Some $1 billion in television ads have been dumped on potential voters in the midterm elections, much of it on attack ads sponsored by shadowy third-party groups. The Fact Checker had to view and assess many of these ads, and so we pity the poor voters in crucial battleground states. These ads are the dregs of our democracy, designed only to motivate base voters or so turn off voters from the other side that they don’t bother to cast a ballot.
The campaign season started with a barrage of attack ads about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, but no Obamacare ads make our list of the most fact-challenged ads of the midterm elections. That’s because they at least were based on something real, such as a tale of woe from someone who did not benefit from the health care law. Such ads certainly earned Pinocchios, because critical information or context was missing, but they did not invent facts with little or no basis in reality.
Here now are the 10 worst ads of the 2014 elections, chosen from an extensive list of Four-Pinocchio ads. Four come from the tight Senate race in Louisiana, confirming the state’s reputation as a place where politics is a contact sport.
Click on the headline for a link to the full fact check.
Alison Lundergan Grimes (D): False claims about her opponent being bought off by ‘anti-coal billionaires‘
The Democratic candidate challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stands in front of the camera and utters statements that she must have known are false. Her central claim — that McConnell had pocketed $600,000 from anti-coal groups — had already earned Four Pinocchios. The claim was based on money earned by McConnell’s wife, much of which came from being on a board of bank that finances coal companies. But Grimes also accused McConnell of failing to get the right environmental equipment for a privately-held power plant — which is not a senator’s job.
Cassidy, who is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), also addresses the camera in this ad — and makes a whopper of a claim, alleging that Landrieu chose illegal immigrants over veterans. But there was no such vote in the Senate — and Cassidy himself had voted for (and defended) the same cuts in military pensions that formed the basis of his attack on Landrieu. Note to campaign consultants: This kind of advertising doesn’t do much for your candidate’s credibility.
This deceptive and sleazy ad from embattled Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) used an ordinary man-in-the-street interview to put words in his opponent’s mouth. “When I hear Evan Jenkins say that he’s gonna take away our black lung benefits, it just bothers me to no end,” says coal miner Jackie Counts Jr. But Jenkins never said that; in fact, he said he would seek to keep key black lung benefits even if the Affordable Care Act was ever repealed.
Perdue, after being endorsed by former president George H.W. Bush, ran ads claiming that the Bushes Points of Light Foundation once run by Michelle Nunn, his opponent in the Georgia Senate race, “funded organizations linked to terrorists.” His evidence was only a leaked campaign plan for Nunn that said that this would be a bogus attack by Republicans. There was no terrorist link. Points of Light was simply a pass-through for donations from eBay buyers and sellers to various charities, including one well-regarded group that had the word “Islamic” in its name.
Many Democrats aired false attacks on the House GOP plan for Medicare, but Grimes goes a step further by having an ordinary citizen, Don Disney of Cloverlick, Ky., ask McConnell: “I want to know how you could have voted to raise my Medicare costs by $6,000.” There was no such vote, and even if there was, 75-year-old Disney would not have been affected under the GOP proposal. Moreover, the GOP plan has been substantially changed since it was unveiled in 2011 — and the $6,000 figure was based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis that has since been withdrawn. So the whole attack is rather stale — but that didn’t stop Democrats from raising it across the country.
This ad opens with idyllic scenes of a mother in an upper-middle-class home checking on her baby in the crib and texting a spouse who’s away: “Love You. Good Night.” Then an intruder is shown breaking through the front door — and the next scene depicts yellow police-line tape and an armed police officer. The ad suggests that Landrieu, in voting for enhanced background checks, made such a tragedy more possible. But even the NRA’s own lawyers acknowledged that nothing in the bill would have prevented the mother in this ad from buying a weapon to defend herself, even on short notice.
Senate Majority PAC (D): The Koch brothers want to ‘protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas’
Senate Majority PAC is affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and its ads often won Four Pinocchios. Here, SMP tried to claim that Cassidy is “bought and paid for” by the billionaire Koch brothers. But the ad not only mischaracterizes an ordinary tax deduction as a special “tax cut” but then it falsely asserts that “protecting” this tax break is part of the Koch agenda. It turned out this claim was based on a tenuous Koch link to an organization that never even took a position on the legislation in question. Such sloppy research is almost political malpractice.
In the nasty Senate race in Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton claimed that Sen. Mark Pryor (D) wants to give Social Security benefits to undocumented immigrants “for work they did with forged identities.” But this claim was based on a 2006 vote — and it had already been debunked years ago by fact checkers when GOP operatives tried this gambit in other races. Pryor often voted against undocumented immigrants on this issue. Moreover, the law was changed in 2008 to make it difficult for the Social Security Administration to process past claims from illegal immigrants who become legal residents.
This is another nonsensical attack on the Koch Brothers, also in the Louisiana Senate race. This deceptive ad strings together a variety of true (or semi-true) statements in an effort to mislead viewers. Essentially, it claims that Cassidy would be in the pocket of the Koch Brothers, even though he fought them on a flood insurance issue that is the central point of the ad. In reality, Cassidy could run an ad saying that he took on the Kochs — even though they are backing him – and beat them.
Different Republican groups have attacked Democrats for supposedly voting to give themselves first-class travel at taxpayer expense. This attack can only be aimed at a small group of lawmakers who did not vote for either the Democratic or Republican budget blueprints, both of which had nonbinding language saying congressional funds could not be used for first-class travel. But all of the members under attack have sponsored a bill that would actually prevent first-class travel — but Republicans will not allow it to come up for a vote. Republicans claim that Democrats started this silliness, but that’s not an excuse to continue it.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form