6 Top Campaign Ads, Debunked

BY Beth Summers  October 20, 2010 at 5:05 PM EDT

Political ad-makers on both sides of the aisle are distorting the truth this campaign season. Nothing new there. But for voters looking for candidate information, political operatives are far from the only source available. There are several nonpartisan fact-checking groups dedicated to deciphering the allegations being thrown back and forth on the Internet and the airwaves.

We selected six of the most misleading, negative or just plain confusing television ads in competitive races, and asked Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, to help separate fact from fiction.

First up, a spot by Democrat Robin Carnahan, Missouri’s secretary of state. She’s running for U.S. Senate against GOP Congressman Roy Blunt. Polls show Carnahan running behind, but only by single-digits.

BROOKS JACKSON, FactCheck.org: We called that ad “distorted.” Blunt and several other lawmakers invoked immunity to keep from testifying for the defense in that bribe case. Blunt wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing. And yes, he flew “repeatedly” on the contractor’s airplane — three times, which he paid for.

The American Action Network is one of the bigger outside groups spending money to support Republican candidates. This ad in Washington state claims Democratic Sen. Patty Murray supported the “largest tax increase in American history,” and depicts her as a proponent of a “huge tax vote in November.” Republican senatorial candidate Dino Rossi is hoping to unseat Murray this fall.

BROOKS JACKSON: That’s a misleading ad. The 1993 budget bill that Murray supported wasn’t close to being the “largest tax increase in American history” by any relevant measure, despite what Republicans have always claimed. That “tax hike on small business” the ad refers to is actually an increase on high-earning individuals, and would only hit about 3 percent of those who report business income on their personal returns. Besides, it fails to mention some recent tax cuts specifically targeted to small business which Murray supported.

Another third-party group, VoteVets.org, has an ad out on behalf of Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, who is running against Pat Toomey, former president of the anti-tax group Club for Growth.

BROOKS JACKSON: We said this ad goes a bit too far. It’s true that Toomey opposed a bill that would have imposed a 90 percent tax on bonuses for executives at bailed-out banks. But that’s far from letting executives keep “every penny.” The executives would still pay normal tax rates.

The “Angle Action Network” paid for this ad on behalf of Nevada Republican senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, who is locked in a tight race with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

BROOKS JACKSON: It’s just not true to say that Reid “votes to give special tax breaks to illegal aliens, and to give illegals Social Security benefits.” There’s been no such vote and no such proposal. Anyone who’s here illegally could only get benefits by becoming legal and working and paying taxes on the same basis as everybody else. It’s true that a newly legal immigrant can get credit for taxes paid while working illegally, but that’s been the law for a long time. Furthermore, Reid sponsored an amendment in 2007 to make it clear that illegal immigrants remain ineligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.

Next, an ad paid for by the Democratic National Committee accusing Republicans of “benefiting from secret foreign money.”

BROOKS JACKSON: That ad and others like it make a claim for which there’s no proof. The Chamber of Commerce says that what little foreign money they get isn’t being used to fund their ads, and there’s no evidence to show otherwise. The fact is that the Federal Election Commission has held since at least 1992 that it’s OK to take foreign money and spend on political ads so long as you can make a reasonable showing that you have enough money from U.S. sources to cover your political spending. And based on what’s been reported so far, the Chamber gets less than one-half of 1 percent of its annual budget from overseas.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is getting involved, too. Here’s an ad attacking South Dakota’s lone House member, Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Her Republican opponent is South Dakota’s assistant state House Majority Leader Kristi Noem.

BROOKS JACKSON: What’s a little exaggerated here is what appears on screen. The ad claims Sandlin “voted with Nancy Pelosi 91 percent of the time.” It’s true she votes with other Democrats that often, but speakers traditionally don’t vote on any but the most important measures. Sandlin and Pelosi voted the same only 81 percent of the time.