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FACT CHECK: Pro-Romney super PAC hits Santorum with misleading claims

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Screen grab from Restore Our Future ad, 'Right Experience.'
 

 

Pro-Romney forces are looking beyond Michigan, hammering Rick Santorum in four other states with a new TV ad making some misleading claims.

  • The ad claims Mitt Romney turned around Massachusetts’ finances without raising taxes, when in fact he raised hundreds of millions in new government “fees” when he was governor.
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  • It also rehashes a boast that Romney issued 800 vetoes, but fails to mention that more than 700 were overridden. It attacks former Sen. Santorum for “voting for billions in waste,” but fails to note that Santorum was given a lifetime “hero” rating by the anti-pork group Citizens Against Government Waste, and was consistently rated better than most of his Republican peers by the fiscally conservative National Taxpayers Union during his dozen years in the Senate.

With much of the political focus on upcoming Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona, the ad from Restore Our Future sets its sights further down the road, airing in Super Tuesday states Tennessee and Oklahoma, as well as two states that vote a week after that, Alabama and Mississippi.

We dealt with a couple of these claims about Romney’s record when they were raised in a previous Restore Our Future ad that aired in Iowa in December.

For example, the claim that Romney issued 800 vetoes as governor of Massachusetts fails to mention that more than 700 of them were overturned by the Massachusetts Legislature. Back in 2007, when Romney made a similar claim, FactCheck.org independently obtained a complete list of veto overrides covering all four of Romney’s budgets and found that the overrides for fiscal years 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 totaled 707 of the more than 800 line-item vetoes that Romney had issued. Massachusetts’ Legislature, the General Court, was overwhelmingly Democratic while Romney was governor. But in some cases, even the Republicans went against Romney. A minimum wage bill that Romney vetoed in 2006 was overridden unanimously, for example.

The ad is correct about Romney facing huge deficits when he became governor in 2003, and leaving with a surplus. But as we noted in 2007, his oft-touted cuts in wasteful programs and duplicate agencies made only a small dent in the deficit, according to an estimate by the independent, nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. More significant was the $277 million that Romney cut from the state’s local education aid budget and the $130 million cut from higher education, moves that shifted at least part of the tax burden onto towns and counties.

Moreover, as we have repeatedly written, it is misleading to claim — as the ad does — that Romney closed the deficit without raising taxes. He increased government fees by hundreds of millions of dollars.

As we wrote in 2007 when Romney was making his first presidential bid, Romney in 2003 doubled fees for court filings (which include marriage licensing fees), professional registrations and firearm licenses. Romney also quintupled the per gallon delivery fee for gasoline. All told, the fees raised more than $400 million in their first year. Romney also “closed loopholes” in the corporate tax structure, a move that generated another $150 million in increased revenue.

In addition, Romney cut aid to local cities and counties. In 2004, Romney cut nearly 5 percent, or about $230 million, from the local aid budget. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, representing the state’s cities and towns, said Romney’s cut “forced communities statewide to cut services and raise local taxes and fees.”

The bits of Santorum’s record cited in the ad are accurate. Santorum did vote to increase the debt limit five times, in 1997200220032004 and 2006. Those votes, combined, raised the debt limit by nearly $3.5 trillion, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

And as the ad says, Santorum did vote for a massive transportation spending bill that included the “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark. And he voted against an amendment to specifically defund the Bridge to Nowhere. Santorum has requested earmarks, has voted for numerous bills that contained them, and has repeatedly defended the practice and the earmarks he requested (though he now says the practice of earmarks has been abused and should be suspended).

And lastly, the ad is correct that Santorum was called “the ultimate Washington insider” in a Politico story, written by Manu Raju and John Bresnahan on Jan. 6. Here’s a snippet from that story:

Politico, Jan. 6: During his 16 years on Capitol Hill, Santorum developed close personal ties with Republican lawmakers, became immersed in the inner workings of the Senate, climbed the ladder of leadership and embraced earmarks.

As Santorum tries to seize the tea-party mantle and paint Mitt Romney as the ultimate establishment candidate, the reality is Santorum became the ultimate Washington insider.

But again, these facts paint an incomplete picture. Citizens Against Government Waste told us that Santorum left the Senate in 2006 with a lifetime rating of 80 percent with the anti-earmarks organization, ranking him in the top 25 percent of Senate Republicans. That put Santorum in CAGW’s “Taxpayer Hero” category.

And the fiscally conservative National Taxpayers Union provides a flattering big-picture assessment of Santorum’s voting record on fiscal issues. The NTU looks at legislators’ votes on everything from taxes to spending to debt regulation and fiscal policy in general and then grades them. You can see all of the Republican candidates’ scores here. NTU doesn’t provide a composite score for legislators, but in yearly grades issued during Santorum’s Senate years, NTU gave him an “A” grade seven times, a “B+” three times and a “B” twice. He also got Bs in his last three years in the House (as far back as the NTU ratings go). Santorum got better grades than most of his fellow Republicans during his 12 years as a senator.

“Some would say that would average closer to an A- grade, while others would say it’s closer to a B+,” Pete Sepp, executive vice president of NTU told us in an email. “We tend to choose the side of caution when speaking about any lawmaker’s average, because it’s also important to examine the individual parts of the overall record.”

– Robert Farley