PoliGraph: Dueling 1st District ads fail truth test

In Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District attack ads are flying fast and furious.

PoliGraph looked at two of these ads, one paid for by incumbent Tim Walz that questions his Republican opponent Randy Demmer’s stance on Social Security and another paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has been funding ads aimed at electing Demmer.

Both ads focus on nuggets of truth and blow them out of proportion.

Walz’s ad against Demmer:

“[Randy Demmer’s] got a plan to partially privatize Social Security,” a voice over in Walz’s ad says as pictures of Wall Street’s trading floor and senior citizens flash on the screen. “And who will profit? Wall Street, making billions in fees.”

The Evidence

Demmer’s website says he “does not support the privatization of Social Security.” On his Facebook page and in recent interviews he has said only that the current system should be reformed for his and younger generations. Demmer spokesman Jason Flohrs says Demmer doesn’t have a specific reform plan in mind.

But it appears he’s backpedaled on the subject. At a Winona event in 2008, Demmer said that he’d “favor the option” of allowing people his age to dictate how their Social Security contributions are invested if that’s what they wanted to do.

That’s the clip that’s featured in the Walz ad, and to some degree, it’s been taken out of context. The entire video clip reveals that Demmer did not – and still doesn’t – support taking Social Security away from seniors already benefiting from the program; Walz’s ad is misleading in this regard because it features shots of older folks pouring over their benefit statements. And while Demmer pointed out that Social Security funding is strained, he was vague on how he’d reform it.

The second part of Walz’s claim that Wall Street would profit from privatization relies on analysis of former President George W. Bush’s 2004 plan to create personal Social Security savings accounts. Back then, some experts said that Wall Street could make money from fees associated with these accounts. But it was conjecture. And because Demmer doesn’t have a plan to change Social Security, it’s impossible to say whether Wall Street would profit or not.

The Verdict

While Demmer previously said he’d support allowing people control their Social Security contributions investments, he’s backed off that position; PoliGraph could find no evidence that he’s recently campaigned on the idea. More importantly, the Walz ad claims that Demmer has a plan to privatize Social Security. In fact, Demmer doesn’t have a plan one way or another on the issue, saying only that it needs reform.

This ad is false.

NRCC ad against Walz:

“Why did Tim Walz vote for a bill that allowed more than $1.5 billion go to companies overseas,” asks the voice over in the NRCC ad. “Walz helped create jobs in China. And we paid for it.”

The Evidence

At issue is the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2009, a measure Walz voted for. Included in the legislation are tax credits and grants to develop alternative energy, including wind power, which is the subject of this ad.

As evidence to support its claim, the NRCC points to a reporting series by Russ Choma at American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, which found that about 80 percent – or roughly $1.6 billion – of the more than $2 billion spent on renewable energy went to U.S. based wind projects owned by foreign companies.

But that’s where the truth in this ad ends.

First, none of the firms featured in Choma’s article are located in China. And while it’s true that many wind turbine parts used in U.S. wind farms are made overseas, including China, it’s false to imply that the entire $1.6 billion in the stimulus bill went there.

Further, the ad neglects that new wind projects in the U.S. – financed by foreign companies or by American companies – create jobs locally, a point that the Department of Energy has gone to great length to point out. It’s hard to pin down precisely how many jobs local wind projects have created, but the American Wind Energy Association estimates that stimulus money helped create or save upwards of 40,000 jobs in 2009.

The Verdict

The NRCC ad correctly states that roughly $1.6 billion in stimulus dollars have gone to foreign companies operating wind farms in the U.S. However, the rest of this ad is highly misleading because it implies that all that money has gone to China, which is not true.

Further, those stimulus dollars do create or save jobs in the U.S.

This ad is misleading enough to also rate a false on the PoliGraph test.


YouTube, “Lost,” accessed Oct. 12, 2010

YouTube, Randy Demmer on Social Security, accessed Oct. 12, 2010

Randy Demmer for Congress, Minnesota Values, accessed Oct. 12, 2010

Tim Walz for Congress, “Lost” fact sheet, accessed Oct. 12, 2010

The Austin Post Bulletin, Clearing up Demmer’s stance on Social Security, by Heather J. Carlson Sept. 8, 2010

Randy Demmer’s Facebook page, accessed Oct. 12, 2010

MSNBC, Wall Street steers clear of Social Security debate, by Martin Wolk, Dec. 28, 2004

SIA Research Reports, Dec. 8, 2004

YouTube, “Tim Walz – Part of the Problem,” accessed Oct. 12, 2010

Clerk of the House of Representatives, Roll Call Vote 70 on HR 1, Feb. 13, 2009

The American Wind Energy Association, Job Creation and Recovery Act Funding, Nov. 18, 2009

PolitiFact.com, Palin claims that most of the renewable energy stimulus dollars have gone to Chinese turbinemakers, by Catharine Richert, Feb. 23, 2010

Recovery.Gov, Agency Summary: The Department of Energy, accessed Oct. 12, 2010

The Investigative Reporting Workshop, Blown Away: Wind Energy Grants Under the Stimulus Program, by Russ Choma, Feb. 8, 2010

The Investigative Reporting Workshop, Blown Away: Overseas firms collecting most green energy money, by Russ Choma, Oct. 29, 2009

The Investigative Reporting Workshop, Blown Away: Foreign Countries Control Wind Manufacturing, by Russ Choma, Feb. 8, 2010

Politico, Stimulus Money Goes Overseas, by Meredith Shiner, March 3, 2010

Department of Energy Facebook page, Nov. 20, 2009

The New York Times, Wind Farm Deal Assures Bigger U.S. Role, By Matthew L. Wald, August 6, 2010

The American Wind Energy Association, U.S. Wind Energy Industry Installs 539 MW In First Quarter, April 29, 2010

Interview, Sara Severs, spokeswoman, Tim Walz, Oct. 12, 2010

Interview, Jason Flohrs, spokesman, Randy Demmer, Oct. 12, 2010

Interview, Tom Erikson, spokesman, National Republican Congressional Committee, Oct. 11, 2010


The Humphrey Institute

  • As usual, good and fair analysis.

    On the Social Security question, doesn’t Mr. Demmer need to recognize that if the “young” (which he is including himself) gets allowed to not participate in funding the program that the program will have a shortfall and thus benefits may have to be adjusted much earlier than currently projected ?

    On the wind energy jobs, this is false in so many ways … but if the voters want to know whether jobs were created because of wind, then they need to go no further than Trimont. The Trimont Area Wind Farm will utilize over 200 wind turbines and is almost 2/3rds complete. The construction of these turbines employee about 100 employees each … now not every job employed native Minnesotans as companies from Wyoming sent workers here … but those workers (and their families) helped the local economies … Minnesota is fourth nationally in wind production and Congressman Walz has been instrumental in supporting these programs. Also, you would have to check but JOBZ was offered to help support this program.

    In this voter’s mind, Walz gets a technical False on the Social Security question, but the RNC gets a RED FLASHING FALSE.