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GOP ad falsely tags Democratic candidate with ‘defund police’ label

Republican Eric Schmitt, a Senate candidate in Missouri, posted on Oct. 25 an ad claiming Democratic opponent Trudy Busch Valentine supports defunding police. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

“Trudy Busch Valentine supports their anti-cop agenda.”

— voice-over of new attack ad against Valentine, a Democrat, from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, GOP nominee for Senate, released Oct. 25

Ever since many liberal activists adopted the slogan of “defund the police” in the wake of the 2020 killing of George Floyd, Republicans have sought to tag Democrats with the phrase — even those who state clearly they do not support it.

During the 2020 campaign, for instance, Joe Biden firmly rejected calls from left-wing activists to defund police and said he would double funding for a community policing program that would put more officers on the street. Nevertheless, the Trump campaign relentlessly — and falsely — claimed Biden was a supporter of the concept.

In the current election cycle, Republicans have taken a new tack — guilt by association. They have pummeled Democrats who do not support “defund the police” with ads that claim that they have supporters or financial backers who supported the concept.

So, for instance, the Congressional Leadership Fund, allied with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attacked Democratic U.S. House candidate Hillary Scholten of Michigan because she received campaign contributions from groups — such as Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club — that had once associated themselves with the movement. Similarly, Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake claimed her rival, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, had been “endorsed by radical groups that want to defund our police.” That was also a reference to Planned Parenthood.

Schmitt’s new ad takes a similar approach. It shows images of four women — three of whom are Black — who support the Democratic nominee, Trudy Busch Valentine, a member of the wealthy Anheuser-Busch family. It suggests, with misleading editing of a video clip, that Valentine supports their position on “defund the police” — even though she does not.

The Facts

Before we explore the ad, let’s get straight what it means to “defund the police.”

Only in rare instances did liberal advocates call for the outright elimination of police departments. Proponents by and large want to redirect some funds now spent on police forces to items such as education, public health, housing and youth services. The idea is that low-income communities would become stronger — and less in need of policing tactics — if root problems were addressed.

Under this concept, some police officers would be replaced with trained social workers or specialized response teams to let police focus on violent crime, not drug overdoses or homelessness. The theory is that police would be better positioned to deal with rapes and murders if they were not required to deal with other social ills that sometimes lead to community confrontations with police.

At The Fact Checker, we obviously take no position on the issue. But this is a catchphrase that left the door wide open for political attacks.

Schmitt’s ad starts with a picture of St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (Mo.) and state Sen. Karla May, all Democrats. “Tishaura Jones and her radical team want to defund our police,” the narrator says.

In rapid succession, images and words bombard the viewer.

  • In bold letters, text appears over the photo of the four women. “Tishaura Jones, Defund Police Ally,” the text reads, citing a USA Today article from 2021.
  • Bush, in a video clip, then appears standing before the Capitol, declaring, “defunding police has to happen.”
  • Another photo shows Valentine flanked by Bush and Jones, with a new headline: “Trudy Busch Valentine supports their anti-cop agenda.” The citation is the Oct. 16 edition of the weekly Black newspaper the St. Louis American.
  • Then a video clip appears of Valentine telling a reporter: “I would love to be able to work with Mayor Jones on any of the things she wants to work on.”

Before we get to Valentine’s actual positions, let’s unpack how the viewer is being misled.

The 2021 USA Today article, which had a photo caption that called Jones a “defund police ally,” was a nuanced look at how Jones is trying to win public support to steer some money earmarked for the police toward community and social services programs — and it noted that she rejects the label of “defund the police.”

“I don’t agree with [defund the police] because I think that it automatically gives people a negative connotation,” Jones told USA Today. “And it’s totally antithetical to what we’re trying to do, which is make people safer and transform our public safety systems to invest in things that make people safe.”

Jones issued an executive order shortly after she took office to redirect $4 million from the police overtime budget to hire social workers within the police department. But then city aldermen succeeded in adding $5 million to the overtime budget with the help of federal covid relief funds.

As for the Bush clip, that came from a 2021 interview with CBS in which she defended her use of private security guards after receiving death threats. The ad cuts off what she thought the police funds should be used for, changing the context of her quote. Here’s the full quote, with the section appearing in the ad in boldface.

“So suck it up and defunding the police has to happen, we need to defund the police and put that money into social safety nets because we are trying to save lives,” Bush said. “What other occupation can do work that is out of their scope? ... As a nurse, I can’t be the surgeon, too. You don’t want me being your surgeon and I’m the nurse. At what point do we pay police to be social workers? No, we don’t.”

The most egregious mischaracterization concerns the interview with Valentine that appeared in the St. Louis American. The newspaper never suggested she supported an “anti-cop agenda.” Instead, in an one-minute interview at an education event, Valentine told reporter Danielle Brown she wanted to meet with Jones to find out her top three concerns for St. Louis. The ad snips Valentine’s comment to again leave a misleading impression. Here’s the full exchange, with the section used in the ad in boldface.

  • Brown: “I know that you are running for Senate. So one of the main questions I wanted to ask you was: What is your biggest plan that you’re working on as far as improving the city of St. Louis?”
  • Valentine: “You know, I would love to be able to work with Mayor Jones on any of the things that she wants to work on to improve St. Louis and really get an idea from her what her biggest concern is, and the top three and we can work on those.”

Separately, the article reported that Jones’s office said her top-three priorities were to make the city safer, improve the economy for “left-behind communities” and improve city services. Making the city safer included “investing in community violence intervention programs to take the burden off officers and help them focus on their main job — preventing violent crime.”

Meanwhile, rather than embracing the “defund police” slogan, Valentine has rejected it. When she entered the race, she was asked by the Missouri Independent to identify a position that was different from her party.

“I think defunding the police is totally wrong,” she replied, “because we need to be funding the police with the money and training they need to keep all of us safe.”

Her campaign website also says she “will support robust funding for law enforcement and first responders to crack down on violent crime, conduct long term investigations into drug trafficking, and promote community-oriented policing programs.”

In a July interview, she reiterated: “I am not for defunding the police. I think the police need to be more funded, better wages, much more education, much more understanding of what’s going on in their communities and helping their communities. I am for police and law enforcement.”

Schmitt’s campaign defended the ad.

“There is a reason that law enforcement leaders and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed Attorney General Eric Schmitt in this race — Trudy Busch Valentine won’t put our police before her radical agenda,” spokesman Rich Chrismer said in a statement. “If The Heiress Trudy Busch Valentine was truly against Defunding the Police, she would stop courting the support of radicals like Mayor Tishaura Jones and Rep. Cori Bush, who continue to want to defund the police.”

The Pinocchio Test

Valentine has been consistent in her position — that she wants to boost police funding, not reduce it. That’s not a radical agenda. Confronted with this uncomfortable fact, the Schmitt campaign has chosen to falsely suggest the Senate hopeful supports the opinions of some of her supporters — which in turn are much more nuanced than this sledgehammer ad implies.

Polls show Schmitt with a commanding lead in the race, which makes one wonder why in the final weeks his campaign has resorted to misleading video editing and guilt by association to make a bogus claim. He earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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