PoliGraph: Claim in anti-Cravaack ad needs lots of context

  1. Listen Featured Audio

Ads are popping up daily in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District as voters gear up for next week’s primary contest between Jeff Anderson, Tarryl Clark and Rick Nolan to unseat Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack.

In the meantime, the three DFLers are getting an assist from an outside spending group aimed at installing Democrats in Congress. Friends of Democracy PAC is spending $700,000 over the next couple of weeks on ads in multiple races throughout the country, including one aimed at Cravaack.

“Your Congressman Chip Cravaack took over $100,000 from financial institutions and voted against holding them accountable,” the ad states.

Cravaack did take contributions from the financial industry and did vote with his party on financial regulation bills. But the ad leave out too much context to earn an accurate.

The Evidence

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which is where Friends of Democracy got its numbers, throughout his career Cravaack has raised roughly $95,000 from individuals working in the finance, insurance and real estate sectors and political action committees representing those industries. That’s not quite the “over $100,000” the ad says, but it’s in the ballpark.

Friends of Democracy also points to several votes Cravaack cast for bills that some said would undermine oversight of the financial industry.

For instance, Cravaack voted for a bill that the Obama administration said would weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cravaack voted against an amendment to the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills that would have increased funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission that was cut in the legislation.

But other bills the group points to, including a legislation that would have cut pay to for some White House positions and a bill that would have changed how regulations are promulgated, aren’t specific to the financial sector.

This claim deserves further context.

First, PoliGraph is always cautious with claims that imply donations lead to special favors. Just because a person who works in the financial industry gave money to Cravaack’s campaign doesn’t mean it came with strings attached.

That point is driven home by the fact that the votes cited by Friends of Democracy all fell largely along party lines. In other words, Cravaack voted with his party every time and was never the deciding vote one way or another.

Finally, it’s important to note that Cravaack’s contributions from political action committees and people who work in the finance, insurance and real estate sector pale in comparison to other members of the U.S. House. Top members, including House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor , Democrat Charlie Rangel, who represents parts of New York City, and Barney Frank, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, have received millions from the finance sector over their congressional careers.

The Verdict

This claim has some truth to it: Cravaack has received roughly $100,000 from the finance, real estate and insurance sector since the start of his congressional career, and he did vote for legislation that some say would undermine the government’s ability to oversee the industries.

But other votes cited by Friends of Democracy aren’t specific to the financial sector. And there’s no evidence to suggest that Cravaack’s votes are tied to the donations as the ad implies. That’s especially true when those contributions are compared to other House Democrats and Republicans who have received far more than Cravaack ever has.

Most voters realize campaign ads, especially those from outside groups, should be taken with large grains of salt. They will always try to make the candidate they’re attacking look as bad as possible. PoliGraph is here in part to provide context to this ad, which earns a misleading rating.


Friends of Democracy, “Get in the Game,” Aug. 9, 2012

The New York Times, Amendments to HR 1, accessed Aug. 9, 2012

Roll Call Vote 88, Frank Amendment to HR 1, Feb. 17, 2011

Roll Call Vote 198, final passage of HAMP Termination Act 2011, March 29, 2011

The Treasury Department, Statement of Administration Policy on the HAMP Termination Act, March 15, 2011

Roll Call Vote 621, HR 1315 Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act of 2011, July 21, 2011

The White House, Statement of Administration Policy on HR 1315, July 20, 2011

House GOP Legislative Digest, HR 3010, accessed Aug. 9, 2010

Roll Call Vote 888, HR 3010 passage of the Regulatory Accountability Act, Dec. 2, 2011

The White House, Statement of Administration Policy, H.R. 3010 – Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011, Nov. 29, 2011

OpenSecrets.org, contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors to members of the U.S. House of Representatives, accessed Aug. 9, 2012

E-mail exchange, Molly Haigh, spokeswoman, Friends of Democracy, Aug. 9, 2012

E-mail exchange, Ben Golnik, spokesman, Cravaack campaign, Aug. 10, 2012

  • Jamie

    Now I think I know what people mean when they say “intellectual dishonesty.” How can you compare the cumulative contributions received by long-term Congresspeople with a one-term representative’s contributions? Why do you use that illogical thing as one of your reasons for your rating? It makes absolutely no sense!!

    Also, your giving Cravaak the benefit of the doubt about his votes in the light of those contributions is either naiveté or a desire to paint him in a more favorable light than he deserves. He votes like the rest of his party because his party doesn’t want any regulation of moneyed interests. You also didn’t say what those two votes were about that you claim were unrelated to the charge made in the ad.

    I think you do what a lot of other fact-checkers do: you bend over backwards and twist yourself into illogical and unbelievable knots in order to make it look like you’re being as tough on Democrats as you are on Republicans. Except that doesn’t fit exactly either, because you’re not very tough on Republicans. They lie through their teeth all the time with impunity. Even when their lies are pointed out to them, they continue to tell the same lies. They’re PROUD that their lies work to influence the electorate; I’ve heard more than one Republican operative say that. And you pick out things they say to do fact-checks about that are of no consequence. And then you do this illogical and false fact-check on something Democrats say in an ad – something that has a lot of truth in it.

    The verdict

    Your fact-checking is misleading at BEST, cowardly and false-equivalency-loving and favoring Republicans, at worst.