenditures amounted to 37.34 percent of the gross domestic product. Second, that with the president’s health plan in place in 2020, government expenditures are projected to climb to 39.18 percent. Finally, private health-care expenditures are projected to be 10.03 percent of GDP in 2020, so adding that altogether gets you to 49.21 percent.

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Not fine: When the rhetoric is on the other foot

“The private sector is doing fine.”

— President Obama, June 8, 2012

Every politician has his or her talking points — the lines they repeat, over and over, to make their case. These lines are carefully crafted to present their case in the best possible light, or their opponent in the worst possible light.

The problem is when they start believing the spin themselves. That’s what happened to President Obama on Friday, when he said at a news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” Republicans immediately pounced, and the president quickly clarified that things were not all that fine.

But look at what the president said just before that sentence: “The truth of the matter is that, as I said we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last two — 27 months; over 800,000 just this year alone.”

That is one of Obama’s favorite talking points — a figure plucked from Bureau of Labor Statistics data, starting with the lowest point in private sector jobs during his presidency. If you said that same “fact” day after day, you also might think the private sector is doing fine. (Obama’s larger point was relative — private sector hiring is doing better compared to state and local jobs, which keep falling.)

The line is also featured in a new TV ad the Obama campaign began airing last week, which we feature above. As a point of comparison, we also have posted a Romney ad that also uses BLS data to make claims about his record as governor.

We thought it would be an interesting — and amusing — experiment to use one campaign’s rhetoric, but inserting the other guy’s numbers. For instance, we will insert Romney’s job stats from his term of governor into Obama rhetoric, and Obama job stats in Romney rhetoric.

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Romney’s conflicting remarks on Solyndra-like investments

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

(Relevant comments begin at about the 19:50 mark)

“Well, that [Konarka investment] was a loan that was approved by the prior administration. The governor made it clear that his philosophy was that government should not be in the business of venture investing.”

— Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on ABC’s “This Week,” talking about a Massachusetts investment in the failed solar-panel company Konarka Technologies, June 3, 2012

Mitt Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom squared off Sunday with President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, on ABC’s “This Week,” with the two operatives defending their candidates’ records on clean-energy investments.

Earlier in the week, Romney held a news conference at Solyndra, describing the collapse of that federally backed solar-panel maker as proof that the Obama administration was misguided in trying to create jobs with targeted government investments — something the president’s critics have described as crony capitalism. But Massachusetts made similar investments when the presumptive GOP presidential nominee was governor of that state, and a small number of those companies have gone bust.

Does Romney have his own Solyndra situation? Let’s review the Bay State’s clean-energy programs to determine how much responsibility the former governor deserves for an investment in the now-defunct solar-panel start-up Konarka Technologies. We’ll also take a look at how much he supported government financing for green-technology development in general.

The Facts

Romney held a news conference at the Konarka headquarters less than three weeks after becoming governor of Massachusetts, announcing that the state would shift $24 million from its long-established Renewable Energy Trust to a new Green Energy Fund. The plan allowed the state to partner with private investors to provide loans, venture capital and management assistance to start-ups, with an independent group making the investment decisions.

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Mitt Romney’s inaccurate claims about government workers

(Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

“That stimulus he [President Obama] put in place — it didn’t help private sector jobs, it helped preserve government jobs. And the one place we should have shut back — or cut back — was on government jobs. We have 145,000 more government workers under this president. Let’s send them home and put you back to work.”

— Mitt Romney, in Craig, Colo., May 29, 2012

There’s a lot going on in this quote by the presumptive Republican nominee, which a reader asked us to fact-check. Romney disparages President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus bill for allegedly not helping to create private sector jobs. He also dings government workers, suggesting that the president’s policies have led to a bloat of government workers — and that this is a bad thing for other workers.

Let’s take a deeper look at his claims.

The Facts

We have to admit that the statement is bit confusing, because it appears to mix different thoughts. The stimulus bill included payments to states to help save “government” jobs, such as those of teachers, firefighters and the like. But then Romney refers to “145,000 more government workers,” which is correct only if he is referring to federal workers, not state workers.

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Obama versus Romney on job creation

The Obama campaign this week launched an attack on Mitt Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor, calling particular attention to his records on jobs. We will fact check this latest Web video in detail in the coming days, but we came up with an interesting way to compare the job creation records of both men.

 First a caveat: Attributing “job creation” to a politician, particularly a regional one, is a dicey proposition. The economy plays a huge role in the success or failure of various job initiatives. It takes time for policies to take effect, so a politician may reap the benefits of projects undertaken by his predecessor — or see his successor reap the rewards from his or her ideas.

A stronger case can be made that a president has more control over the economy than a governor, but we still think it is silly to date his job record from the moment he takes the oath of office. Nevertheless, that is the common political metric.

 Take a look at the chart above, which uses seasonally adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data to show the change in the level of employment during the first 40 months of each man’s tenure as governor or president.

The similarities are actually more striking than the differences. Both men took office as the economy was plunging, but the hole (in percentage terms) turned out to be much deeper for Obama. The jobs picture started to turn around for both men at about the same time, but because Romney’s job deficit was comparatively smaller, he moved into positive territory sooner — though it still took him 36 months.

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The latest Romney claim about Bain Capital

“With regards to Bain Capital, they just put a report out about their record, the Bain Capital guys did. They noted they made about 350 investments since the beginning of their firm, and of those investments 80 percent of them grew their revenues.”

— Mitt Romney on Fox News, May 24, 2012

“The fact is that Bain Capital, there were a number of investments that didn’t perform well. In the case of Bain, it was less than 5 percent of the investments that ended up in bankruptcy. The fact is 80 percent of the companies he invested in grew. And that means that jobs were created. If you look, for example, at Sports Authority, 15,000; if you look at Brighter Horizons, 19,000; if you look at Staples, nearly 90,000 jobs created.”

— Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” May 27, 2012

Now that the “100,000 jobs created” talking point has been discredited, we sense a new talking point developing in the Romney campaign — that 80 percent of Bain Capital investments “grew their revenues.”

We’ve been highly skeptical of most of the attacks on Bain by the former Massachusetts governor’s GOP rivals and the Obama campaign, arguing on numerous occasions that the overall record of the investment firm is pretty good. But the point of private equity is to reward investors, not necessarily create jobs, which is where Romney’s defenders create problems for themselves.

So now Romney is citing Bain’s claim that 80 percent of their investments grew their revenues. Ed Gillespie, one of his aides, even suggested that revenues “means that jobs were created.” Is that the case?

The Facts

This new statistic appears to have emerged in a lengthy defense that Bain Capital — which Romney headed until 1999 — sent to its investors in March. (We should note that the letter approvingly quotes The Fact Checker for one of our analyses of an anti-Bain ad by Newt Gingrich.) The Bain letter said:

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Romney’s unsubstantiated quote from union leader

(Mary Altaffer/AP)

“The teachers unions are the clearest example of a group that has lost its way. Whenever anyone dares to offer a new idea, the unions protest the loudest. Their attitude was memorably expressed by a longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers: He said, quote, ‘When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.’ ”

— Mitt Romney in an education speech at the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, D.C, May 23, 2012

Mitt Romney veered from his standard talking points about the sluggish economy Wednesday to talk about education reform, a subject he said would be the top issue of the 2012 election if it weren’t for the housing crisis and the state of the economy. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee claimed that President Obama has bowed to powerful teachers unions, which he blamed for maintaining the status quo with failing schools.

The quote Romney cited could represent a serious indictment of teachers unions and their priorities, but only if the Republican candidate is correct in saying that it came from a longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers. We searched for evidence that a former head of that educators’ group, the second-largest of its kind in the United States, had really made such a statement.

For what it’s worth, the quote has appeared on a Madison, Wis.-area billboard sponsored by the self-proclaimed nonpartisan group Reforming Education And Demanding Exceptional Results in Wisconsin (READER-WI), according to a blogger for the left-leaning site Daily Kos.

The Facts

A search on Wikipedia reveals that the quote in question appears in an entry for the late Albert Shanker, a teachers union icon who served as president of the American Federation of Teachers for more than 20 years. The statement is listed under the heading “Disputed quote,” which should have been an immediate red flag for the Romney campaign.

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An out-of-context view of Romney’s time at Bain Capital

“To me, Mitt Romney takes from poor, the middle class, and gives to the rich. It is the opposite of Robin Hood.”

— worker in latest Obama campaign ad

Mitt Romney’s role at Bain Capital continues to be a major issue in this presidential election, as the Obama campaign rolls out video after video about the travails of individual workers who suffered at companies owned by Bain.

 The latest video, about a company called Ampad, must bring back bad memories for Romney because in 1994 he seemed on the verge of defeating the late Ted Kennedy in a bitter Senate race when striking Ampad workers showed up in Massachusetts and started showing up in Kennedy attack ads. The Ampad story turned the tide against Romney and Kennedy won.

The Obama ads are very slick, and we find them frustrating to fact check. Unlike some of the ads produced by Romney’s GOP rivals — such as the notorious “King of Bain” video produced by supporters of Newt Gingrich — the facts mentioned in the ads are generally correct. But then those facts are intercut with highly personal attacks on Romney by the workers themselves, such as the statement featured above.

 We can’t fact check those statements, since they are personal sentiments. (Some of the lines are almost too perfect, which makes us wonder.) So that leaves us in the uncomfortable position of validating the facts in a highly negative attack.

 So we are going to try a different tack: a guide for readers on how to evaluate claims about Romney and Bain Capital. We will use this particular deal as an example.

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Is Obama responsible for a $5 trillion increase in the debt?

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

“When you add up his policies, this president has increased the national debt by five trillion dollars.”

— Mitt Romney, in Des Moines, May 15, 2012

Who’s to blame for the national debt? In a speech in Iowa, the former Massachusetts governor on Tuesday pointed the finger at President Obama’s policies, naming in particular the 2009 stimulus (worth about $800 billion) and the health-care law, which has mostly not yet kicked in (and according to the Congressional Budget Office will not add to the deficit in its first 10 years).

The national debt is simply a matter of numbers, but the blame game is much more complicated. Let’s take a look.

The Facts

The Treasury Department’s “Debt to the Penny” Web site makes it easy to track the growth of the national debt during Obama’s presidency. There are two key figures — for publicly held debt and for gross debt, which includes bonds that the government owes to itself (such as Social Security trust fund bonds.)

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Obama ad attacking Mitt Romney mimics Ted Kennedy ads

The production values are better, but not the message.

The Obama campaign’s new ad attacking Mitt Romney and his tenure at Bain Capital is a near carbon copy of a successful series of ads that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) used to fend off a strong challenge from Romney in 1994. Politico collected the old Kennedy ads last year.

Take a look and compare.

Obama ad (2012)

“If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there. He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.”

--worker at company acquired by Bain Capital

“It was like a vampire. He came in and sucked the life out of us.”

--another worker

“Bain Capital sought elimination of the pension plan and termination of employee and retiree life insurance and health insurance.”

--union representative

Ted Kennedy ads (1994)

(go to 1:00 mark)

“I would like to say to Mitt Romney, if you think you’d make such a good senator, come out here to Marion, Indiana and see what your company has done to these people.”

--worker at a company acquired by Bain Capital

“They cut the wages...we no longer had insurance... basically cut our throats.”

--more quotes from workers

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Romney and Bain Capital: the Obama campaign’s newest ad

“It makes me angry. Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they would ever spend, yet they did not have money to take care of the very people who made the money for them.”

— Former steel worker Joe Soptic, in a new Obama campaign ad on Mitt Romney’s business record

It’s no surprise that the Obama campaign chose the story of GS Industries for its first television ad attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital.

Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that were thrown at Romney during the GOP primaries, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.

Romney was no longer actively managing Bain when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. (More on that below.)

Using just the voices of angry former workers at the company, the ad is less about Romney’s business record and more about his values.

 Romney is described by the workers as “a vampire” who destroyed people’s lives while seeking to make as much money as possible. “If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there,” one worker says. “He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.” Ouch.

 GS Industries has also been a tempting target for Romney’s GOP rivals. In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry mentioned it as an example of Romney being a “vulture” capitalist. The opposition research done by Sen. John McCain’s campaign in 2008 also highlighted GSI.

As usual in campaign ads, some important context is missing. Let’s fill in some of the blanks.  There is also a longer, six-minute version for a Web site called, but we will focus on the two-minute version airing in battleground states.


The Facts

 First of all, the investment was one of many done by Bain under Romney’s leadership, which the Wall Street Journal documented was a record mainly of success, not failure. The Romney campaign immediately countered the Obama ad with a Web ad focused on Bain’s successful investment in Steel Dynamics, featuring interviews with happy steel workers.

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The RNC and Obama, taking quotes out of context

“President Obama might forget the recession but America hasn’t.”

--text from a new RNC web video, May 11, 2012

“When a woman in Iowa shared the story of her financial struggles, he gave an answer right out of an economics textbook. He said, ‘Our productivity equals our income,’ as if the only reason people can’t pay their bills is because they’re not productive enough. Well, that’s not what’s going on. Most of us who have spent some time talking to people understand that the problem isn’t that the American people aren’t working hard enough, aren’t productive enough -– you’ve been working harder than ever. The challenge we face right now -– the challenge we’ve faced for over a decade -– is that harder work isn’t leading to higher incomes. Bigger profits haven’t led to better jobs”

--President Obama, Remarks in Seattle, May 10, 2012

When a political campaign quotes an opponent, watch out. Some important context may be missing.

The Republican National Committee, in a new web video, blasts President Obama for forgetting about the recession, based on remarks that Obama made in Seattle.

Meanwhile, Obama, in that same Seattle speech, quotes presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as some sort of unfeeling business executive, based on remarks Romney made last year while campaigning in Iowa.

Let’s look at what Obama and Romney really said.

The Facts

The RNC video actually runs a relatively long snippet from Obama’s speech, which to our mind undercuts the idea that Obama says he forgot about the recession. Here’s the full quote, with the part the RNC used in bold:

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Mitt Romney’s claim of credit for the auto industry turnaround

(Jae C. Hong/AP)

“My own view, by the way, was that the auto companies needed to go through bankruptcy before government help. And frankly, that’s finally what the president did. He finally took them through bankruptcy. That was the right course I argued for from the very beginning. It was the UAW [United Auto Workers] and the president that delayed the idea of bankruptcy. I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet. So I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry’s come back.”

— Mitt Romney, May 7, 2012, in an interview with Cleveland’s WEWS-TV

What should we do when a politician keeps repeating a Pinocchio-laden claim — or even makes its worse?

 We have examined previously the former Massachusetts governor’s claim that he set the course for the managed bankruptcy of the auto industry—and also have examined critically some of President Obama’s claims on the bailout. But clearly it’s time for a refresher course.

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The Fact Checker challenge

I’ve issued a challenge to President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney--give at least one 15-minute campaign speech without embellishing the truth.

Will they succeed?

Read my full article in The Washington Post’s Outlook section. The video above offers some tips for how they can meet this challenge.

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The latest Super PAC attack against Mitt Romney

“Mitt Romney. He made millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.

“His own tax return from last year reveals he made $21 million, yet paid a lower tax rate than many middle-class families.

“Now Romney’s proposing a huge new $150,000 tax cut for the wealthiest 1 percent, while cutting Medicare and education for us.

“Mitt Romney. If he wins, we lose.”

— Voiceover of a new television ad by Priorities USA Action

This television ad, by the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action, poses a unique challenge for this column because each of the statements uttered within its 30 seconds has a ring of truth. Of course, it paints each of these facts in the most negative light possible, without any balance, but that’s their prerogative.

The ad also repeatedly shows an image of a youthful Romney with dollars stuffed in his pockets — a 27-year-old photo that was shot as part of a promotional effort for a relatively new company, Bain Capital, that Romney headed at the time. The ad at one point even photoshops an image of an older Romney, a rather cheesy maneuver that recently was mocked by our friends over at

Here’s some context for the claims made in the ad.

“He made millions off of companies that went bankrupt while workers lost promised health and retirement benefits.”

That’s the dark side of Romney’s business career at Bain Capital, which he would argue on balance helped create jobs for workers. (We had earlier taken Romney to task for claiming he created 100,000 jobs without mentioning the ones that had been lost.)

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Mitt Romney’s correct stat on the ‘Buffett Rule’

(Jessica Kourkounis/GETTY IMAGES)

“Someone calculated that the taxes he [Obama] would raise in his Buffett Rule would pay for 11 hours of government.”

— Mitt Romney, April 16, 2012

President Obama’s proposal to add a tax surcharge to adjusted gross incomes over $1 million, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, has generated scorn in Republican ranks, such as the comment above by the presumptive GOP nominee and former Massachusetts governor. (Romney was borrowing an observation first made by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.)

It would seem to be a simple math exercise to check this fact. But this is Washington…..let’s have some fun with “baselines.”


The Facts

 The Republican calculation is based on the fact that in 2013, the Buffett Rule would raise $5.1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. (Alternatively, you can use the 10-year revenue figure of $47 billion and come up with an annual average of nearly $5 billion a year.)

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Mitt Romney’s hyped-up business start-up statistic


“The President unfortunately has taken every single path that has led towards a restriction in job growth, has made it harder for new businesses to start up. As a matter of fact, the number of new business start-ups per year has dropped by 100,000 per year. This is just unacceptable and it’s one of the reasons why it has been so hard for this economy to recover.”

--Mitt Romney, on “Fox & Friends,” April 19, 2012

The uncertain economic environment continues to form the core of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign, as witnessed by his comments made last week. A reader asked whether these statistics on new business start-ups were correct, so we decided to investigate.

The Facts

The Romney campaign directed us to congressional testimony earlier this year by Brookings scholar Martin Neil Baily, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. In the testimony, titled the “The State of American Small Business,” Baily noted that “the number of start-up establishments has fallen off to a greater extent in this recession than in the 2001 recession.”

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Romney and Iran’s ‘route to the sea’

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (AFP/Getty Images)

“Maybe one of the few bright spots in the Middle East developments in the last year has been the rising of the people in Syria against [President Bashar al-] Assad. Obviously, as you know, Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally in the region. Syria is the route that allows Iran to supply Hezbollah with weapons in Lebanon. Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.”

— Mitt Romney, question and answer session at AIPAC conference, March 6, 2012

We’ve puzzled over this comment for a while. When the presumptive GOP nominee referred to Syria as Iran’s “route to the sea” during the Arizona GOP debate in February, we figured it was just a slip of the tongue.

 But then a reader counted at least five times in which Romney has used this phrase, including in the Feb. 22 debate, at last month’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, in a TV interview (MSNBC, Dec. 21), on the radio (Kilmeade & Friends, Feb. 14) and even in a Washington Post interview (Feb. 10).

Considering that Syria shares no border with Iran — Iraq and Turkey are in the way — and that Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, leading to the Arabian Sea, the reader wanted to know: What’s Romney talking about?


The Facts

 This is the explanation provided by the Romney campaign:  “It is generally recognized that Syria offers Iran strategic basing/staging access to the Mediterranean as well as to terrorist proxies in the Levant.  This is a large reason why Iran invests so much in Syria.”

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Women job losses: A deeper look at the data

(Tim Boyle/Bloomberg)
“And if you look at the damage early on, you know, most of the early job losses were in construction and manufacturing, and disproportionately affected men. But as the crisis intensified, as it did over the course of 2008 — again, before the president came into office — the damage spread and you saw state and local governments, for example, cut back into teachers, fired a lot of teachers, let a lot of teachers go. And a lot of women teach, so you saw the composition of those job losses change over the course of the recovery.”

— Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” April 15, 2012

 We criticized Republicans last week for promoting the “true but false” assertion that under Obama, women have lost seven times as many jobs as men. This did not stop the Mitt Romney campaign from trying to promote this idea, which Treasury Secretary Geithner on Sunday labeled “ridiculous and deeply misleading.”

 We did not think much of the GOP claim because, even though the numbers added up,  it is silly to think any economy begins or ends with a presidency. Over the course of the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), the number of jobs declined by just over 5 million, with women accounting for nearly 1.8 million of that figure.

 Still, since the recession ended, 2.2 million jobs have been added under Obama, with women accounting for just 284,000 of that figure. So something’s going on. Geithner’s theory — that women started to lose jobs later in the recession — is an interesting one, so we decided to dig deep in the Bureau of Labor Statistics database for some answers.


The Facts

 Teaching (listed in the BLS database as “local government-education”) represents about 9 percent of the jobs held by women in the United States. The data show that, since Obama became president, a larger proportion of the overall job loss by women — 22.7 percent — has been in teaching positions.

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Romney’s claim about ‘multiplying’ regulators under Obama

(Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

“Today, our freedom is never safe – because unelected, unaccountable regulators are always on the prowl. And under President Obama, they are multiplying. The number of federal employees has grown by almost 150,000 under this president.”

— Mitt Romney, in a speech to the National Rifle Association, April 13, 2012

This number jumped out at us as we read the presumptive Republican nominee’s speech to the NRA. It seems to fit into the Republican narrative of out-of-control growth in government under Obama.

But context is important. Romney’s phrasing suggests that many of these new employees are “unelected, unaccountable regulators.” Is this the case?

The Facts

The Labor Department and the Office of Personnel Management maintain records on the number of federal employees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the federal workforce (minus the Postal Service) was 2.062 million in January 2009, when Obama became president. As of March 2012, the number of federal employees stood at 2.208 million.

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Romney’s claim that Obama has raised taxes on ‘millions of Americans’

(Steven Senne/AP)

“President Obama is the first president in history to openly campaign for reelection on a platform of higher taxes. He has already raised taxes on millions of Americans, but he won’t stop there. He wants to raise taxes on millions more by taxing small businesses and job creators.”

— Gail Gitcho, communications director for Romney’s campaign, in a statement, April 10, 2012

We are dubious about the first part of this claim — Harry Truman, after all, vetoed a big tax cut in the midst of his reelection campaign in 1948 — and we have already demonstrated how claims about the tax burden on “small businesses” are overstated. But a reader drew our attention to the central point of this statement — that Obama “has already raised taxes on millions of Americans.”

 There is no question that Obama has proposed higher taxes on the wealthy, including ending the Bush tax cuts for people making above a certain income and imposing the so-called “Buffett Rule” on millionaires. But are “millions of Americans” already suffering under a tax yoke imposed by Obama?


The Facts

When we asked the Romney campaign for evidence to back up the claim, we received a list of “19 tax increases,” many of which were contained in Obama’s health-care law. But virtually all of these taxes have not yet taken effect (more on that later) — and the key ones target people making more than $200,000 (singles) or $250,000 (married filers).

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Obama vs. Romney, part 2

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

“I’ve also put forward a detailed plan that would reform and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid.”

— President Obama, remarks to newspaper editors, April 3, 2012 

 “I’d be willing to consider the President’s plan, but he doesn’t have one.  That’s right:  In over three years, he has failed to enact or even propose a serious plan to solve our entitlement crisis.”

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, remarks to newspaper editors, April 4, 2012

Welcome to the 2012 election campaign, now that it’s clear who the contestants will be. But with speeches like these, will it be possible to have a serious debate?

 We recognize that politicians seek to define differences — and Obama and Romney spent most of their time attacking the other side — but we found the disconnect between the two speeches somewhat jarring. Let’s try to explain what these two men are saying.


The Facts

 Entitlements are such programs as Social Security and Medicare, and their costs will soar as the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement. On the surface, Romney’s attack appeared contradictory, because a few moments after attacking the president for not having a plan for solving the entitlement crisis, he faulted Obama’s proposals for reining in spending on Medicare as part of his health care law.

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Romney’s attack on Obama

(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney’s appearance this week before the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, a day after President Obama addressed the same group, lacked the bevy of new “facts” that Obama rolled out as he lashed out at the House Republican budget plan. Instead, the increasingly likely GOP presidential nominee repeated versions of a number of claims that we have previously called into question. In the interest of fair play, as with Obama, we won’t award an overall Pinocchio rating for his speech.

“The administration pledged that it would keep unemployment below 8 percent. It has been above 8 percent every month since.”

Romney has subtly changed the wording here, dropping a reference to President Obama making this statement and instead attributing it to “the administration.”

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Rick Santorum’s ‘kitchen sink’ slam at Romney

“What if I told you that this man’s big government-mandating health-care included $50 abortions and killed thousands of jobs. Would you ever vote for him? What if I told you he supported radical environmental job-killing cap-and-trade and the Wall Street bailout? And what if I told you he dramatically raised taxes and stuck taxpayers with a $1 billion shortfall? One more thing. What if I told you the man I’m talking about wasn’t him [Obama]? It’s him [Romney]”

— narrator of a new Rick Santorum TV ad, as a photo of Barack Obama morphs into one of Mitt Romney

Desperate for a win in Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary, former senator Rick Santorum has begun running a tough ad there that takes only 30 seconds to throw just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at his chief rival, the former Massachusetts governor.

 So do these claims add up? Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.


The Facts

 The individual mandate included in Romney’s health-care bill was originally a conservative idea, pushed by such groups as the Heritage Foundation. (That is a simplified version of a long and torturous path, which was best explained in articles by Forbes and The Washington Post.)

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Romney and ‘outsourcing’: Biden’s out-of-context fact

(Kevin E. Schmidt/AP)

“Despite the fact that millions of taxpayer dollars were flowing to companies outsourcing state services like overseas call centers, he vetoed a bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature that would have stopped the state from outsourcing contracts overseas, state contracts…No, I really mean it. I mean, that’s one, when I was told about it, I said, ‘I’m not going to say that until you fact check that for me again.’ I mean, think about it. It’s one thing for the local company to outsource a call service, but for the state government to outsource a call service that’s set up to answer questions for people in the state about a problem they have with the government, to outsource that, denying folks in Massachusetts the jobs that are attended to that.”

— Vice President Biden, remarks in Davenport, Iowa, March 28, 2011

Since the vice president brought it up, let’s delve into some ancient Massachusetts history again.

We were dubious about this charge when the pro-Obama Super PAC claimed, in a slashing web ad, that American jobs were “relocated” when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts. But it’s another matter when the vice president levels the charge – and says it’s been fact checked.

We always caution readers to be wary of claims made about particular votes — or in this case, a veto. What is the context for that person’s action?

The Facts

Several months before the bill had landed on Romney’s desk in 2004, the governor proposed a $29-million plan to curb outsourcing of jobs out of the state, according to a March 23 article on the front page of The Boston Globe. But the plan landed with a thud and did not get very far in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

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Mitt Romney and Russia: ‘Geopolitical foe’ at the U.N.?

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks in Seoul about Romney’s comments (YEKATERINA SHTUKINA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“I’m saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world’s worst actors, of course the greatest threat that the world faces is a nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough, but when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them, when [Syrian President] Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go to the United Nations and who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It is always Russia, typically with China alongside, and so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that’s on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council, and is of course a massive security power — Russia is the geopolitical foe.”

— Mitt Romney, March 26, 2012

The former Massachusetts governor made these remarks during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in response to Obama’s open-mike flub with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. (Obama was overheard asking for “space” concerning a dispute over missile defense, saying he would have more “flexibility” for a deal if he wins re-election.)

We will leave to pundits to decide whether Romney’s reference to Russia as a “geopolitical foe” is a Cold War throwback. (Medvedev thinks so, saying the comments “smelled of Hollywood.”) But we were curious if Romney is correct to claim that Russia is “always” defending “bad actors” at the United Nations.

The Facts

Russia is one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with China, France, Britain and the United States. Ten other countries rotate, with two-year terms, but only the permanent members have the power to block a Security Council resolution with a single “no” vote.

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Romney and the individual mandate, again

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

When he got up and was questioned by Fred Thompson in the 2008 election, Governor Romney said, ‘Mandates, I love mandates, mandates work, this is what we need to do, we need to force people to buy insurance.’ And he defended his record in Massachusetts and, in fact, argued for exactly what President Obama put in place — was a government-mandated health care program at the federal level.” — Rick Santorum on ABC’s “This Week,” March 18, 2012

There’s been a considerable amount of discussion lately about whether Mitt Romney’s old campaign comments and op-eds provide proof that he actually supports a federal mandate, contrary to what he claims and what Fact Checker Glenn Kessler determined about the matter in a previous column. Still, critics such as Rick Santorum continue to pound home the notion that the former governor advocated a national insurance requirement.

Romney has stood firmly behind his Bay State mandate but swears that he doesn’t support such a policy at the federal level. He has said states should decide for themselves how to improve their health-care systems. Our previous column noted that he has shown consistency on this issue, despite a tendency to explain his stance in convoluted terms.

Let’s once again review key remarks that Romney opponents have highlighted to determine what the GOP delegate leader really said, as opposed to what people assume he meant.

The Facts

First, opposing the federal health-care law is perfectly compatible with expressing a love for insurance mandates and thinking they can work for states that want to adopt them, as Romney has done. It’s like saying “Cardinals are pretty, and I think every state should adopt that species as its state bird, but I would never force them to do that — I don’t have the right.”

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Pinocchios: Obama gets a downgrade; Romney an upgrade

“America uses 20 percent of the world’s oil, and we’ve got 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. I wasn’t a math major, but if you’re using 20, you’ve only got 2, that means you got to bring in the rest from someplace else.”

— President Obama, remarks on energy, Boulder City, Nev., March 21, 2012

“The fact of the matter is we use 20 percent of the world’s oil. But even if we drilled every square inch of this country, we’d still only have 2 or 3 or 4 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

--Obama, remarks on energy, Maljamar, New Mexico, March 21


“We can’t just rely on drilling. Not when we use more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but still only have 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves.”

— Obama, weekly radio address, March 17

“There’s a problem with a strategy that only relies on drilling and that is, America uses more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country — so we went to your house and we went to the National Mall and we put up those rigs everywhere — we’d still have only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Let’s say we miss something — maybe it’s 3 percent instead of 2. We’re using 20; we have 2.

“Now, you don’t need to be getting an excellent education at Prince George’s Community College to know that we’ve got a math problem here. I help out Sasha occasionally with her math homework and I know that if you’ve got 2 and you’ve got 20, there’s a gap. There’s a gap, right?”

— Obama, remarks on energy, Prince George’s County, March 15

In response to reader comments and new information, we are revisiting two previous columns and making a rare change in our Pinocchio rating for two unrelated statements made by President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The feedback we get from readers, both positive and negative, is invaluable. We also try to be consistent in our use of the Pinocchio scale, and are always willing to reconsider rulings in the face of new evidence.

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Romney’s ad: Why would Illinois trust Santorum?

(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.

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Mitt Romney’s misfire on light bulb standards

(M. Spencer Green/AP)

"And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that."

— Mitt Romney, March 19, 2012

During an economic speech on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful charged that the Obama administration “banned” Thomas Edison’s light bulb.


 Let’s take a look at this contentious issue.


The Facts

 Thomas Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did make it commercially viable, filing his first patent for improvements in 1878. And, then 129 years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

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More ‘Mediscare’ hooey, GOP version

“This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending. ...Medicare will be bankrupt in nine years.”

— Musician Pat Boone, in a television ad sponsored by the 60 Plus Association

A number of readers asked us to examine the latest claims about Medicare, made this week by both GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney and a conservative advocacy group called the 60 Plus Association.

Actually, there is little new in either the 60 Plus Association’s $3.5 million ad campaign, featuring the venerable Pat Boone, or the “Five Questions for President Obama on Medicare” issued by the Romney campaign. We feel we have dealt with similar claims in the past, but apparently that has not deterred such attacks.

The Romney statement is amusing because it constantly repeats the phrase “ending Medicare as we know it”—which in turn has been a Democratic attack line against a House GOP plan for Medicare. (Democrats used to simply say “end Medicare” or “kill Medicare” until The Fact Checker and other fact checking organizations called them on it.)

Indeed, both parties are absolutely shameless about Medicare. (For instance, the Democratic National Committee attacked Romney on Medicare this week.) Both claim that other party would kill/destroy/ruin/whatever Medicare; neither side has much of a leg to stand on.

Someone must be falling for this stuff, however, or else it would not keep getting repeated.

The Facts

The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.

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Mitt Romney and the individual mandate: A highly misleading DNC ad

“Mitt Romney — against individual mandates except when he’s for them.”

— New DNC Web ad attacking Romney

Many Democratic attacks on Mitt Romney suggest that he is a politician without conviction, and someone who will “say anything” to get elected. A new Democratic National Committee Web ad follows that pattern, highlighting a series of TV clips that aim at a perceived vulnerability of the former Massachusetts governor: his successful effort to create universal health care in his state.

President Obama’s health-care law was largely built around the concept of an individual mandate, as was Romney’s law. Romney, however, has insisted that he never intended to take the concept nationwide, but that each state could decide for itself how best to promote universal coverage.

This ad uses the clips — some of which we had not seen before — to suggest that Romney actually did support a national mandate, even when he now says he is against it. But how accurate is this claim?

The Facts

Readers should be wary of campaign ads that show many little clips, because a line or two can be taken out of context. One of the first things we do when fact-checking an ad like this is to look at the entire TV interview or debate segment, to understand why the comment in question was made.

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Rick Santorum’s latest, strangest ‘Obamacare’ claim

“What we will go to in a very short period of time, the next two years, a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent; it will be 100 percent.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, March 7, 2012

Rick Santorum has made the growth of entitlement spending a key focus of his campaign for the presidency, and he touched upon the subject again when he addressed supporters after the Super Tuesday primaries.

We were struck by both figures he used in the speech — that 50 percent of Americans “depend on some form of federal payment” and that Obama’s health-care law would bring the figure to an eye-popping 100 percent. In other words, in just two years, every single American would begin to get federal handouts, according to Santorum’s calculation.

As usual, the Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation, so we searched for the best data we could find.

The Facts

With the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, entitlement spending has certainly grown. And the Great Recession has also increased the number of people who rely on government benefits, such as unemployment insurance.

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Obama and Iran: Mitt Romney’s critique

“This is a president who has failed to put in place crippling sanctions against Iran. He’s also failed to communicate that military options are on the table and in fact in our hand, and that it’s unacceptable to America for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. … It’s pretty straightforward in my view: If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.”

— Mitt Romney, campaigning in Georgia, March 4, 2012

It is a pretty declarative statement by the former Massachusetts governor:  “If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon and the world will change.”

 We can’t fact-check the future, but we can say this with certainty:  If Romney becomes president, he will discover that this diplomatic stuff is much harder than it looks. And he will absolutely hate it when Congress tries to get involved in foreign policy issues.

 Both of these statements are true for every president.  It was ever thus.

 Let’s take a look at some of Romney’s specific charges about Obama’s handling of the Iran portfolio.


The Facts

 If you go back four years, you will see that it was the Obama campaign that made claims of weakness and fecklessness on Iran.  President George W. Bush had considered the building of a multinational coalition seeking to negotiate with Iran as one of his foreign-policy legacies, but Obama officials were critical, saying it offered “weak carrots and weak sticks.”

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Did Obama say he ranked in the top four presidents?

“Now these days when he's not spending our money or infringing on our rights, he’s busy running for reelection. He believes that — did you hear this? He believes he ranks among the top four presidents in American history. Can you believe that? I’d find a different spot for him.”

— Mitt Romney, Feb. 28, 2012


A reader asked us about this statement in the former Massachusetts governor’s speech after his victories in the Michigan and Arizona primaries. This comment has its roots in something Obama said that caused a brief stir in the conservative blogosphere just before Christmas, so we figured it was worth exploring.

 In Romney’s telling, Obama comes off as an arrogant twit. So, did the president really say this?


The Facts

 In December, Obama sat down for an interview with Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes.” The clip in question was never aired on CBS, but the full interview was later posted on the CBS News Web site. (See below at the 55-minute mark.)

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Antiabortion Super PAC stretches truth in anti-Mitt Romney ad

Mitt Romney says he’s pro-life, but actions speak louder than words. As governor of Massachusetts, he enforced a law which required Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. He personally appointed a notoriously pro-abortion judge. He created a government-run healthcare system, using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.” — Ad from the group Pro-Life Super PAC, released Feb. 24, 2012

We’ve addressed similar ads and comments accusing Mitt Romney of being a disingenuous antiabortion candidate because of his policies while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Now we have a antiabortion super PAC drawing essentially the same conclusion based on nearly identical claims.

For this ad, we’ll review the facts again and take a look at the notion that Romney created a government-run health care system for the Bay State, even though we tackled that issue in a previous column.

The Facts

Earlier this month, we awarded two Pinocchios to Gingrich and Santorum for insisting that Romney forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception — or “abortion pills,” as Gingrich called them — to rape victims.

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Newt Gingrich’s claim of a ‘pre-Obama norm’ gas price

“When I was speaker for four years, the average price was $1.13. When Obama was sworn in, the average price was $1.89. So trying to get to $2.00 to $2.50 is closer to the historic norm. Think of it as a pre-Obama norm.”

— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Feb. 23, 2012

  “We went into a recession in 2008 because of gasoline prices. The bubble burst in housing because people couldn’t pay their mortgages because of $4-a-gallon gasoline.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 27, 2012

We asked readers for examples of gassy rhetoric on gasoline prices, and we certainly got some. This Gingrich example, made during an appearance in Kennewick, Wash., is priceless.

 We will look at that, as well as Santorum’s interesting new theory on why the United States suffered an economic crisis in 2008.


The Facts

 Earlier this week, we noted House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) comment that gasoline prices had doubled during Obama’s term. This is technically correct but misleading because oil prices were artificially low because of the economic crisis.

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Santorum’s misfire on Obama, colleges and religion

“President Obama said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob! There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Feb. 25, 2012

  “You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago, I don't know if it still holds true but I suspect it may even be worse, that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”

— Santorum, on ABC’s “This Week,” Feb. 26, 2012

There are two things going on with these remarks by Santorum — an attack on Obama for demanding college education for everyone and then an assertion that the college experience is akin to some sort of liberal boot camp.

 We always thought college was more about being liberated (from parents), but clearly in some conservative circles there has also been an undercurrent of concern about attitudes on college campuses. (Some colleges, such as Hillsdale College in Michigan, in fact market themselves as conservative alternatives.)

  But let’s check out Santorum’s claims about Obama and also examine whether there is data that backs up Santorum’s fears about college’s impact on people’s politics and religion.


The Facts

Obama’s statement on college education, made in his first speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009, is easy to check. The president, noting the success of the GI Bill after World War II, said the United States should seek to once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world: 

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Rick Santorum’s defense of debt ceiling votes

(Jae C. Hong, AP)

“The debt-to-GDP ratio — which is now over 100 percent — when I came to the Senate, it was 68 percent of GDP. When I left the Senate, it was 64 percent of GDP. So government as a size of the economy went down when I was in the United States Senate.”

“What happened in the earmark process ... was that members of Congress would ask formally, publicly request these things, put them on paper, and have them allocated, and have them voted on in committee, have them voted on on the floor of the Senate.”

“The Weekly Standard just did a review ... and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the 12 years that I was there. My ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs; they were very high from the Citizens Against Government Waste. I got a hero award.”

“I was out there as a Republican senator, a conservative voting record, over a 90 percent conservative voting record from the American Conservative Union. By the way, Ron, you ranked 145th, in the bottom half of Republicans this year, in a conservative voting record from that same organization.”
— GOP candidate Rick Santorum during the CNN debate, Feb. 23, 2012

These were Rick Santorum’s responses after Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul attacked his record on spending, something those two Santorum rivals have done all week.

The former Pennsylvania lawmaker noted that debt as a percentage of gross national product actually dropped during his time in the Senate, suggesting his spending policies were perfectly well in line with conservative principles. He defended his earmarks by saying the process was open to the public, hinting that he had nothing to hide. And he threw out a list of positive ratings from conservative watchdog groups as proof that he promoted fiscal restraint.

We checked the facts to determine whether Santorum defended his credentials with legitimate claims. We provided a fairly comprehensive review of the former senator’s fiscal record in a previous column. For this one, we’ll stick to just his remarks during the debate.

The Facts

Santorum is on to something with his comment about debt-to-GDP ratio: It’s a logical way to put debt in context. That’s because inflation and economic growth cause the debt number to rise almost automatically over time. Thus, the most accurate way to gauge the impact of debt is to measure it as a percentage of economic output.

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Obama and the stimulus: A reader’s research sheds new light

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

Earlier this week, we focused on a statement by Mitt Romney that “three years ago, a newly-elected President Obama told America that if Congress approved his plan to borrow nearly a trillion dollars, he would hold unemployment below 8 percent.”

We had examined this issue before, and were prompted to look at it again by a reader who had publicly challenged Romney to prove that Obama ever said this. We gave Romney Three Pinocchios for his claim, largely because this “eight percent” figure stemmed from a chart in a paper written before Obama took office, not Obama’s own words.

However, several readers wrote that we were being overly narrow in our interpretation and thus were too critical of Romney. And one reader supplied his own research to prove his point.

“I think your column usually is very good and generally even-handed,” wrote Jon Hoffman. “However, I think the effort to debunk the claim about the stimulus and unemployment is perhaps a bit too ‘legalistic.’ It may be true that the original projection was in a paper by two people who were not yet Obama administration officials, and if that were all there was to it, your case (and that of Chuck Smith) would be air tight.”

 But then he supplied some YouTube clips that show that Obama “certainly alluded to such an effect.” We find his research interesting and we would like to share it with our readers. As always, we welcome thoughtful reader contributions and seek to highlight them whenever possible.

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Ron Paul’s misleading ad: Rick Santorum is ‘fake’ fiscal conservative

Santorum voted to send billions of our tax dollars to dictators in North Korea and Egypt, and he even hooked Planned Parenthood up with a few million bucks. Rick Santorum, a fiscal conservative? Faaake.” — New ad from Ron Paul campaign, released Feb. 21

Santorum has arguably claimed the mantle of GOP front-runner by virtue of winning the most primaries and polling at or near the front of the pack in Michigan and Arizona, where the next contests take place. So his rivals are taking aim at his record, mainly by attacking his fiscal policies.

Ron Paul has gone perhaps furthest in this regard with his latest ad, which suggests the former senator supports ruthless dictators and abortion services. The video only mentions spending, but it’s actually a two- or maybe three-for-one for all intents and purposes, since it questions the candidate’s social and foreign policy values.

We looked at Santorum’s record to find out whether Paul’s video misleads voters. (Note: Paul was asked to defend this ad in the CNN Debate on Wednesday night and he gleefully repeated the claim that Santorum is a “fake.”)

The Facts

The Paul campaign provided a list of five bills dedicating money to Egypt and North Korea — in one case, just Egypt. Each measure passed at least one chamber of Congress with a yes vote from Santorum.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Arizona

It’s hard to believe we’ve fact checked all of the GOP debates — and this may be the last one. But once again we heard a blizzard of dubious statements, including many oldies but goodies. Here is an examination of ten claims, in the order in which they were said.

As usual, we do not award Pinocchios for debate roundups but reserve the option to revisit some of these claims in more detail in the coming days.

“Obviously the first thing we need to do is repeal “Obamacare.” That’s one entitlement that we can get rid of. And that’s a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years.”

— Rick Santorum

Santorum is only counting one side of the ledger — and overcounting it at that. Because the health care law raises some taxes and cuts Medicare spending, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that it slightly reduced the deficit in the first 10 years, though much of the law was not fully implemented in the first four years. All bets are off in the next 10 years, however.

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Euthanasia in the Netherlands: Rick Santorum’s bogus statistics

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, at the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri, Feb. 3, 2012

These were interesting remarks by one of the leading candidates for the GOP nomination. Though Santorum made this observation earlier in the month, a video of his comments only circulated on the web over the weekend and a number of readers asked whether he is correct. (His comments also spawned headlines in Holland, such as one that proclaimed: “Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale.”)

So we will check his statistics — 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are from euthanasia and 50 percent of those die involuntarily — and also his claim that the elderly wear bracelets requesting that they not be euthanized.

(Full disclosure: The Fact Checker’s parents emigrated from Holland and I have direct, personal experience with the practice of euthanasia there. My father’s brother requested euthanasia when he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and after various remedies were ineffective. In the United States, he might have lived another two or three months, in great pain, and likely would have lapsed into a coma before death. But, after a conclusion by the Dutch medical establishment that he had no chance of survival, he arranged for his death at home with his family at his side. He even called me an hour before his death to say good-bye.)

We realize this is an emotional issue in the United States. But the simple facts, as Santorum described them, should be clear.

The Facts

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia, setting forth a complex process. The law, which went into effect a year later, codified a practice that has been unofficially tolerated for many years.

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President Obama and crony capitalism: Examining Mitt Romney’s claims

(Gerald Herbert, AP)

“Before [GM and Chrysler] were allowed to enter and exit bankruptcy, the U.S. government swept in with an $85 billion sweetheart deal disguised as a rescue plan.”

— From a Mitt Romney op-ed in The Detroit News, Feb. 14, 2012


“I'd like to talk about something else that President Obama has been doing. He's been practicing crony capitalism. And if you want to get America going again you've got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. He gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra.”

— Romney during debate in Charleston, S.C., Jan. 21, 2012

Mitt Romney has been driving home this “crony capitalism” message while stumping in the states with upcoming primaries, especially Michigan. He claims the president rewarded political allies with favors, specifically by throwing good money after bad with Solyndra and by protecting UAW interests in the auto bailout and restructuring processes.

 President Obama has said he will not walk away from the “promise of clean energy” just because some of the government’s investments flopped, and he touts the resurgence of America’s automakers as proof that his bailout and restructuring plan helped save the auto industry. Let’s take a detailed look to determine whether Romney’s claims have merit.


The Facts

Romney described “crony capitalism” during a Feb. 6 campaign rally as using taxpayer money “to take care of your friends or to have government bureaucrats decide how the economy ought to work.” So we will measure the Obama administration’s actions against those criteria.

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Michele Bachmann at CPAC: History through a partisan lens


“No president since the modern state of Israel [was formed] has failed to stand by our ally Israel — only President Obama. …The president spurned the president of Egypt when he took his first foreign trip to Cairo… In May he even said that Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders… Obama’s State Department now designates Jerusalem as an international city and in a bizarre move our State Department will not even acknowledge that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Feb. 9, 2012

The former GOP presidential aspirant made a slashing attack on President Obama’s foreign policy Thursday in a speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

In particular, she focused on Israel and the Middle East, where as we have written, Obama’s record is a matter of dispute. Unfortunately, some facts got lost along the way.

The Facts

First of all, she repeated some of the four-Pinocchio statements she made during the presidential campaign, such as wrongly claiming Obama had “gone around apologizing to the world” and asserting that Obama demanded that “Israel should retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders.”

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The unemployment number: Is Gingrich right that it’s flawed?

(Evan Vucci, AP)

“When you include the number of people who have quit looking for work because they're convinced the Obama administration's economy is so bad they can't find a job, it jumps up to about 12 percent. When you include the number of people who have part-time jobs who wish they had a full-time job, it's at 16 percent or 17 percent. I mean, this is an administration which has actually shrunk the workforce fairly dramatically. In the last year, it's the lowest male participation rate in the labor force since the 1940s — so right after World War II.”

— Newt Gingrich, discussing a jobs report that showed unemployment decreases, from a “Meet the Press” interview on Feb. 5, 2012

These types of comments are typical of critics of President Obama who have brushed off recent progress in lowering the national unemployment rate. Some say the improvements are too small, but Gingrich goes a step further, suggesting unemployment doesn’t gauge the true health of the job market. He recommended a few alternative measures after host David Gregory asked: “How is it that you can say this administration has not led economic recovery?”

Depending on the question, Gingrich actually has been inconsistent in his use of unemployment figures. He’s used the unemployment metric to argue that he was successful as Speaker of the House during the late 1990s. He said during a Jan. 19 interview with PBS’s “News Hour” that “we cut taxes in the largest capital gains tax cut in history, and the result was we got unemployment down to 4.2 percent.”

If the unemployment number is good enough for Gingrich, it should be good enough for Obama. Regardless, we looked at the speaker’s preferred metrics to determine whether they really paint a gloomier picture of the job market. Do they disprove the Obama supporters who say the economy is making progress?

Lori Williams of Tableau Software kindly developed some graphs for us to help readers visualize the data.

The Facts

The numbers in question come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which defines the unemployment rate as the percentage of people in the workforce — those who are actively seeking work — who haven’t landed jobs. It does not count part-time workers or individuals who dropped out of the labor force.

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Romney and Plan B: The Santorum and Gingrich claims


“This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor Mitt Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. He said then that he believed ‘in his heart of hearts’ that receiving these contraceptives — free of charge — trumped employees’ religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, in an opinion article for Politico, Feb. 7, 2012

“There has been a lot of talk about the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic church. The fact is Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a similar pattern.”

— Newt Gingrich, speaking in Cincinnati, Feb. 7, 2012

With GOP front-runner Mitt Romney attacking President Obama over the administration’s new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees’ health care coverage, his Republican rivals have begun attacking Romney for allegedly doing the very same thing when he was governor of Massachusetts.

We seem forever doomed to delve deep into ancient Bay State political tussles. It is well known that Romney’s views on abortion issues evolved as he edged closer to a presidential run in 2008. But is it correct that he “insisted” (Gingrich’s word) or “required” (Santorum’s word) that Catholic hospitals provide access to emergency contraception?

The Facts

At issue is the emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill, or Plan B, which is essentially a heavy dose of birth control pills that a woman takes after unprotected sex. It is generally effective only for the few days after intercourse but some anti-abortion advocates believe that it could thin the lining of a uterus and thus in theory could destroy a fertilized egg. (UPDATE: The New York Times reported in June, 2012 that a review of studies found no evidence that the pill affected fertilized eggs.)

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Newt Gingrich’s claim that George Soros ‘approved’ Mitt Romney

“We can’t afford two George Soros approved candidates this fall.”

— Voiceover from Newt Gingrich campaign ad, referring to Mitt Romney and President Obama, Feb. 2, 2012

“I think for most Republican voters, the idea of trying to nominate a Soros-approved candidate is not a very appealing idea.”

— Gingrich, during a Fox News interview, Feb. 3, 2012

Newt Gingrich has progressively turned up the heat with his rhetoric against Mitt Romney since falling flat in the first two nominating contests this year. It seemed to work when he pulled off an upset in South Carolina, but the former House speaker finished a distant second in the recent Florida and Nevada primaries. His latest Web ad suggests that “ultra-liberal” billionaire George Soros supports both Romney and President Obama.

The new ad also suggested that the GOP front-runner supports Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — an unpopular figure among Republicans — and that his financial backing from Wall Street executives shows some form of concordance with Obama.

We looked at the entire Soros interview to find out where the billionaire philanthropist really stands on the 2012 candidates. We also examined the issue of Romney’ Wall Street backing and his stance on Geithner to find out whether Gingrich’s ad hit the mark.

The Facts

These types of accusations are typical for Gingrich. Part of his strategy after the New Hampshire primary was to draw ideological distinctions between himself and Romney, as well as to highlight parallels between his opponent and Obama.

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Mitt Romney’s misfire on the national anthem

“We are the only people on the earth that put our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. It was FDR who asked us to do that, in honor of the blood that was being shed by our sons and daughters in far-off places.”

— Mitt Romney, Feb. 2, 2012

This is a strange one.

Kudos to Andrew Kaczynski at Buzzfeed for first spotting this claim, though it turns out that the former Massachusetts governor also said this at least once before, during a stump speech in Iowa in December. (Update: a colleague reports this line has been a regular staple of Romney’s stump speech.)

The first part of this statement is simply wrong. As Kaczynski noted, Romney ran the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics and surely should have noticed the many athletes with their hands on their hearts during the playing of their national anthems.

We randomly searched YouTube for the playing of the national anthem for various countries and quickly found several examples, such as Japan and Brazil, that disprove Romney’s claim of American exceptionalism. (Mara Liasson of NPR sent us the Russia clip.)


But what about the rest of Romney’s claim — did President Franklin D. Roosevelt institute this? The history on this salute is interesting, and actually has more to do with the Pledge of Allegiance than the national anthem.

The Facts

A spokesman for Romney did not respond to a query, but the candidate may be bringing this up to remind voters of a flap that occurred during the 2008 campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama did not put his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem.

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Ron Paul’s claims about life without Medicare and Medicaid

(Jack Dempsey, AP)

“When I started medicine, there was no Medicare or Medicaid, and nobody was out in the streets without it.”

-- Ron Paul, during a CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 26, 2012


“When I got out of medical school in 1961, I practiced for a couple years before there was Medicaid. I worked in a Catholic hospital and didn't make hardly any money. Nobody was turned away, and people were treated. And back in those days, people weren't laying in the street with no medical care. Doctors always charged the least. Now, with the government coming in, with these programs that aren’t — you know, they’re totally bankrupt — everybody charges the most, everybody from the doctors to the labs to the hospitals.”

— Paul, during town hall meeting in Manchester N.H., Dec. 19, 2011


These comments reminded us of the character-probing question that CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer threw at Paul during the Sept. 12 debate in Tampa: Should society allow an uninsured 30-year-old to die from lack of medical care? You may recall that a portion of the audience erupted with a chorus of yeahs.  

The libertarian congressman suggested people should embrace personal responsibility, and he described Blitzer’s hypothetical as implausible, since hospitals don’t turn people away for lack of money or insurance coverage. Paul has said repeatedly that life before Medicare and Medicaid wasn’t so bad.

 We wondered about the state of health care for the elderly and poor just before those social programs took effect in the mid 1960s. Let’s take a tour down memory lane.


 The Facts

 The federal government implemented Medicare and Medicaid as part of the Social Security amendments of 1965, providing coverage for senior citizens and the poor, respectively. Payroll taxes pay for most of the Medicare expenses, while various state and federal taxes cover Medicaid costs. 

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Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney: A guide to latest charges

(Matt Rourke/AP)

“I’m standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in — in my lifetime.... I don’t know how you debate a person with civility if they’re prepared to say things that are just plain factually false.”

— Newt Gingrich, Jan. 29, 2012

The slugfest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich comes to a head Tuesday in Florida, where Gingrich is running behind because of a deluge of negative campaign ads by Romney and his allies and the perception that Romney bested him in the last two debates.

 It’s tough to keep up with the various charges the two men have thrown at each other — Gingrich even brought up an ancient Romney veto concerning kosher food on Monday — so here is a guide to their most recent and most frequent claims.

 (In addition to various columns on attack ads and charges, we previously looked at some of Romney’s claims about Gingrich when the battlefront had first moved to Florida.)

 “His experience as speaker of the House end[ed] so badly, with an ethics scandal and him having to resign in disgrace and with his own members, 88 percent of them Republican members, voting to reprimand him.”

— Romney, Jan. 30, 2012 

Here, the former Massachusetts governor echoes one of his TV ads, which we have already labeled as misleading. Gingrich was reprimanded, but he did not resign until two years later for reasons that had nothing to do with the reprimand he received from the House over an ethics issue. That issue involved whether it was proper for a tax-exempt foundation associated with the speaker to finance a college course that he had put together.

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Rick Santorum’s claims about Massachusetts health reforms

(Matt Rourke, AP)

“There was just a survey that came out and said one in four [Massachusetts residents] don’t get the care they need because of the high cost. So you have a card, you’re covered, but you can’t get care.

“In Massachusetts, everybody is mandated -- as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts -- to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine. What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a preexisting condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama. So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after -- the people that were free-riding -- free ridership has gone up fivefold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before.”

-- Rick Santorum, during the GOP debate in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 26, 2012

Santorum made these comments as part of a long exchange with rival Mitt Romney over the merits of the former Massachusetts governor’s health-care reform plan. He said the “free rider” problem grew worse when the law was supposed to alleviate it.

Romney defended his overhaul by pointing out that 98 percent of Bay State residents are now insured, and that “half of those people got insurance on their own; others got help in buying the insurance.”

Santorum has tried to discredit Romney’s health-care reforms in the past two GOP primary debates, insinuating that the former governor will be a liability challenging President Obama in the general election. We researched recent reports on the Massachusetts reforms to find out whether the former Pennsylvania senator had any basis for his most recent claims.

The Facts

The Santorum campaign did not respond to requests for information that would prove high costs have barred one in four Massachusetts residents from receiving care, although a spokesman did explain where the free-rider claim originated -- we’ll address that next.

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Mitt Romney: Medicare fraud allegations and ‘Blood Money’

“At the center of one such Medicare scheme: Mitt Romney. It is a story of fraud. It is a story of big profits, big lies and at the time the biggest criminal fine for health fraud ever levied in Massachusetts history.”

— Voice-over from “Blood Money: Romney’s Medicare Scandal,” a video produced by pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future.

Winning Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has released another attack on rival Mitt Romney’s business practices. A one-minute “trailer” and a 30-second TV ad (see below) that amplify the themes of corporate malfeasance accompany the nearly eight-minute video, “Blood Money.” (The title refers to the fact that a company once partly owned by Bain Capital, Romney’s firm, was found guilty of charging Medicare for unnecessary blood tests.)

We were highly critical of Winning Our Future’s “King of Bain” film, awarding it Four Pinocchios, in part because it focused on business failures in which Romney was only tangentially involved. And anyone living in Massachusetts would find this Medicare fraud case to be old news because the case first emerged in 1992 as an issue in Romney’s successful race for governor.

Still, this time Winning Our Future gets closer to the mark. The case concerning Damon Clinical Laboratories is relevant because 1) Romney was a director of the firm while the fraud took place; 2) the fraud appears to have ended only after Bain sold its stake in the firm; 3) Romney personally earned nearly $500,000 from the sale of Damon; and 4) Romney’s statements about what he knew and when he knew it have been inconsistent.

We’re going to hear a lot more about Damon if Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is already running an ad in Florida that highlights the case. (The spot is at the end of the column.)

Let’s take a closer look:

The Facts

In 1996, the Justice Department announced that Damon had agreed to pay a $35.3 million criminal fine — one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history — and an additional $83.7 million to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. The company, then owned by Corning, admitted that from 1988 to 1993 it had bolstered its earnings by submitting false claims to Medicare and other federal programs. Essentially, the firm billed for blood tests that doctors had not ordered.

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Ron Paul's claims that U.S. is blockading Iran in act of war

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We're blockading [Iran]. Can you imagine what we would do if somebody blockaded the Gulf of Mexico? That would be an act of war. So the act of war has already been committed and this is a retaliation. But besides, there's no interest whatsoever for Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz. I mean, they need it as much as we do. I mean, so you have to put that in a perspective. But this whole idea that we have to go to war because we've already committed an act by blockading the country, I agree with Newt (that “the American people have no interest in going to war anywhere.”)”

-- Ron Paul, during NBC News debate in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012

Paul made these assertions as the GOP candidates were discussing Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, which would interrupt the flow of Mideast oil to the rest of the world. The libertarian congressman chimed in as Brian Williams was moving to foreign-policy topics, suggesting he couldn’t let this one go.  

Paul’s remarks illustrate one of his primary foreign policy views: that the U.S. should mind its own business and stop trying to force other nations to meet its demands. But the candidate’s characterization of U.S. actions struck us as interesting. Has the nation really imposed a blockade on Iran and committed an act of war against the republic?

The Facts

Paul’s assertions are curious considering that the United States is not involved in a literal blockade of Iran, nor of any other part of the world right now. In fact, the U.S. hasn’t participated in a blockade since the Bosnian War of the 1990s, when NATO forces tried to stop supplies from reaching rival factions through the Adriatic Sea.  

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Jacksonville

(Paul Sancya/AP)

We can hardly believe that there won’t be another GOP presidential debate for about a month—assuming there are enough candidates left. Here’s our round-up of bloopers and dubious statements at the CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla., in the the order in which they were made.

As always, we may delve deeper into other statements in the coming days — and please remember that we do not award Pinocchios for instant fact checks, only full columns.

“What I said was: We want everybody to learn English because we don’t want — I didn’t use the word ‘Spanish.’”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich complained about a radio ad aired by the Romney campaign that claimed that Gingrich had said that Spanish was “the language of the ghetto.” (Romney at first suggested he was not familiar with the ad, but it ends with his voice saying he approved of it.)

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Fact-checking Mitt Romney’s ‘prebuttal’ speech

Mitt Romney on Tuesday issued a “prebuttal” to President Obama’s State of the Union address, delivering his remarks at a shuttered drywall factory in Tampa. The speech made sense for the struggling GOP candidate on several levels: The former Massachusetts governor wanted to look presidential to dampen the surge by rival Newt Gingrich, and he wanted to dull any campaign edge that the president might gain that evening through his national address.

Romney focused his attacks on economic issues, listing a series of supposed facts about Obama’s policies and their results. Here are some of the key claims:

“The President will do what he does best. He will give a nice speech with a lot of memorable phrases. But he won’t give you the hard numbers. Like 9.9 – that’s the unemployment rate in this state.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for Florida show that Romney was right about this one.

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Mitt Romney’s attack ad against Newt Gingrich in Florida

“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”

— voiceover in a new Mitt Romney ad attacking Newt Gingrich

The nasty nomination battle between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has moved to Florida, where Romney has launched a slashing ad attacking Gingrich for his business ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Let’s take a look at the various claims in the ad.

“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”

The ad strains to make a connection between Gingrich’s service for Freddie Mac and the housing collapse in the economic crisis. The video cites a Kansas City Star editorial that said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “were at the heart of the crisis” but that’s a matter of opinion. Other experts disagree strongly.

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Rick Santorum’s debate attacks against Mitt Romney

(Octavian Cantilli, Reuters)

“If you look at cap-and-trade, Gov. Romney was very proud to say that he was the first state in the country as governor to sign a cap on CO-2 emissions, the first state in the country to put a cap believing in global warming — and criticized Republicans for not believing in it.”

— Rick Santorum, during NBC News debate in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012

“When he was governor of Massachusetts, he put forth ‘RomneyCare,’ which was not a bottom-up, free-market system. It was a government-run healthcare system that was the basis of ‘Obamacare.’ And it has been an abject failure, and he has stood by it. He's stood by the fact that it's $8 billion more expensive than under the current law. He's stood by the fact that Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums of any state in the country; it is 27 percent more expensive than the average state in the country. Doctors — if you're in the Massachusetts health care system, over 50 percent of the doctors now are not seeing new patients -- primary care doctors are not seeing new patients. Those who do get to see a patient are waiting 44 days, on average, for the care.

  A lot of those people were, as you know, on Medicare and Medicaid, so they're already on government insurance, and you just expanded it, in fact. Over half the people who came on the rolls since you put ‘RomneyCare’ into effect are fully subsidized by the state of Massachusetts, and a lot of those are on the Medicaid program.”

 -- Santorum, during CNN debate in Charleston, S.C., Jan. 19, 2012  


These quotes represent some of the most pointed attacks Rick Santorum has made against Mitt Romney during the past two debates, as he tries to portray the two GOP frontrunners as moderates — he dished out similar cap-and-trade criticism toward Newt Gingrich during the Tampa debate. (We have previously examined Gingrich’s flip-flop on this issue.)

The first set of remarks draw a distinction between Santorum and Romney on environmental issues. The second is a detailed litany suggesting the former Bay State governor doesn’t stand a chance of distinguishing himself from President Obama when it comes to health care during the general election.

We researched Romney’s stance on cap-and-trade and examined the effects of the Massachusetts health-care law to find out how close Santorum’s remarks came to the truth. We already wrote about the Massachusetts health-care overhaul in our biographical series about Romney, but we’re always willing to dive a little deeper on that subject.

The Facts

A Wall Street Journal article from October 2011 noted that Romney strongly supported cap-and-trade while serving as governor of Massachusetts. It reports that he stood outside an old coal-fired plant in 2003, promising activists, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people.”

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Fact checking the NBC Florida debate

(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

There were fewer fireworks Monday night as we continued our long march through GOP Endless Debate World, but still many dubious facts and statistics popped up at the debate hosted by NBC News with the National Journal and the Tampa Bay Times. We will examine some key ones in the order in which they were made, reserving the right to examine others in more detail in the coming days.

As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchio ratings during instant debate fact checks, only in full length columns.

“When I was speaker [of the House], we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets.”

— Newt Gingrich

We have repeatedly called Gingrich out on this, and yet he keeps saying it. There are three key problems with his claim.

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Romney versus Gingrich: A guide to the latest charges


Mitt Romney on Monday threw out new charges and innuendo against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in what may be the political equivalent of throwing spaghetti against the wall—seeing what sticks. We’ve examined the often bogus charges made by Gingrich allies (and the Obama campaign) about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. So let’s take a look at what is known about the issues raised by Romney.

The Romney campaign accompanied its attack with a new ad amplifying some of these claims, which we will also examine soon. But first here is a guide to the latest rhetoric.

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Pro-Gingrich cartoon ad slightly wrong about Romney

“I agree with Governor Romney on many things, for instance abortion. He was pro-choice most of his adult life, so was I. But he changed his position when he became presidential candidate Romney. Now, let’s take guns. Governor Romney and I, we were in complete agreement on gun control — now that is, until he changed his mind. And on health care, well, I was so inspired by Romneycare that I nationalized it and called it Obamacare. Now presidential candidate Romney is against the individual mandate and universal health care.”

— Remarks by a cartoon President Obama during a fictionalized debate with Mitt Romney, depicted in an ad from the pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future.

Gingrich describes himself as the only viable candidate left in the GOP race, and this innovative cartoon ad — the first of its kind that we’ve seen — feeds into that narrative, attacking one of Romney’s perceived strengths: his supposed ability to challenge Obama.

The Post’s Fix reports that this video is the first in a three-part series envisioning potential debates between Romney and the sitting president. It illustrates an increasingly negative strategy by Gingrich and his supporters since the candidate’s lackluster finishes in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The approach appears to be working, with a new CNN poll showing Romney losing ground in South Carolina — an equally likely explanation is that the other candidates are resonating with Palmetto State voters.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston


Two debates in a week…and another two next week. This could get tiring. Here’s quick round-up of some of the more dubious or interesting claims at the CNN Debate in Charleston, examined in the order in which they were made. As always, we may come back to do a fuller look at other, more elusive claims in the coming days.

Glenn Kessler will live chat with readers today at 1 p.m. ET about fact checking this debate. Submit your questions and opinions now.

A reminder: we do not award Pinocchios in these sorts of debate round-ups, only in full-length columns.

“The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study — not to complete — to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.”

— Newt Gingrich

We are not sure whether the U.S. involvement in World War II has any relevance to a study about whether to deepen the Charleston Port from 45 to 50 feet. Kudos to Gingrich for knowing local issues, but according to local news reports the Corps said that such a study would normally take five to eight years but “Corps officials say they are streamlining the review and approval process as much as possible to save time.”

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Santorum’s erroneous marriage attack on Obama

(Chris Keane, Reuters)

“Elayne Bennett runs a program called Best Friends — the wife of [former Secretary of Education] Bill Bennett. And she told me through Bill that the Obama administration now has a policy — and this program is a program targeted at at-risk youth, specifically, in many cases, in the African-American community, who are at-risk young girls. The Obama administration now has regulations that tells them that they can no longer promote marriage to these young girls. They can no longer promote marriage as a way of avoiding poverty and bad choices that they make in their life. They can no longer actually even teach abstinence education. They have to be neutral with respect to how people behave.”

— Rick Santorum, during the GOP debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Jan. 16, 2011

Santorum made these remarks in response to a question about whether “the time has come to take special steps to deal with the extraordinary level of poverty afflicting [African Americans.]” You might recall that the candidate made headlines earlier this month by bungling a statement about a related issue.

 “I don’t want to make peoples’ lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” Santorum told a group of Iowans on Jan. 1. The comment represents pretty standard conservative fare, but the former senator uttered a syllable that, to some ears, sounded like “black” before “people’s lives,” causing critics and the media to pounce.

Debate moderator Juan Williams may have been baiting Santorum into a race discussion, but the GOP candidate cleverly shifted the spotlight onto the Obama administration, making the type of accusation that gets a rise out of values voters.

We talked to Elayne Bennett and reviewed Obama’s record on abstinence education to determine whether Santorum’s debate remarks were accurate.

The Facts

Bennett told us that no federal officials ever prohibited her organization from encouraging marriage. In fact, the federal government bankrolled the foundation’s efforts to promote healthy marriages before and after Obama entered the White House, so Santorum is wrong on that account.

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The Obama campaign’s suspect claim about Romney’s role in store closings

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“Romney closed over a thousand plants, stores and offices, and cut employee wages, benefits and pensions. He laid off American workers and outsourced their jobs to other countries.  And he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars while taking companies to bankruptcy.”

-- Stephanie Cutter, Obama campaign memo titled “Romney’s Economic Record: Profit at Any Cost,” Jan. 13, 2012


The game of numbers between the Obama and Romney campaigns is getting a bit silly. Romney started it by making the untenable claim that he helped create more than 100,000 jobs, a figure that included jobs created by companies long after Romney’s involvement had ended in the businesses. (In the recent debate, he modified his statement to make it a tad more accurate.)

 Now, apparently believing that’s what good for the goose is good for the gander, the Obama campaign has upped the ante by blaming Romney for job losses and bad deals that took place after he stopped working at Bain Capital in early 1999 in order to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. As we will demonstrate, they use a technicality to accomplish this.

 We will examine the statement that Romney “closed over a thousand plants, stores and offices.”


The Facts

First of all, note that the statement starts with “plants” and then pads it with “stores and offices.” As far as we can tell, there are only handful of plants on this list – Ampad (two), GS Industries (two), Dade Behring (three). The big number on this list comes from store closings -- in particular 600 stores shut down by KB Toys after it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004.  

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Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

And then there were five ... which made for a feisty evening of misstatements. We focused on 11, and may come back for more later in the week. Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.

“As [House] speaker, I came back, working with President Bill Clinton. We passed a very Reagan-like program: less regulation, lower taxes. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent. We created 11 million jobs.”

— Newt Gingrich

Former president Clinton would be shocked at this description, since he always credited the 22 million jobs created during his presidency to the deficit-reduction package he narrowly passed early in his tenure without a single GOP vote.

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Four Pinocchios for ‘King of Bain’

“This is a story of greed, of playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”

— Voice-over from “King of Bain” video promoted by a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, “Winning Our Future.”

Newt Gingrich, meet Michael Moore!

 The 29-minute video “King of Bain” is such an over-the-top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin. It uses evocative footage from distraught middle-class Americans who allege that Romney’s deal-making is responsible for their woes. It mixes images of closed factories and shuttered shops with video clips of Romney making him look foolish, vain or greedy. And it has a sneering voice-over that seeks to push every anti-Wall Street button possible.

 Here’s just a sampling of what Romney and Bain Capital, which he once headed, is accused of: “Stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards . . . high disdain for American businesses and workers . . . upended the company and dismantled the work force; now they were able to make a handsome profit . . . cash rampage . . . contributing to the greatest American job loss since World War II . . . turn the misfortune of others into their own enormous financial gain.”

 The video ends with a crescendo of images of despair, with voices of the victims adding emotional punch: “A lot of lives were ruined . . . he took away our livelihoods . . . he took away our future . . . he destroyed a lot of homes . . . it all gets back to greed.” (Irritatingly, few of these ordinary citizens are identified.)

 The video is reminiscent of the devastating series of attack ads released by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) that derailed Romney’s Senate campaign in 1994. In fact, we’d swear some of the people interviewed for “King of Bain,” who are identified as working for Ampad in Marion, Ind., are the same as those interviewed for the Kennedy ads at SCM, which Ampad acquired. They just look two decades older. (We have embedded a collection of the Kennedy ads at the end of this column.)

 Let’s take a look at some of the claims in “King of Bain.” The video clip above is from a 60-second commercial aired by “Winning Our Future.” The full video can be found here. As we will demonstrate, at least some of the interviews of ordinary citizens appear to have been conducted under misleading pretenses and have been selectively edited to leave a false impression.

The Facts

 First of all, it is a stretch to portray Romney as some sort of corporate raider, akin to Carl Icahn (whose image is briefly seen).  Bain Capital initially was in the business of providing venture capital — seed money — for start-ups, such as Staples. Then it moved to the more lucrative business of private equity, in which Bain won control of firms, reorganized them and then sold them for profit. (Our colleague Suzy Khimm earlier this week did an excellent job of explaining the two sides of Bain Capital.)  

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Rick Santorum and welfare reform (Fact Checker biography)

(Chris Keane, Reuters)

“I wrote the welfare reform bill in the Contract with America. I was the ranking member on that subcommittee. And when I came to the Senate, through a quirk, I ended up managing the bill on the floor of the United States Senate and working with President Clinton and getting a bill signed after he vetoed it twice to end welfare. We bloc-granted the program, got rid of the federal entitlement -- the only one in the history of the country that’s ever been done. And I was the principal author of it in the United States Senate, managed the bill on the floor.”

-- Rick Santorum, remarks during the GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, Jan. 4, 2012

Santorum’s debate comments echo a claim from a campaign ad that portrays him as a “full-spectrum conservative” who has the best chance to beat President Obama in the general election. Our colleagues at PolitiFact already covered this issue, calling the former Pennsylvania lawmaker’s assertion about welfare reform “Half True.” We have a different take.

Santorum isn’t the only Republican candidate to tout the 1996 welfare-reform act as one of his own accomplishments. Fellow presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich talks up his own involvement, having pushed hard for the overhaul while serving as speaker of the House after the 1994 Republican Revolution.

We examined the comments Gingrich made on welfare and Medicare reform, determining that he deserved one Pinocchio for exaggerating the impact of those measures. Santorum’s statement is different because he isn’t talking about impacts. He’s bragging about his role in the reform effort. We looked back at how the welfare overhaul became law to determine whether Santorum was involved in pushing the legislation as much as he claims.

The Facts

Santorum is one of many 1990s politicians who pushed for welfare reform, and not all of them were Republicans. In fact, President Bill Clinton vowed during his first run for office to “end welfare as we know it,” among other promises, such as resurrecting the economy.

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Rick Santorum: His record on winning the political center (Fact Checker biography)

(Evan Vucci, AP)

“I'm the only one in this race that has a track record of winning elections in tough states. I had a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and in two statewide elections, running against very strong candidates, I was able to win the state of Pennsylvania, something a Republican hasn't done for president since 1988. And so if you look at everybody else in the field, no one has ever run as a conservative and been able to attract independents and Democrats to win.”

— Former Sen. Rick Santorum, during an interview with NBC News, Dec. 29, 2011


“Iowa is a tough state. Pennsylvania is tougher as far as Republicans to win. And here I am, and I went out and not just once, but twice won a heavily Democratic congressional district, not once but twice went out and won a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans.”

— Santorum, during campaign stop in Marshalltown, Iowa, Dec. 30, 2011

Santorum insists he can defeat Barack Obama in the general election, despite the fact that he polls poorly against the president in comparison with other GOP candidates. He’s banking on the notion that blue-collar voters — in particular conservative Democrats — will rally behind him in every swing state from Pennsylvania to Iowa, with the exception of Illinois, which is the president’s home state and a Democratic stronghold.

 The GOP candidate, who nearly won the Iowa caucuses, touts his record of winning elections in Pennsylvania as proof that he’ll fare well from the nation’s Rust Belt to its Breadbasket. He claims his conservative values and his plan to eliminate the corporate tax on manufacturers — an attempt to bring jobs back from overseas — will appeal to middle-class voters across the spectrum, making him the most electable candidate in the Republican field. 

 We examined Santorum’s electoral record to find out whether he’s done as well as he claims in attracting Pennsylvania’s Democrats and independents.


Santorum has won four elections in a Democrat-leaning state, mainly by courting values voters and the working class. He won his first bid for election in 1990, edging out seven-term Democratic incumbent Doug Walgren for a seat in the U.S. House with 51 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 49 percent.     

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Newt Gingrich’s claim that Romney governed as a ‘pro-abortion’ governor

"What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board.”

— Newt Gingrich ad attacking Mitt Romney

Gingrich, still justifiably angry at a tough ad by a Romney-affiliated Super PAC that mischaracterized his position on abortion, has counterattacked with his own ad that calls into question Romney’s support for restrictions on abortion.

 Romney, of course, has spoken openly about his conversion on the abortion issue, so Gingrich must prove that Romney was an inconsistent convert to the cause of fighting abortion. Romney’s record was certainly inconsistent but was it indeed “pro-abortion”? Let’s look at some of the claims in this ad.


The Facts

 The definitive list of Romney flip-flops on abortion was compiled in 2007 by our predecessor as The Fact Checker, the estimable Michael Dobbs. After meticulously examining Romney’s twists and turns on the issue, Dobbs awarded Romney Three Pinocchios for his comments on abortion, saying he has “changed his position so often on abortion that he lacks much credibility” to claim that every piece of legislation he signed as governor was “on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.”

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Santorum’s record on fiscal policy (Fact Checker biography)

(Mary Ann Chastain/Reuters)

“I’ve voted toughly over the years to cut spending and to rein in entitlements. I’ve led on those things.”

— Rick Santorum, during Dec. 29, 2011, interview on NBC’s “Today Show”

“What happened after I left Congress was budgets began to explode. When I was in the Senate I voted for tough budgets, I voted for restrictions on spending, and made sure that that didn’t happen.”

— Santorum answering a question about his record of earmark spending during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Jan. 1, 2012

“I’m the only one in this race who didn’t increase an entitlement like Gov. Romney did in Massachusetts.”

-- Santorum, during campaign stop in Amherst, N.H., Jan. 7, 2012

Santorum’s comments suggest that he pushed conservative fiscal policies while serving in Congress. Fellow GOP presidential hopefuls Ron Paul and Rick Perry have challenged him on his record of promoting earmarks spending, and the first two quotes above represent his typical defense. The last comment represents a jab he took at Romney, suggesting he never increased entitlements as the former governor did with his Massachusetts health-care reform law.

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Mitt Romney and 100,000 jobs: an untenable figure


 “In the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.”

— Mitt Romney, Jan. 7, 2012

Last week, when we first looked at the former Massachusetts governor’s claim that “we helped create over 100,000 new jobs,” his campaign provided a list that included the growth in jobs from three companies that it said Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).

 As we noted,  “This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.”

Glenn Kessler live chatted with readers on this topic. Read the chat transcript now.

 In Saturday’s ABC News-Yahoo debate, Romney expanded on the list: “There’s a steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, thousands of jobs there; Bright Horizons Children's Centers, about 15,000 jobs there; Sports Authority, about 15,000 jobs there, Staples alone, 90,000 employed. That's a business that we helped start from the ground up.”

 Last week, when we looked at this 100,000 figure, we evaluated it along with Romney’s claims about President Obama’s job creation figures, which overall earned One Pinocchio. Earlier, we had ruled that it was all but impossible to prove or disprove Romney’s claims on job creation. But in light of Romney’s comments during the debate and some additional research, we have come to a new assessment.

The Facts

By all accounts, Romney was a highly successful venture capitalist. While running Bain Capital, he helped pick some real winners, earning his investors substantial returns. High finance is a difficult subject to convey in a sound bite, so Romney evidently has chosen to focus on job creation. 

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Rick Santorum and the K Street Project (Fact Checker biography)

(Eric Thayer, Reuters)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of columns this week examining how factual former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Santorum’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Santorum talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt RomneyRick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

--Glenn Kessler


“I had absolutely nothing to do -- never met, never talked, never coordinated, never did anything -- with Grover Norquist and the, quote, K Street Project.”

-- Rick Santorum, during an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 25, 2006

“I have never called anybody or talked to anyone to try to get anybody a position on K Street with one exception, and that is if someone from my office is applying for a job and an employer calls me.”

-- Santorum, in an interview with The Washington Times, Jan. 30, 2006

Santorum made these comments while trying to distance himself from the so-called “K Street Project,” an effort by key Republicans to place party loyalists in top lobbying positions. The program, led by conservative activist Grover Norquist and former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas), took place to varying degrees from roughly 1995 until about 2006. Its name refers to the D.C. corridor where lobbyists have set up shop in large numbers.

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Fact checking the ABC News and ‘Meet the Press' debates

Boy, three- and-a- half hours of debates to check this weekend! The candidates were up to their usual tricks and so the list of suspect statements is long and varied. We will go through them quickly, in the order the statements were made, beginning with the ABC News/Yahoo debate on Saturday night. After that, we tackle the Meet the Press/Facebook debate from Sunday morning. As always, we may take a deeper look at some assertions later in the week.



“But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.”

--Mitt Romney

Last week, when Romney mentioned this statistic, his campaign said the 100,000 figure was based on the number of employees at three companies with which Bain Capital was involved.

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McCain versus McCain on lying

(Charles Dharapak/AP)

“I have never called an opponent of mine a liar. That's just sort of a line that you don't usually cross.”

--Sen. John McCain, Jan. 5, 2012, speaking about Newt Gingrich’s complaint about Mitt Romney


When we saw this quote by John McCain, we were a bit surprised because we remember this Associated Press article from the 2008 campaign.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Republican John McCain is calling Democratic rival Barack Obama a liar.

The GOP presidential candidate told a campaign rally: "Sen. Obama has accused me of opposing regulation to avert this crisis. I guess he believes if a lie is big enough and repeated often enough it will be believed."
In some of the harshest language yet, McCain said the campaign comes down to a simple question: Who is the real Barack Obama?
McCain drew the loudest cheers when he said the Democrat has written two memoirs but "he's not exactly an open book."
Trailing in the polls, McCain and his advisers say they will hammer that theme as the campaign heads toward the Nov. 4 election.


Here’s a video of the McCain’s speech.

 When we asked McCain spokesman Brian Rogers for comment, he replied: “There’s a clear and obvious difference between name-calling (which Senator McCain was referring to this morning) and defending against false attacks.”

 Gingrich was defending himself against what he views as false attacks by Romney supporters, but we will leave this question to readers: Is this a distinction without a difference?

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Rick Santorum’s claim that ‘no Palestinian’ lives in the West Bank

(Charles Krupa/AP)

“All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis.  They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, Nov. 21. 2011

A blog on The Jewish Week Web site highlighted this statement on Monday, which was also captured on tape and posted on YouTube. (See clip at the end of the column.) The statement is somewhat reminiscent of former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s comment that the Palestinians are an “invented people.” 

 Gingrich’s comments spawned outrage at the time, but Gingrich actually spoke a couple of weeks after Santorum’s remarks, which were made in the context of defending Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank. As Jewish Week noted, Santorum’s “views got little attention at the time because he was considered a hopeless back-of-the-pack candidate and not being taken very seriously.”

 In many ways, Santorum’s remarks have even more important policy implications than Gingrich’s statement, which was a historical observation (though a highly debatable one).


The Facts

 In the conversation captured on tape, Santorum argues that the West Bank belongs to Israel because Arab nations launched an “aggressive attack” in 1967 but Israel defeated them and acquired the land as part of the spoils of war.

“It was ground that was gained during war,” he said, similar to the United States gaining territory after defeating Mexico in the 19th century. “Should we give Texas back to Mexico?” he asked. “Bottom line, it is legitimately Israeli country.” 

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Romney vs. Obama on job creation


“And I'm very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs. By the way, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president’s created in the entire country. So if the president wants to talk about jobs, and I hope he does, we’ll be comparing my record with his record and he comes up very, very short.”

— Mitt Romney, Jan. 3, 2012


It’s a new year, and we already have new claims about job creation. The Romney campaign was sufficiently proud of this quote, made on “Fox and Friends,” that it blast-e-mailed it to reporters.

 As we have mentioned before, the notion that a president – or particularly a governor – can magically create jobs with a set of policies is a bit of a stretch. Broadly speaking, presidential policies can certainly have an impact, but even a president is at the mercy of  the business cycle. Obama became president in the midst of the worst recession in memory, so obviously that is going to be a drag on his “job-creation record.”


The Facts

 The Romney campaign provided a link to Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that during Romney’s four-year term as Massachusetts governor, the number of jobs went up 61,000. By contrast, the number of jobs under Obama has dropped by 1.86 million.  

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Ron Paul biography: the complete collection

Reporter Josh Hicks compiled the following look at Ron Paul’s claims about his life and career. Click on the headlines to read the original column.

Ron Paul and racist newsletters

Paul earned three Pinocchios for offering implausible explanations about why so many racist statements made into his publications.

Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan

Paul earned two Pinocchios for his claim that he “stood with” Ronald Reagan during Reagan’s presidency.

Ron Paul’s constitutionalist record

Paul earned a prized Geppeto’s Checkmark for his assertion that he is an unwavering constitutionalist. Whether you agree with him or not, he is certainly consistent.

Ron Paul on earmarks and ‘corporate welfare’

Paul earned three Pinocchios for suggesting he never supports favoritism in the form of subsidies and earmarks.

One year of fact checking--an accounting

It’s been one year since The Washington Post relaunched The Fact Checker column as a permanent feature, and so it seems an appropriate point to review and reflect on a year of fact-checking claims made by politicians. Most important, where did we go wrong and how can we improve?

Readers frequently ask: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? We had no idea until we sat down this week and did some calculations.

Let’s do the numbers!

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Ron Paul on earmarks and ‘corporate welfare’ (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Riedel, AP)

“My priorities, you cut off all foreign welfare and foreign militarism and corporate welfare before you go after child health-care.”

-- Ron Paul remarks during Bloomberg TV interview, June 3, 2011

“I’ve never voted for an earmark in my life.”

-- Remark by Paul on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 23, 2007

Paul addresses a number of issues with these comments, but the common thread is government favoritism. The congressman portrays himself as a strict budget hawk and a candidate who never supports corporate subsidies or special funding for his congressional district.

Lots of politicians blast earmarks but find ways to justify them for their own constituents. And plenty of lawmakers support tax breaks and corporate subsidies -- so-called corporate welfare -- as a way to create jobs, foster innovation, and even protect the environment in certain cases. We examined Paul’s record to find out whether he’s truly any different.


Paul’s campaign-finance record shows little indication of a politician who is tied to special interests. Individuals have provided the vast majority of his campaign cash, supplying 91 percent of the money since his first bid for office.

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Ron Paul’s constitutionalist record (Fact Checker biography)

(Joshua Lott, Reuters)

“Dr. Paul never votes for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorized by the Constitution. In the words of former Treasury Secretary William Simon, Dr. Paul is the ‘one exception to the Gang of 535’ on Capitol Hill.”

-- Biographical excerpt from the Ron Paul campaign site

“I have something different to offer. I emphasize civil liberties. I emphasize a pro- American foreign policy, which is a lot different than policemen of the world. I emphasize monetary policy and these things that the other candidates don’t talk about. But I think the important thing is, the philosophy I’m talking about is the Constitution and freedom.”

-- Paul, during Fox News GOP debate, Dec. 15, 2011

Paul has long portrayed himself as a constitutionalist, one who supports limited government and who values individual liberty above all else.

The term constitutionalist holds various meanings and incorporates numerous philosophies, but the main premise is that the government derives its powers from the Constitution. Paul applies the definition strictly, calling for the abolition of all federal programs not expressly authorized by the document.

We examined Paul’s record to find out whether he has lived up to his rhetoric. Could he really spend nearly 22 years in Congress without violating his principles?


Paul has earned the nickname “Dr. No” for refusing to cut deals and for opposing virtually every piece of legislation that could be interpreted as government overreach or interference with the free market.

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Ron Paul and Ronald Reagan (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Riedel/AP)
“America must decide who to trust: Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader, or the one who stood with Reagan.”

— An ad from the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign Committee

We pulled this comment from an ad that accuses Rick Perry of trying to “undo the Reagan Revolution” when he backed Al Gore for president in 1988. Photos show Ron Paul looking chummy with the Gipper as a deep-voiced narrator describes the Texas congressman as a bold Reagan supporter. The gist: Paul has impeccable Reaganite credentials; Perry does not.

We examined Paul’s relationship with Reagan during the late 1980s to find out whether he was really so supportive of the Republican icon. Our colleagues at covered this topic before, but we figure it’s worth another look as we continue our series on biographical claims of the 2012 Republican candidates.


Paul has little room to criticize politicians for changing their party affiliations. He campaigned for president as a Libertarian in 1988, after running for office seven times as a Republican and serving as a GOP member of the U.S. House for more than six years at that point.

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Ron Paul and the racist newsletters (Fact Checker biography)

(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of four columns this week examining how factual Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has been in describing his career in politics. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Paul’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Paul talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

— Glenn Kessler


“I’m not a racist. As a matter of fact, Rosa Parks is one of my heroes, Martin Luther King is a hero — because they practiced the libertarian principle of civil disobedience, nonviolence.”

— Ron Paul, responding during a Jan. 10, 2008, CNN interview to questions about racially charged articles published in the “Ron Paul Political Report” during the 1990s.

“I never read that stuff. I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this.”

— Ron Paul, responding to more questions about the newsletters during an interview with CNN, Dec. 21, 2011

Accusations of racism against Paul first surfaced during the candidate’s 1996 congressional campaign, when Democratic opponent Lefty Morris unveiled racially tinged quotes from a newsletter the Texas libertarian had published during his 12-year hiatus from public office.

The national media latched onto the issue during Paul’s 2008 presidential bid, after the New York Times and the New Republic highlighted derogatory statements about blacks and gays from the bulletins.

The issue resurfaced as Paul moved to the front of the GOP pack in recent weeks, and the congressman appeared to be fed up with the matter as he walked away from an interview in which a CNN reporter pressed for more answers. (See the video below).

We won’t be the judge of whether Paul is a bigot, but we can examine the extent to which he had control over his publications. Are we to believe he never reviewed the newsletters that bore his name? Would he have eliminated the messages if he’d seen them?


Paul helped form the Ron Paul & Associates corporation in 1984, and the now-defunct company, for which he served as president, began publishing newsletters the following year. The monthly publications included Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, the Ron Paul Survival Report, the Ron Paul Political Report and the Ron Paul Investment Letter.

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The biggest Pinocchios of 2011

Fact checkers are under assault!

 Before we present our list of the biggest Pinocchios of the year, we would like to address the torrent of criticism addressed at fact checkers (primarily PolitiFact, and The Fact Checker) in recent weeks. The Weekly Standard last week had a cover story denouncing fact checkers as a liberal plot to control the political discourse. This week, PolitiFact’s decision to award its “Lie of the Year” trophy to Democratic claims that the GOP “killed” Medicare has earned it and its fact checking brethren additional scorn from the left.

As a writer at Gawker put it: “Politifact is dangerous. Stop reading it. Stop reading the ‘four Pinocchios’ guy too. Stop using some huckster company's stupid little phrases or codes or number systems when it's convenient, and read the actual arguments instead. You're building a monster.”


 My colleague Ezra Klein even opined that “the ‘fact checker’ model is probably unsustainable,” based on the questionable belief that “half of the public leans towards one party and about half of the public leans toward the other” and thus will tune out commentary with which they disagree. That’s a pretty depressing commentary on the state of our politics. Thankfully, it bears little relationship to the reality we experience every day at The Fact Checker. 

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

“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.

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An Iranian ‘terrorist’ in the White House?


“Last week, when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage is a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

--Newt Gingrich, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 18, 2011

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, when he made this comment on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, was referring to Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri. Gingrich apparently based his comments on an article in The Washington Times—headlined “Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader”-- that generated some attention in the blogosphere. One report headlined it this way: “President Welcomes Suspected Terrorist to the White House.”

But this is a simplistic version of a complex story involving U.S. relations with the current government of Iraq. Let’s explore what’s going on here.

The Facts

First of all, there is a long tradition of militants aspiring to become statesmen. Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader, this year ran for president of Ireland. And, as House speaker in 1995, Gingrich hosted a lunch at the capital that include Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA—at a time when Britain regarded the IRA to be a terror group.

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Newt Gingrich biography: the complete collection

(Charles Krupa/AP)

Reporter Josh Hicks compiled the following look at Newt Gingrich’s claims about his life and career. Click on the headlines to read the complete report.

Gingrich and health-care mandates

Gingrich earned Two Pinocchios for his shifting statements of support for an individual health-care mandate.



Gingrich and statements about 1990s fiscal success

The House Speaker received Three Pinocchios for overstating his impact on the federal budget surpluses in the 1990s.



Gingrich on welfare and Medicare reform

Passing welfare reform was a significant achievement but Gingrich got a Pinocchio for overselling what happened on Medicare.




Gingrich, historian

The former speaker earned Three Pinocchios for overstating his credentials as “an historian”


Gingrich and ethics

Gingrich ended up with Four Pinocchios for highly misleading statements about the partisan nature of the ethics probe while he was House Speaker.


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Newt Gingrich tries to rewrite history of his ethics scandal (Fact Checker biography)

(Jim Young, Reuters)

“It tells you how capriciously political [the House ethics] committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it.”
— Newt Gingrich, Dec. 5, 2011, talking to reporters about suggestions from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that she could reveal secret information from a 1990s House ethics investigation of the current GOP front-runner.
“I think what it does is it reminds people who probably didn't know this that she was on the ethics committee, that it was a very partisan political committee, and that the way I was dealt with related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than the ethics.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, answering questions about Pelosi and the ethics investigation during interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
“The attrition effect on your members of that many ads and that many charges just gradually wore down people, and I gradually lost the ability to lead, because I was so battered by the process.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 7, 2011, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Gingrich made these comments after Pelosi hinted that she could reveal damaging information about him “when the time’s right,” thanks to her involvement with a 1990 ethics investigation of the now-surging GOP candidate — a case that led to the first congressional reprimand of a House speaker.

We don’t question that Democrats relished the chance to nail Gingrich for ethics violations, especially after he gave the same treatment to former Democratic House speaker Jim Wright in 1988. But justice can still run its course fairly and impartially when enemies have blown the whistle, even if they enjoy watching you squirm.

We examined the congressional ethics committee that reprimanded Gingrich to find out more about its makeup. Was the panel truly as partisan as the Republican front-runner suggests, or has this prolific alternative-history writer crafted yet another fiction?


The congressional ethics panel that investigated Gingrich — when the GOP controlled the House — consisted of four Democrats and four Republicans, a perfectly bipartisan group that voted 7-1 to reprimand the then-speaker. Furthermore, the House voted 395 to 28 to support the committee’s decision, with backing from 196 Republicans.

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Fact checking the Fox News debate in Iowa

(Eric Gay/AP)

It’s the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. Let’s take a tour of the factually dubious statements made by the candidates, in the order in which they said them. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios during debate round-ups, though we will mention if a candidate has repeated something that we have previously rated.

“I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt — pretty conservative. The first entitlement reform of your lifetime — in fact, the only major entitlement reform to now is welfare.”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich loves to make this claim, but it is simply not correct and is lacking context.

Listening to Gingrich, you would be forgiven for forgetting there was a president (Bill Clinton) in office at the time the nation started running a budget surplus.

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Newt Gingrich: historian? (Fact Checker biography)

(Brian Snyder / Reuters)

“My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, ‘We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do,’ as I said to them at the time: ‘This is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.’”

-- Newt Gingrich, defending his contract with Freddie Mac during a CNBC debate in Michigan, Nov. 9, 2011

“There's a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy. Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history. There are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.

And so part of the question was, ‘Can you make that case? Can you put in context the history of these institutions?’”

-- Gingrich, again defending his contract with Freddie Mac during an interview on Fox News, Nov. 17, 2011

“I didn't speak for the people of Israel. I spoke as a historian who has looked at the world stage for a very long time. I've known [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] since 1984. I feel quite confident an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of and the casualties they're taking and the people who surround them who say, ‘You do not have the right to exist, and we want to destroy you.’”

-- Gingrich, defending remarks he made during an Iowa debate on Dec. 10, 2011, suggesting that Palestinians had based their “right of return” on an historically false story.

That’s at least three times that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has referred to himself as a historian during the 2012 election cycle. He’s gone a step further at times, suggesting that his knowledge of the subject gives him superior qualifications for policy -- and decision-making.

 “What it does is, it gives you a really rich background to go to, to analyze things, to think about things, to put in context what you would do in a way that if you don’t know history, you can’t possibly reinvent it,” he told Iowa Public Radio this year.

So how did the GOP front-runner develop his supposed acumen? We analyzed his résumé and his life in academia to find out just how much experience the former House speaker draws from, and whether he has any credibility as a self-proclaimed authority.


 Gingrich spent the great majority of his professional life in politics, serving as a member of Congress for 20 years. He devoted just eight fulltime years to academia and history -- 18 if you include his time as a student. 

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Gingrich on welfare and Medicare reform (Fact Checker biography)

(Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

“But even with Clinton in the White House, we passed the first major entitlement reform welfare, two out of three people went to work or went to school. We reformed Medicare and saved it for more than a decade financially.” — Newt Gingrich, during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Dinner, Oct. 22, 2011

These comments suggest the Gingrich-led Congress nudged welfare recipients toward increasingly productive lives and helped rescue Medicare from certain catastrophe. They fit with the image he has tried to project during the 2012 election cycle — one of an anti-socialist, money-saving innovator who recently called himself the “candidate of paychecks” while describing Barack Obama as “the finest food stamp president.”

We researched the Medicare and welfare reforms of the 1990s to determine whether Gingrich spoke accurately about his accomplishments as Speaker of the House of Representatives.


Medicare today consists of four parts: Part A, which pays for hospital, nursing and hospice care; Part B, which helps pays for doctors, outpatient health bills and other services; Part C, which is “Medicare Advantage,” a competitive alternative to Parts A and B; and Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage. People frequently confuse these parts, but the government funds them differently.

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Pinocchio Tracker: Fact-checking the presidential candidates

We are pleased to announce a new retooled Pinocchio Tracker , which was produced inhouse by Kat Downs of The Washington Post graphics staff. It replaces an earlier version that was created a couple of months ago by our friends at Tableau Software.

The new Pinocchio Tracker has a fun feature: It brings up quotes and asks you to guess how many Pinocchios it received from The Fact Checker. Then you can find out if your ruling matches ours--and see why we decided the statement was faulty.

As before, the Pinocchio Tracker will take you to every column that examined a statement by a GOP candidate, President Obama or Vice President Biden. It will also show you the average Pinocchio rating each person has received.


Follow Fact Checker on Facebook and Twitter

Get the latest campaign news on PostPolitics.

Keystone pipeline jobs claims: a bipartisan fumble


“The Keystone energy project would create tens of thousands of American jobs.”

— House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Dec. 10, 2011

 “At a time when many are without work, it is time that we come together in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation which will create tens of thousands of new jobs.”

— Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Dec. 12, 2011

 “The privately financed Keystone XL pipeline project is projected to create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in construction and manufacturing.”

— Mark H. Ayers, president of the building and construction trade department, AFL-CIO, Nov. 3, 2011

"My administration will stand behind the Keystone pipeline, creating more than 100,000 American jobs while reducing our dependence on overseas imports."

— Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R), Nov. 1, 2011  

There is bipartisan consensus: The Keystone XL pipeline means jobs, jobs, jobs.

 The Obama administration last month announced that it was taking more time to consider how to balance environmental concerns and economic issues in deciding whether to approve the pipeline, which would carry heavy crude oil from Canada’s Alberta province to the Gulf Coast. (Skeptics would suggest the White House wanted to avoid angering two key allies during an election year.)

Ever since, advocates of the pipeline have pressed the case that thousands of shovel-ready jobs are being delayed by the administration’s inaction, with House Republicans including a shortened timeline for a permit in legislation extending the payroll tax cut.

 We’ve repeatedly warned that many “job creation” statistics are often guesstimates of estimates, and should be viewed skeptically. By some accounts, the number of jobs that would be created could be as many as 150,000. But the State Department in August put the number of construction jobs at just 5,000 to 6,000.

 What’s going on here?


The Facts

 TransCanada Corp., which is pushing to build the pipeline, claims that  Keystone XL “was poised to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline.” The company also cites another figure — 118,000 spin-off jobs Keystone XL would create through increased business for local restaurants, hotels and suppliers — that comes from a study commissioned by the company. The study even suggested that under “normal” oil price assumptions, the number of permanent jobs would top 250,000.

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Restore our Future PAC recycles questionable claims in Romney ad

“Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs. He rescued an Olympics hit by scandal; took over a state facing huge deficits, and he turned it around without raising taxes, vetoing hundreds of bills.”
— Comments in recent ad by pro-Romney PAC Restore our Future

The claims in this ad cover just about about everything we fact-checked for the Mitt Romney biographical series, minus the comment about vetoes. The commercial has been running frequently in Iowa, so we’ll rehash some of the issues we found with its assertions, all of which echo previous remarks by the former Massachusetts governor.  


Romney co-founded and led the investment firm Bain Capital, which made an incredibly pretty penny as a pioneer in the field of leveraged buyouts, according to a prospectus obtained by the L.A. Times.  

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Newt Gingrich’s changing stance on health-care mandates (Fact Checker biography)

(Rainier Ehrhardt, AP)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Gingrich’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Gingrich talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

— Glenn Kessler


“If you explore the mandate, it ultimately ends up with unconstitutional powers. It allows the government to define virtually everything. And if you can do it for health care, you can do it for everything in your life, and, therefore, we should not have a mandate.”

— Remarks by Newt Gingrich during GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., June 13, 2011

“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”

— Recorded statement by Newt Gingrich, from the GOP candidate’s Web site.

Gingrich has voiced resounding opposition to the “Obamacare” insurance mandate during his 2012 campaign, describing the policy as unconstitutional. He says he fought hard against it with the Center for Health Transformation, a health-care industry think tank he helped establish.

Fellow GOP front-runner Mitt Romney challenged this point, insisting that Gingrich inspired the insurance mandate he implemented as part of a health-care reform bill in Massachusetts. We took a look at the former House speaker’s past to find out whether the conservative icon known for innovative and often shape-shifting ideas might have experienced a change of heart.

The Facts

Gingrich and Romney engaged in a brief but heated spat during the Oct. 18 GOP debate after the former speaker criticized Massachusetts’s health-care reform program as a big-government, high-cost solution for covering the uninsured. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

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Fact checking the ABC-Yahoo Republican presidential debate in Iowa

It may have been bad politics for Mitt Romney to offer a $10,000 bet to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but it’s a good thing Perry didn’t take it. He would have lost a fair chunk of change. Here’s our round-up of misses and bloopers committed by the GOP candidates in Saturday’s ABC-Yahoo debate, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the order in which they made them.

“Well, I think that there’s a clear record, I worked with Ronald Reagan in the early ‘80s and his recovery program translated into today’s population of about 25 million new jobs in a seven-year period. As Speaker of the House, I worked with President Clinton and he followed with a very similar plan. And we ended up with about 11 million new jobs in a four-year period.”

--Newt Gingrich

The former House Speaker conveniently ignores the fact that Bill Clinton pushed through a major tax increase on the wealthy in 1993 which, combined with the boom in technology stocks, brought forth a gusher of tax revenue that helped eliminate the budget deficit. Gingrich at the time predicted economic disaster when Clinton won approval of his tax increase with not a single Republican vote.

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Obama ‘bowing to foreign dictators’ — and his golf game


"He has bowed to foreign dictators"

— Mitt Romney, Dec. 7, 2011

 “1,584 holes since 2009”

— Romney campaign Web site


In recent days, the Romney campaign has attacked President Obama on two seemingly trivial matters that seek to undermine his character — his alleged “bowing” to foreign leaders and his propensity to play golf. As the Web site says, “It’s time to have a president whose idea of being ‘hands on’ doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club.”

 So what’s story behind these claims?


Bowing to foreign dictators

 Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said that  “the term ‘bowed to foreign dictators’ is metaphorical but the leaders Obama literally bowed to were the Saudi King, Emperor of Japan, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

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Barack Obama: the ‘food-stamp president’?


“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in American history, in Barack Obama, and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, on CNBC

As speaker, Gingrich helped push through the signature welfare overhaul that then President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. When Clinton, after two vetoes, agreed to accept the legislation, he shrewdly noted that he was eliminating the welfare system forever more as a campaign issue.

“After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue,” Clinton said. “The two parties cannot attack each other over it.”

 Having eliminated welfare as a campaign issue, Gingrich now appears to be trying to breath life into “son of welfare” by attacking President Obama as the “finest food stamp president.” But he has explicitly rejected the idea that this is a no-so-subtle form of racial imagery.

 (As is usual, Gingrich’s rhetoric excess got the better of him last month when he also declared people can use food stamps “to go to Hawaii,” a claim that our colleagues at PolitiFact correctly labeled “Pants on Fire.”)

In any case, how accurate is the claim that Obama is “the food-stamp president”?


The Facts

 Officially, the food stamp program is now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes, though most of the benefits go to families with children. (It also has massive support from the farm lobby, which is why GOP efforts to cut it back have often failed.)

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Barack Obama: the ‘food-stamp president’?


“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in American history, in Barack Obama, and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, on CNBC

As speaker, Gingrich helped push through the signature welfare overhaul that then President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. When Clinton, after two vetoes, agreed to accept the legislation, he shrewdly noted that he was eliminating the welfare system forever more as a campaign issue.

“After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue,” Clinton said. “The two parties cannot attack each other over it.”

 Having eliminated welfare as a campaign issue, Gingrich now appears to be trying to breath life into “son of welfare” by attacking President Obama as the “finest food stamp president.” But he has explicitly rejected the idea that this is a no-so-subtle form of racial imagery.

 (As is usual, Gingrich’s rhetoric excess got the better of him last month when he also declared people can use food stamps “to go to Hawaii,” a claim that our colleagues at PolitiFact correctly labeled “Pants on Fire.”)

In any case, how accurate is the claim that Obama is “the food-stamp president”?


The Facts

 Officially, the food stamp program is now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes, though most of the benefits go to families with children. (It also has massive support from the farm lobby, which is why GOP efforts to cut it back have often failed.)

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Revisiting Romney’s ‘deceitful, dishonest’ ad about Obama

“Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.’”

— Then-Sen. Barack Obama, Oct. 16, 2008

We resisted writing about Mitt Romney’s first television ad when it was released just before Thanksgiving, on the grounds that the issue — whether the ad misquoted President Obama — had been thoroughly and quickly discussed. We sometimes also see little need to fact check items that have been already debunked by one political faction or the other.

 But readers have repeatedly asked us to weigh in, and the ad was once again in the news this week after a report in The New York Times by our former colleague Thomas Edsall quoted an anonymous “top operative” in the Romney campaign as defending the ad because “ads are propaganda by definition…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing…. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”

 Excuse us for appearing cynical, but Romney’s supposed adviser is simply stating a truth practiced by both political parties. We’ve seen plenty of Four-Pinocchio ads in our time, and this Romney ad does not make the cut.


The Facts

The ad opens with a headline: “On October 16, 2008, Barack Obama Visited New Hampshire.” Then grainy scenes flash by of Obama speaking as more headlines flash by, such as: “He Promised He Would Fix the Economy…. He Failed”

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Gingrich and cap-and-trade: a flip-flop?

“I’ve said publicly, sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi is the dumbest single thing I’ve done in the last few years. But if you notice, I’ve never favored cap and trade, and in fact, I actively testified against it. I was at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee the same day Al Gore was there to testify for it, I testified against it and through American Solutions we fought it in the Senate and played a major role in defeating it.”

— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 3, 2011

“I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.”

— Gingrich, Interview on PBS’s “Frontline,” Feb. 15, 2007

Every politician makes mistakes, although few are willing to admit it. Gingrich’s ad with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on climate change is certainly amusing in retrospect.

But what of the Republican presidential candidate’s claim that “I’ve never favored cap and trade”? Rival campaigns immediately pounced, sending around quotes from a PBS interview in which Gingrich appeared to say the opposite, suggesting support for a limit on greenhouse emissions. The conventional wisdom holds that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem, but does Gingrich?

The Facts

As Slate columnist David Weigel has noted, cap and trade was once a very respectable conservative position and several of the GOP contenders have a history of expressing interest in it, to varying degrees.

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Romney’s claim that Gingrich has spent ‘40 years’ living in D.C.

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

“I don’t think I want to characterize Newt at this point, other than to point out our very distinct difference with regards to background. I think if America feels that we need somebody who’s lived in Washington for the last 40 years to run the country, he’s a good choice.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, on “Fox and Friends,” Dec. 2, 2011

Romney, trying to draw a contrast with the surging Newt Gingrich, not once but twice said that Gingrich had spent 40 years in Washington during a 10-minute appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Four decades? We were immediately skeptical of this figure.

The Facts

Gingrich, who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives, was first elected to Congress in 1978. Subtracting that from 2011, you end up with 33.

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Mitt Romney: Flip-flopper or not?

“And there's no question, but that people are going to take snippets and take things out of context and try and show that there are differences.”

— Former governor Mitt Romney on Fox News, Nov. 29, 2011

Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem. Slowly but surely, the conventional wisdom is solidifying that the former Massachusetts governor often has changed his position to suit the politics of the moment. The story line has been advanced by his opponents, in both parties, but also in the media. Take a look at this wicked cartoon by our colleague Tom Toles, in which Romney tells an elephant dressed as Santa Claus: “What would you like me to ask for?”

 Of course, politicians have every right to change their minds. An inflexible attitude is not always the sign of an effective leader. But too many flips without enough explanation may give voters pause. In Romney’s case, many of his moves have been from the left — when he was governor of Massachusetts — to the right, as he has run for the Republican presidential nomination.

 Now the Democratic National Committee has assembled some of its best evidence of Romney-as-flip-flopper in a four-minute video ad. The DNC helpfully provided a detailed explanation of where each clip came from (see below), and we have picked through them to see whether the flip-flop charge holds up. We give a Pinocchio rating to each claim, in the order in which it is made in the commercial.

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Michele Bachmann’s claim that she never said ‘anything inaccurate’ during the GOP debates

“I'm happy to say I don't think that I've said anything inaccurate in any of the debates. And I'm extremely grateful for that. It's a high-profile stage and so I'm grateful that I don't think I've made a blunder.”

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann. (Paul Sancya - Associated Press)

— Rep. Michele Bachmann, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Nov. 25, 2011

In an interesting interview last Friday (which we missed as we recovered from Thanksgiving dinner), Bachmann acknowledged that she is sometimes truth-challenged.

“I wish I was perfection walking on air, but I'm not,” she told Steve Inskeep. “I've gotten things wrong. But I try very hard to get my facts right, and there's times when I've said things that are inaccurate and I regret that.”

But then she made the statement she said above. Nothing inaccurate in the debates? Let’s review the record.


The Facts

The Republican candidates for president have already held at least 10 full-fledged debates, and we have watched them all. Here are a few highlights of Bachmann’s performance during those sessions. During the debates, we don’t award Pinocchios unless we go back and write a fuller column on the statement. In that case, we will note whether she received any — or if a similar statement had already received Pinocchios.

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Fact checking the CNN national security debate

Hello, “Steve Gates.” While Rep. Michele Bachmann may have trouble living that blooper down, here are some of the more dubious assertions and facts we heard at the fascinating CNN debate Tuesday night, organized with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. We examine 15 statements in all, and as is our practice, may come back to do a deeper look in the coming days.

“This is one thing we know about Barack Obama: He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He’s outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann

Bachmann’s rhetoric is over the top here. The American Civil Liberties Union has actually been critical of President Obama for continuing many Bush-era anti-terror policies. On the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the ACLU issued a report entitled, “A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years after 9/11.”

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Did Obama call Americans ‘lazy’ and ‘soft’?

“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy? That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in a new television ad attacking President Obama

“Sometimes, I just don’t think that President Obama understands America. I say that because this week — or was it last week? — he said that Americans are lazy. I don’t think that describes America. Before that, I think it was in October, he was saying we have lost our inventiveness, and our ambition. Before that he was saying other disparaging things about Americans. I just don’t think he understands — he was saying we just weren’t working hard enough. I don’t think he gets what’s happening in this country.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Nov. 15, 2011

Republican president candidates have begun attacking President Obama for supposedly insulting Americans by calling them “lazy.” Perry has even framed a new television ad around the idea.

Since we once gave a Pinocchio to Obama for what we called unsubstantiated boosterism — “We have the most productive workers, the finest universities and the freest markets” — we were a little surprised to learn that he had suddenly turned so anti-American.

What’s going on here?

The Facts

When a president makes a similar offhand comment at least two times, our experience tells us that something is on his mind. Maybe he read a book, perhaps there was a briefing, perhaps he even saw a television documentary. A clear sign that this notion has begun to sink in is that he begins to muse about it in public.

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Rick Perry biography: the complete collection

(Alice Keeney/AP)

Reporter Josh Hicks compiled the following look at Rick Perry’s claims about his life and career. Click on the headlines to read the complete report.

Rick Perry’s job creation record

Perry earns two Pinocchios for presenting only favorable and exaggerated facts while not providing adequate context for his claims.

Rick Perry’s record on taxes

Perry earns two Pinocchios for misleading voters about his record on taxes.

Rick Perry’s record on cutting spending

Perry earns one Pinocchio for misleading rhetoric on how he “cut” spending.

Rick Perry’s record on education

Perry earns three Pinocchios for saying he invested more in education.

Rick Perry’s record on the environment

Perry gets two Pinocchios for failing to tell the whole story about his environmental record.

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Did Texas improve air quality, lower emissions as much as Rick Perry claims? (Fact Checker biography)

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a stop in Jackson, Miss. Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (Greg Campbell - AP)

“We cleaned up our air in Texas more than any other state during the decade of the 2000s. And no it wasn’t the EPA’s regulations. As a matter of fact, they tried to come into Texas after we cleaned up our air and take it over, and what they’ll do is just kill a bunch of jobs and won’t clean up the air at all. We lowered our ozone levels by 27 percent during the decade of the 2000s and we lowered our nitrogen oxide levels by 58 percent.”

— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, during a town hall speech in Derry, N. H., Sept. 30, 2011

Perry claims Texas topped the charts in terms of air-quality improvements, and his remarks suggest that the state knows how to clean up just fine without oversight from the Environmental Protection Agency, thank you very much.

We wondered where Perry found his data and how bad Texas was doing before he took office. We also wondered whether federal regulations really kill jobs — a subject the Post already covered this week.

The Facts

Perry cited data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The state agency calculates its ozone numbers based on a three-year average of the monitors that showed the fourth-highest eight-hour emissions concentration for each of the three years.

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Mitt Romney biography: the complete collection


Reporter Josh Hicks compiled the following look at Mitt Romney’s claims about his life and career. Click on the headlines to read the complete report.

Romney’s fiscal policies as governor

Romney receives one Pinocchio for his claims about taxes and spending during his tenure.

Romney’s claims of reducing health care subsidies

Romney earns three Pinocchios for suggesting he reduced the cost of uncompensated care as part of his health plan.

Romney’s claims of job creation at Bain Capital

Romney says he created more jobs than were lost. The picture is mixed and at this point we cannot reach a definitive conclusion.

Romney’s claim of saving the 2002 Winter Olympics

Overall, Romney earns a rare Geppetto Checkmark

Romney’s explanation for slow job-growth in Massachusetts

He gets one Pinocchio for misleading people about his turnaround claims.

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