Before Rogue: Sarah Palin's Top 10 past falsehoods

In anticipation of the release of Sarah Palin's memoir, Going Rogue, Media Matters for America has compiled a list of Palin's Top 10 falsehoods from before the book was published.

Falsehood 1: Democratic health reform bills include “death panel[s]”

CLAIM: Democratic health care reform proposals include a “death panel” which would determine whether people are “worthy of health care.”

  • Attacking Democratic health care reform proposals, Palin wrote:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil. [Palin Facebook post, 8/7/09]

Palin's spokesperson reportedly said Palin's assertion was a reference to the House tri-committee bill's “Advance Care Planning Consultation” provision. Numerous conservative media figures subsequently echoed Palin's claim, asserting that various Democratic health reform bills included actual or “de facto” “death panels.”

REALITY: “Death panel” claims have been conclusively discredited. In one of more than 40 media reports debunking claims of euthanasia and “death panels,” wrote: “We've looked at the inflammatory claims that the health care bill encourages euthanasia. It doesn't. There's certainly no 'death board' that determines the worthiness of individuals to receive care. ... [Palin] said that the Democratic plan will ration care and 'my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's ”death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care.' Palin's statement sounds more like a science fiction movie (Soylent Green, anyone?) than part of an actual bill before Congress. We rate her statement Pants on Fire!" [, 8/10/09]

Falsehood 2: Palin said “thanks but no thanks” to Bridge to Nowhere

CLAIM: Palin refused federal funds to build a proposed bridge between Ketchikan, Alaska, and Gravina Island, popularly referred to as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

  • On numerous occasions during the 2008 presidential campaign, including during her speech to the Republican National Convention and her speech following the announcement that Sen. John McCain had selected her as his running mate, Palin claimed that as Alaska's governor, “I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that bridge to nowhere. If we wanted a bridge ... we'd build it ourselves.”

REALITY: Palin was not in position to reject bridge, and she kept the federal funds. Palin did not tell Congress, " 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that 'bridge to nowhere,' " as she claimed in her speech. First, she was not even in a position to do so. As The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby noted, a year before Palin was elected governor, Congress appropriated the relevant federal money to Alaska and allowed the state to decide whether to spend it on the bridge. After authorizing funds to be spent specifically on the bridge project in August 2005, in an appropriations bill in November 2005, Congress earmarked the money for Alaska, but specified that it did not have to be spent on the bridge. Somerby wrote, "[N]o one had to 'tell Congress' anything about the Bridge to Nowhere, because Congress had removed itself from decision-making about the project." Second, Palin did not refuse the funds or reimburse the federal government; Alaska reportedly kept the federal funds.

Palin supported bridge project until it became clear no new federal funds would be provided. On several occasions during her 2006 gubernatorial run, Palin reportedly expressed support for the bridge project and suggested that Alaska's congressional delegation should continue to try to procure funding. In a September 21, 2007, press release announcing that she had directed the state to find an alternative to the bridge, Palin said: “Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it's clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. ... Much of the public's attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.”

Falsehood 3: Obama was “palling around with terrorists.”

CLAIM: The New York Times reported that Obama had been “palling around” with Bill Ayers.

  • During an October 4 appearance in Colorado, Palin reportedly cited her “copy of today's New York Times,” which had examined how Obama “Crossed Paths” with Ayers, and suggested that the article showed that Obama “is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”

REALITY: The Times actually reported that “the two men do not appear to have been close.” From the Times: “A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called 'somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.' ” [NY Times, 10/3/08]

Falsehood 4: Obama had not “authored ... a single major law or reform”

CLAIM: As an Illinois and United States senator, Barack Obama did not “author ... a single major law or reform.”

  • During her September 3, 2008, speech at the Republican National Convention, Palin claimed Obama “is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform -- not even in the state senate.”

REALITY: Obama had played key roles in the passage of reform and other legislation in the U.S. Senate. Obama was a lead co-sponsor of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S.2590), which sought to “require full disclosure of all entities and organizations receiving Federal funds” -- an amount that approximately totals $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans; his efforts were recognized by President Bush, Sen. John McCain, and the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Obama was also the sponsor of the “Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2005” (S.2125), signed into law by Bush on December 22, 2006. Obama worked with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (IN) to produce the “Lugar-Obama proliferation and threat reduction initiative,” which Bush signed into law on January 11, 2007.

Obama also played key roles in the passage of reform legislation at the state level. In the Illinois state Senate, Obama was a co-sponsor of a 1998 Illinois ethics law outlawing political fundraising on Illinois state property and barring lobbyists from giving gifts to state legislators; one Obama biographer wrote that the legislation “essentially lifted Illinois, a state with a deep history of illicit, pay-to-play politics, into the modern world when it came to ethics restrictions.” Obama also introduced a bill requiring police departments to videotape interrogations of murder suspects within interrogation rooms. The bill was signed into law in 2003.

Falsehood 5: Branchflower report “cleared” Palin of “any legal wrongdoing” in Troopergate

CLAIM: The Alaska Legislative Council cleared Palin of legal wrongdoing with regard to the termination of former Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

  • During an October 11, 2008, press conference with Alaska reporters following the release of Stephen Branchflower's Report to the Legislative Council on his investigation of Monegan's firing, Palin asserted: “I'm very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing ... any hint of any kind of unethical activity there. Very pleased to be cleared of any of that.” She also claimed, "[T]hankfully the truth was revealed there in that report, that showed that there was no unlawful nor unethical activity on my part."

REALITY: Report found Palin “abused her power by violating” state ethics law. The report stated: “I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act,” which provides that "[t]he legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

Falsehood 6: Obama “described the Court's refusal to take up the issues of redistribution of wealth as a tragedy”

CLAIM: In a 2001 appearance on Chicago public radio station WBEZ, Obama said it was a “tragedy” that the Supreme Court has not addressed wealth redistribution.

  • On October 29, 2008, ABC News' Imtiyaz Delawala reported that at a rally in Western Pennsylvania the previous night, Palin asserted that in his 2001 public radio appearance, “Sen. Obama said that he regretted that the Supreme Court hadn't been more radical. And he described the Court's refusal to take up the issues of redistribution of wealth as a tragedy. And he said he also regretted that the Supreme Court didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers there in the Constitution.”

REALITY: Obama said “tragedy” was that civil rights movement “became so court-focused.” During the radio appearance, Obama actually stated: “And one of the -- I think the tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movements became so court-focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing, and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change.”

ABC News, called Palin's assertion “inaccurate,” “wrong on multiple fronts.” Delawala reported that Palin “went beyond her running mate's recent attack on Sen. Barack Obama -- inaccurately claiming that Obama called the lack of 'redistributive change' during the civil rights movement a 'tragedy' ” and noted that Obama “argued the opposite” in his 2001 radio appearance. wrote that Palin “stretched the truth” and that her claim was “wrong on multiple fronts.”

Falsehood 7: Alaska “produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy

CLAIM: Palin was governor of a state that produces almost 20 percent of the nation's domestic energy supply.

  • During her September 11, 2008, interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson, Palin stated:

PALIN: Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that's with the energy independence that I've been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy, that I worked on as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, overseeing the oil and gas development in our state to produce more for the United States.

REALITY: In last year for which data was available, Alaska produced only 2.4 percent of U.S. energy consumed. Responding to Palin's statement, wrote:

It's simply untrue that Alaska produces anything close to 20 percent of the U.S. “energy supply,” a term that is generally defined as energy consumed. That category includes power produced in the U.S. by nuclear, coal, hydroelectric dams and other means - as well as all the oil imported into the country.

Palin would have been correct to say that Alaska produces just over 14 percent of all the oil produced in the U.S., leaving out imports and leaving out other forms of power. According to the federal government's Energy Information Administration, Alaskan wells produced 263.6 million barrels of oil in 2007, or 14.3 percent of the total U.S. production of 1.8 billion barrels.

But Alaskan production accounts for only 4.8 percent of all the crude oil and petroleum products supplied to the U.S. in 2007, counting both domestic production and imports from other nations. According to EIA, the total supply was just over 5.5 billion barrels in 2007.

Furthermore, Palin said “energy,” not “oil,” so she was actually much further off the mark. According to EIA, Alaska actually produced 2,417.1 trillion BTUs [British Thermal Units] of energy in 2005, the last year for which full state numbers are available. That's equal to just 3.5 percent of the country's domestic energy production.

And according to EIA analyst Paul Hess, that would calculate to only “2.4 percent of the 100,368.6 trillion BTUs the U.S. consumes."

Palin didn't make clear whether she was talking about Alaska's share of all the energy produced in the U.S. or all the energy consumed here. Either way, she was wrong.

Falsehood 8: Obama supported “allowing that baby to die” after a “botched abortion”

CLAIM: In opposing a bill amending the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975, Obama supported allowing a fetus “born alive” following a “botched abortion” to be allowed to die.

  • During an interview on the September 30, 2008, broadcast of Hugh Hewitt's nationally syndicated radio show, Palin claimed that the “extreme position” on abortion Obama took in the Illinois state Senate included “not even supporting a measure that would during a -- after a botched abortion and that baby's born alive -- allowing medical care to cease and allowing that baby to die.”

REALITY: Criminal code already prevented killing of children. Opponents of the bill to which Palin referred noted that the legislation was unnecessary, as the Illinois criminal code unequivocally prohibits killing children, and said that the bill posed a threat to abortion rights. When tasked by the Illinois attorney general's office with investigating allegations that fetuses born alive at an Illinois hospital were abandoned without treatment -- the alleged incident that inspired the “Born Alive Act” -- the Illinois Department of Public Health reportedly said that it was unable to substantiate the allegations but said that if the allegations had proved true, the conduct alleged would have been a violation of existing Illinois law. The Obama presidential campaign subsequently cited specific provisions of the Illinois Compiled Statutes in stating that the “born alive principle was already the law in Illinois.”

Falsehood 9: Palin vetoed stimulus energy efficiency money because it required tougher building codes

CLAIM: Palin vetoed stimulus funds for energy efficiency because it was “tied to universal building codes” that wouldn't work in Alaska.

  • On the June 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity, Palin stated (retrieved from the Nexis database):

PALIN: I vetoed a bucket of the [stimulus] money, not a whole lot, we did accept education dollars and infrastructure dollars, but dollars that were tied to universal energy building codes for Alaska, kind of a one-size-fits-all building code that isn't going to work up there in Alaska and really prohibits opportunity to build and to develop, and just wasn't going to work up there in Alaska, so I vetoed a bucket of that money.

Our lawmakers now are considering they override of the veto which is cool, that's checks and balances. You know they can explore that.

HANNITY: You don't want them to, though?

PALIN: I don't think that it would be a healthy thing for our state to adopt because it would be a federal mandate, fixed, centralized government, telling Alaskan communities that have opted out of building codes for the most part.

Them telling us what's best for our businesses and residences, how to build them, and we're all for energy conservation. We have hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact, budgeted for programs there but we don't want those fat strings attached where centralized, big government is going to tell us what is best.

REALITY: PolitiFact called Palin statement “False” because “municipalities are not forced to accept the specific standards.” found Palin's statements on Hannity “False,” writing:

Palin was specifically concerned with a provision in the stimulus (it is Section 410, as she will refer it later) that ties the energy efficiency money to assurances that the state or local governments “will implement” a “building energy code for residential buildings that meets or exceeds the most recently published International Energy Conservation Code, or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings” as well as “a building energy code (or codes) for commercial buildings throughout the State that meets or exceeds the ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2007, or achieves equivalent or greater energy savings.” The provision also states that recipients of the federal money must implement a plan to achieve compliance with the building codes within eight years in at least 90 percent of new and renovated residential and commercial building space.

That language seems pretty rigid, but then along came Missouri, which applied for the money, but instead of agreeing to the specifics of the building code, committed merely to “working with communities to create model energy efficiency standards that, if local units of government choose to implement (our emphasis), should reduce energy costs for Missourians.” The Department of Energy approved the application.

So Palin's chief of staff wrote to the Department of Energy to get some clarification about what exactly Alaska would be committing itself to if it accepted the money.

In response, Steven G. Chalk of the DOE said the stimulus provision recognizes that not every state has statewide building codes, and that the governor does not have the authority to force local governments to implement building codes. In those cases, Chalk wrote, it's sufficient for the governor to simply “promote” the codes. It is enough, he wrote, for the state to work with local governments to create model energy efficiency standards, but no municipality would be forced to adopt any new codes.

As for Palin's claims of “one-size-fits-all” building codes, Chalk wrote that the provision “provides flexibility with regard to building codes” and “expressly includes standards other than those cited so long as the standards achieve equivalent energy savings.”

So Palin is wrong. The municipalities are not forced to accept the specific standards and, given that local governments set their own codes, the feds would be satisfied if Alaska merely promoted such building codes.

Despite these assurances from the Department of Energy, Palin vetoed the money and insisted the provision amounted to “big brother” government involvement. The state legislature is now threatening to pursue a very rare veto override.

Falsehood 10: Under Palin's leadership, Alaska began building a $40 billion natural gas pipeline

CLAIM: During Palin's term as governor, construction began on a $40 billion natural gas pipeline in Alaska, “North America's largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever.”

  • During her RNC speech, Palin stated: “I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history. And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly forty billion dollar natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence.”
  • During the vice-presidential debate, Palin said: “we're building a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline -- which is North America's largest and most expensive infrastructure project ever -- to flow those sources of energy into hungry markets.”

REALITY: Pipeline project not yet under way and “may never be built.” In a September 10, 2008, article, The New York Times reported that the “reality” of the project is “far more ambiguous than the impression Ms. Palin has left at the convention and on the campaign trail.” The Times explained:

The pipeline exists only on paper. The first section has yet to be laid, federal approvals are years away and the pipeline will not be completed for at least a decade. In fact, although it is the centerpiece of Ms. Palin's relatively brief record as governor, the pipeline might never be built, and under a worst-case scenario, the state could lose up to $500 million it committed to defray regulatory and other costs.

Contributing to the project's uncertainty is Ms. Palin's antagonistic relationship with the major oil companies that control Alaska's untapped gas reserves.

According to the timeline for the pipeline project, “On-site construction” is expected to begin in April 2016.

PolitiFact: Pipeline unlikely to cost $40 billion. Calling Palin's debate claim about the pipeline “False,” wrote:

Now what about Palin's claim that the pipeline would cost “nearly $40-billion”? We're not sure where she got that figure -- neither her office in Alaska nor the McCain campaign has ever returned our calls to tell us. TransCanada estimates the cost at $26-billion.

Yes, there could be cost overruns. But experts were skeptical the price could reach Palin's estimate.

PolitiFact: Pipeline not North America's “most expensive infrastructure project ever.” PolitiFact further wrote:

Palin was certainly wrong that the pipeline would be the “most expensive infrastructure project ever.” What we suspect she meant to say -- and has said repeatedly in the past -- is that it would be the most expensive privately funded infrastructure project ever.

But she's probably wrong on that count, too. We talked to several experts in pipelines and large-scale engineering projects, who said the only private infrastructure project on the scale of Palin's proposed pipeline was the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, an oil pipeline also from the North Slope that is often referred to as the Alaska Pipeline. The Alaska Pipeline was completed in 1977 at a cost of $8-billion. In 2007 dollars that would be just over $27-billion, edging out Palin's proposed natural gas pipeline.