[SUBHED] Bama Fact Check looks back at some of the wildest claims of the 2010 campaign season.
By Tim Lockette
It’s been a wild couple of months here at Bama Fact Check.
Since September, BFC journalists -- the reporters and editors at the website’s six partner newspapers -- have been poring over political ads and speeches from around the state, and putting the candidates’ claims to the test. We’ve caught the candidates in some real whoppers. And we’ve looked into a few seemingly bizarre claims that turned out to be true.
We didn’t catch every political humdinger that’s out there. There are only a few of us, and there’s whole industry devoted to churning out political ads. And we were just a fledgling organization during the primaries, so we missed some of the worst excesses of the primaries.
With those caveats, here’s an overview of some of the biggest fibs told by candidates during Bama Fact Check’s ca-reer – and two strange-sounding claims that turned out to be true.
The Alabama Department of Transportation is wasting half its money. (LINK: http://bit.ly/9RXwrG ) It’s hard to say how this theme caught on. But somehow, within the last month, Republican candidates got it into their heads that the state transportation department spends anywhere from one-third to one-half of its budget on offices, paper pushers, junkets -– in other words, not on roads. State treasurer Kay Ivey, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said in an interview with The Star that sources within ALDOT told her that “47 percent” of the agencies funds go to overhead. Governor candidate Dr. Robert Bentley said in a televised debate that 33 percent of ALDOT’s money goes to non-road projects.
Maybe Ivey heard wrong, and her source said “four to seven percent. Because that would be more accurate. According to ALDOT’s budget numbers (LINK: http://www.dot.state.al.us/tpweb/Aldot98thAnnualReport.pdf) about 7.5 percent of the budget goes to administration and equipment.
Tom Whatley was turned down by the Obama administration for inaccuracies in his resume. In 2008, Auburn resident and Republican state Senate candidate Tom Whatley sent an application to the incoming Obama administra-tion asking for an appointment to a position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He didn’t get the job. The Mo-bile Press-Register later found an inaccuracy in his resume –- Whatley seemed to list himself as working for the government and for a private firm at the same time.
This year, Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, took Whatley, his campaign opponent to task for losing the Obama appointment because of an inaccurate resume. But Little couldn’t offer proof that the resume glitch and the administration’s decision were related.
Non-English driver’s license exams cost the state big bucks. (LINK: http://www.bamafactcheck.com/view/full_story/9012960/article-Do-foreign-language-driver-s-license-tests-cost-the-state-money-Truth-Rating--1-out-of-5-?) Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James got famous with his television ad that lambasted the state for giving license tests “in 12 languages.” He said a James administration would save taxpayer money by throwing out all tests but the one in English.
Exactly the opposite was true. The federal government paid for development of Alabama’s license tests, which are administered on a computer. And English-only fans will be happy to know that the driving portion of the test is con-ducted only with English-speaking instructors, something James neglected to mention.
James’ was not only false, it garnered attention from across the country. It ranks as No. 4 only because it didn’t give James enough political traction to win the nomination.
K.L. Brown wants to help you get drunk. (LINK: http://t.co/9CznCXp) A direct mail ad from a group called The Committee for Honest Conservative Leadership attacked state Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, for supposedly casting a bunch of votes in favor of liberalizing alcohol sales in Alabama –- and it cited bill numbers to prove it. A quick search of legislative records blew those allegations out of the water. There was just no truth to the thing.
Del Marsh sold out to Mexico. (LINK: http://bit.ly/bf2dzO ) State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, was hit by two racially-charged ads trying to link him to illegal immigration and the exporting of jobs. The ads included digitally al-tered photos that depicted the Marsh wearing a sombrero and fronting a mariachi band. One ad claimed Marsh wanted to “open the floodgates to immigrants” –- and as proof, it quoted an obscure lobbyists’ newsletter that said no such thing. The other ad accused Marsh of moving his business to Mexico.
Actually, Marsh’s business, which makes aircraft coatings, opened a sales office in Mexico, bringing in new business and allowing Marsh hire more people in Anniston. The ads came from a shadowy group called The Committee to Protect Alabama Jobs, which isn’t registered as a PAC with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office or listed as a non-profit with the probate office in Jefferson County, where it is supposedly headquartered. It’s as anonymous as a message scrawled on a bathroom wall.
Eddie Ingram cut crime rates by 75 percent.
Houston County sheriff candidate Eddie Ingram, a Democrat, claimed that crime fell by 75 percent in the communities where he served as second-in-command of the police or sheriff’s department. The Dothan Eagle found that there was no noticeable change in crime for the one community for which complete statistics were available.
Robert Spence made $300K for a part-time job. Critics of Tuscaloosa County district attorney candidate Robert Spence, a Republican, claimed that Spence made $300,000 per year in a part-time job as the attorney for the Tuscaloosa County Commission. Actually, the county paid Spence’s firm $265,613 for legal services, of which Spence got $137,900.
Bentley will block illegal immigrants from public assistance.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Bentley claimed that, if elected, he’d block undocumented immigrants from getting Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and other forms of public assistants. And poof! It’s done. Turns out illegal immigrants are banned from most kinds of public assistance already.
STRANGE BUT TRUE Making your preacher play the lottery. A wacky-sounding ad from Senate District 11 candidate Greg Varner, a Democrat, accuses Republican oppo-nent Gerald Dial of proposing a mandatory state lottery that “even your preacher would have to play.” Oddly enough, it’s true. In 1999, when the state was considering an amendment to legalize lotto, Dial crafted an alternate plan that would have charged Alabamians $52 per year in tax, while entering them into a weekly statewide “raffle.”
Vote for me, I’m going to the bathroom.
In fact-checking an opponent’s claim that state Rep. K.L. Brown, D-Jacksonville, missed the last week of the legislative session, we came across something that was a little disturbing. Apparently legislators –- all of them, in both parties –- are in the habit of walking away from their desks and asking colleagues to vote in their place while they’re away. Some will ask colleagues to “watch their machines” for an entire day or more.