Thursday, October 16, 2008
Fact-Checking the Third Presidential Debate
By Richard Wolf and Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY
A look at the claims made by Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama at the third and final presidential debate Wednesday:
The claim: Obama said his tax plan offers three times the tax relief as McCain's plan does for the middle class.
The facts: The non-partisan Tax Policy Center shows that is the case for the first year of Obama's plan, but not over the long haul, and only for a narrow slice of the "middle class" — those making between $37,595 and $66,354. The group says Obama's plan would save those families $1,042 in the first year, compared with McCain's $319. In later years, the difference is not nearly as great.
The claim: McCain criticized Obama's association with former Chicago radical Bill Ayers, whom McCain called "a guy who in 2001 said he wished he would have bombed more."
The facts: Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that engaged in domestic bombings to protest the Vietnam War. He was in hiding for years after three Weathermen died in 1970 when bombs they were making exploded. Federal charges against him for crossing state lines to incite riots and conspiracy were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
In a New York Times story published by coincidence on Sept. 11, 2001, about his memoirs, Fugitive Days, he said, "I don't regret setting bombs … I feel we didn't do enough."
These days, Ayers is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has drawn kind words from the city's mayor.
Ayers and Obama have moved in some of the same circles. Ayers was a founder of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school-reform group. Obama chaired its board from 1995 to 1999. In 1995, Ayers hosted a brunch for Obama, who was running for the Illinois Senate. In 1997, they were on a juvenile justice panel sponsored by the University of Chicago. Ayers gave $200 to Obama's 2001 state Senate campaign, and the two were on a 2002 panel on intellectualism that was co-sponsored by the Chicago Public Library.
The claim: McCain said the Obama campaign has contributed to an organization that is perpetrating "one of the greatest frauds" in American campaign history.
The facts: The organization — the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN — says it has registered 1.3 million people this year. Obama's campaign paid an ACORN affiliate, Citizens Services Inc., $832,000 this year for get-out-the-vote efforts in the Democratic primaries, according to the non-partisan CQ MoneyLine, which tracks campaign spending. Republicans have repeatedly accused the group of submitting fraudulent registrations; Obama said it had hired some people who "just filled out a bunch of names." What's not clear is whether any of the fraudulent registrations can lead to fraudulent votes.
The claim: Obama said McCain's television advertisements have been "100% negative." McCain said that wasn't true.
The facts: Obama's claim apparently was based on an analysis released Oct. 8 by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. The report said, "During the week of September 28-October 4, nearly 100% of the McCain campaign's advertisements were negative. During the same period, 34% of the Obama campaign's ads were negative." But the report also said that overall 73% of McCain's ads and 61% of Obama's have been negative. The study used information obtained from TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which analyzes data on the airing of every presidential ad in the top 186 TV markets in the country.
The McCain campaign last night released its own tally of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group data based on total ad spending, saying that the Obama campaign had spent $42 million on negative ads to McCain's $27 million, and that Obama had run 81,638 negative ads to McCain's 59,835.
The claim: McCain said Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden had proposed dividing Iraq into three countries. He called it a "cockamamie idea."
The facts: In 2006, Biden, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, proposed partitioning Iraq into three regions — Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni — with a central government in Baghdad. He said it would "maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group … room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests." He did not propose that it become three separate countries.
The claim: McCain said that Obama voted against Associate Justice Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The facts: Obama voted against Roberts, but he was not in the Senate when Breyer was approved by the Senate in 1994. Obama became a senator in 2005.
The claim: In discussing his $5,000-per-family tax credit for health care, McCain said the average cost of a health care plan is $5,800.
The facts: The average cost of a family plan purchased by employers this year hit a new high, $12,106, according to an annual survey of nearly 2,000 employers by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group based in Menlo Park, Calif. Individual coverage premiums averaged $4,479.