Buying Hoosier Elections With Lies

Greg Sargent had a great post a week or so ago, hitting on the fact that all the untraceable outside money pouring into our elections isn’t only problematic on its own – it’s also that it is buying lie after lie:

And no one is talking about what’s in the ads themselves. No one is talking about how these ads are filled with multiple distortions and debunked falsehoods. In other words, no one is talking about what it is the voters themselves are seeing in these ads on an hourly basis. The discussion is largely a Beltway process argument about matters such as whether attack ads are effective and whether the Dem criticism of the secret cash is working politically for them.

None of this discussion does anything to undercut or challenge what the Chamber and Rove’s groups are actually up to here: They are flooding airwaves across the country with a massive, secret-donor-funded campaign that’s designed to tip control of Congress with a campaign of misinformation, distortions and falsehoods that have been widely debunked by independent fact checkers but nonetheless have attracted little to no notice.

Let’s look at some of the groups pouring money into Indiana races. Unfortunately, sites like Politifact and haven’t specifically investigated most of the ads running in Indiana, but because similar versions of these ads are running in many districts across the country we can extrapolate some of these fact checks.

The 60 Plus Association has spent more than $5.8 million in this election, including more than $397,000 against Joe Donnelly in Indiana’s 2nd District. Like most of these outside groups, 60 Plus does not disclose its donors, but multiple reports have stated that their initial funding came from the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies. The only 60 Plus ad checked by the nonpartisan PolitiFact – in fact, one of the same cookie-cutter ads they ran against Donnelly – registered a “Barely True” rating. looked at the same ad, and called it a “Misleading Onslaught by 60 Plus.”

Americans for Job Security has spent more $7.8 million total from undisclosed donors, including $355,000 in Indiana’s 8th District, and . The highest rating they’ve managed from PolitiFact is a “Half True,” but that was an ad in Colorado. The similar ad they ran against Trent Van Haaften included the same line about a “job-killing energy taxes",” which PolitiFact dismisses, writing: “calling it a "energy tax" is not an accurate way to describe the measure.” There’s also the problem that the ad is 100% speculative – it tries to tie Van Haaften to Congressional votes, when Van Haaften has never served in Congress. He did not vote for any cap & trade bill, and in fact has said that he opposes that plan.

Karl Rove’s billionaire-funded American Crossroads and its related groups have spent more than $37 million in 2010, including more than $400,000 spent opposing Joe Donnelly in the 2nd District. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent listed just a handful of the misleading or untrue ads American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS were running in Senate campaigns across the country. dedicated a lengthy piece to a “blizzard” of ads from Crossroads, writing that their ads “contain a number of misleading and false claims.”

The US Chamber of Commerce has spent nearly $32 million in independent expenditures this year, including $250,000 into the Senate campaign between mega-lobbyist Dan Coats and Rep. Brad Ellsworth. The Chamber is also guilty of an aversion to the truth. In fact, two Pittsburgh-area TV stations went as far as pulling a Chamber ad off the air because it contained unsupported lies about Senate candidate Joe Sestak. Greg Sargent also looked at a number of Chamber ads running against House candidates across the country, and found that those ads “contain many claims that are demonstrable distortions or have been repeatedly debunked as false by independent fact-checkers.”

Former Senator Norm Coleman’s American Action Network is a more recent entry into Indiana’s election this fall. They’ve spent about $17.5 million total this year, including $319,000 opposing Joe Donnelly in Indiana’s 2nd District. The only AAN ad evaluated by PolitiFact earned their “Pants on Fire” rating for suggesting that Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) voted on a bill that never actually came up in the House. mentioned that AAN was one of the groups promoting the “false statement that ‘jail time’ would be the punishment for not having insurance.” That ad was pulled by a Denver TV station after they determined the ad was false. American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) “action tank”, and does not disclose its donors.

Of course, the lies aren’t just coming from these shadowy groups. Dan Coats, a heavy favorite in the Senate race, is running his own ad that earned a “Pants On Fire” rating from PolitiFact. Coats’ ad claims that, thanks to Brad Ellsworth, senior citizens will be “forced” into Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. As PolitiFact wrote:

And if seniors are being forced into regular Medicare, a government-run health care program, it’s one they’ve collectively been forced into for 45 years. Ellsworth’s vote did nothing to change that. The ad is capitalizing on confusion about the nature of the Medicare program and making a ridiculous claim. Pants on Fire!

And in the 9th District, Fox 59 summed up the National Republican Congressional Committee’s ad in one word: baloney. This late in the campaign, I would probably be tempted use a less PG-rated term myself, but their analysis gets the point across:

Our rating of this ad aimed at Rep. Baron Hill and the others is baloney!

On Monday, the New York Times published an article addressing these same charges. Denise Bode, president and CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, was quoted, saying, "this program is a great example of ‘insourcing’ jobs to the United States by leveraging both foreign and domestic investment. It is the opposite of outsourcing."

Their organization is asking Republicans to pull the ads they say give the false impression that wind energy stimulus funds went to China.

When Hoosiers go to the polls on Tuesday, we can only hope they’re casting an informed ballot in spite of the lies saturating our airwaves.

This is the 4th entry in a series of posts looking at independent expenditures in Indiana elections. For previous entries, see: