Super PACs took a starring role in Monday night’s Republican presidential debate, with three separate scuffles over attack ads aired by independent groups collecting unlimited funds.
According to an AP analysis, ads now sway more voters than traditional campaigning. Super PACs are outspending the actual campaigns in South Carolina 2-to-1. The State reports that average viewers in the Columbia-area market are likely to see a political ad 182 times before Saturday’s primary.
In the battle of candidates vs. super PACs, candidates won, at least on merit. Every ad described as dishonest in the debate has been deemed so by independent factcheckers.
Below, every exchange, every ad and the facts.
Former Pennsylvania governor Rick Santorum: “]Former Massachusetts] Governor [Mitt] Romney’s super PAC has put an ad out there suggesting that I voted to allow felons to be able to vote from prison ... I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who have — who were felons, who served their time, who have extended — exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?”
The Restore Our Future ad:
The facts: Santorum is right. He correctly explained that the amendment he voted for in 2002 would have allowed felons to vote after finishing probation and parole. The Restore Our Future ad shows a picture of a man in an orange jumpsuit wearing an “I voted” button — suggesting inaccurately that Santorum voted to allow felons to vote from prison.
Moderator Jerry Seib, WSJ: “Speaker Gingrich, a super PAC supporting Governor Romney is running an ad here citing a pro-life’s group charge that you voted for a bill in Congress, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi, that supported China’s one-child policy. And they say that means you provided government funding for abortion, but you oppose abortion. What’s your response to that charge?”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich: “I think it is an absurdity and it would be nice if Governor Romney would exercise leadership on his former staff and his major donors to take falsehoods off the air.”
The Restore Our Future ad:
The facts: Gingrich is right. Restore Our Future has used this claim in numerous ads. The Factchecker deemed it misleading: Gingrich and Pelosi were among 144 co-sponsors of a bill that never made it to a vote back in 1989. The focus of the legislation was global warming, not China, and the bill specifically prohibited any money being used for abortion, involuntary sterilization or forced family planning of any kind.
Romney: “If we are talking about Super PAC ads that are inaccurate, Mr. Speaker, you have a Super PAC ad that attacks me. It’s probably the biggest hoax since Big Foot. The people that looked at it have said that this ad is entirely false, that this documentary that they are running includes businesses I had no involvement with, the events that they described.”
The Winning Our Future ad:
The facts: Romney is right. The Factchecker gave the Bain documentary from which this ad was drawn Four Pinocchios: “[W]ithout evidence, the film claims that “tens of thousands” of people have lost their jobs because of actions taken by Romney and Bain Capital. ... Only one of the four case studies directly involves Romney and his decision-making, while at least two are completely off point.”
Romney: “One of the things I decried in the current financial system that gets behind campaigns is that we have these voting requirements that put these super PACs in power that say things we disagree with. ... ... Candidates should have the responsibility and the right to manage the ads that are being run on their behalf.”
The facts: It’s true that super PACs and candidates cannot legally coordinate, but Romney is being somewhat disingenuous here. He could publicly demand that the super PAC supporting him stop running misleading ads and he has not done so. That said, he is far from the only candidate decrying negative ads while benefiting from attacks.