Hannity And Luntz Promote “Fact-Based” Ad That Is Actually Riddled With Falsehoods

On Sean Hannity's Fox News show, conservative pollster Frank Luntz asserted that an Americans for Prosperity ad attacking President Obama over stimulus spending was successful in part because it is “fact-based, not assertions.” In reality, nearly every claim in the ad is false or misleading.

Luntz: AFP Ad Is “Fact-Based, Not Assertions”

Hannity Touts AFP Ad As “The Highest-Tested Campaign Ad So Far To Date” By Luntz. From Fox News' Hannity:

HANNITY: All right. You've found -- and you've gone over so many ads. And I think a lot of them have been really good, by the RNC in particular, Obama in his own words I like the best. But this one is by American Crossroads, and you say it's the highest-tested campaign ad so far to date.

LUNTZ: And this one's Americans for Prosperity, and what makes it so --

HANNITY: Oh, but I thought it was Crossroads.

LUNTZ: It's Americans for Prosperity, and what makes this one so powerful is that it deals with wasteful Washington spending, it deals with the debt, deficit, all the budget stuff going on, and it deals with the fact that some of our own hard-earned taxpayer dollars are going overseas, and that's why it does so well.

HANNITY: Let's take a look.

AD NARRATOR [video clip]: Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus. But that's not what happened. Fact: 80 percent of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries. The Obama administration admitted the truth: that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas, while millions of Americans can't find a job. $1.2 billion to a solar company that's building a plant in Mexico. Half a billion to a car company that moved American jobs to Finland. And $39 million to build traffic lights in China. President Obama wasted $16 billion on risky investments.

HANNITY: All right. Now, I remember dial ads going as high as 90. Why do you say this is the best one? Is it because the difference between GOP and Democrat is not that great?

LUNTZ: No. Americans for Prosperity figured out that it's not just the emotional reaction to the ad. Does it actually change someone's mind? And we've been going, Sean, to Ohio, to Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida. These are the -- Colorado, Nevada. These are the swing states. And when we showed that ad, the reaction afterward was, “That's what bothers me about Washington, and that's what bothers me about President Obama.” It was fact-based, not assertions. You see the facts come up on the screen. There's specific numbers, Sean. Americans for Prosperity unlocked the key -- in this case -- unlocked the key to what makes an independent voter move against Barack Obama, and it's wasteful Washington spending, helping the Chinese, not hard-working American taxpayers. [Fox News, Hannity, 5/9/12]

AFP Ad Is Actually Overflowing With Falsehoods

80 Percent Of Green Energy Money Went To “Jobs In Foreign Countries”

Ad Badly Distorted Wash. Times Article It Cited As Source. The ad cited a Washington Times article to claim that “80 percent of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries. The Obama administration admitted the truth: that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas. But that phrasing omits key words that give the passage from the Washington Times article an entirely different meaning (emphasis added):

The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States. [The Washington Times, 9/9/10]

PolitiFact: Money “More Likely” Went To “American Subsidiaries Of Foreign Firms.” From PolitiFact.com, discussing a similar claim made in a nearly identical AFP ad:

The ad cites a Washington Times article from Sept. 9, 2010 -- but fails to accurately characterize the story. The story says that “as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States.” That doesn't mean that money went to foreign countries. More likely it went to American subsidiaries of foreign firms. [PolitiFact.com, 5/4/12]

Obama Admin. “Admitted” $2.3 Billion Of Tax Credits “Went Overseas”

PolitiFact: “That's Not What The Obama Administration Said.” From PolitiFact.com:

“The Obama administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas, while millions of Americans can't find a job.”
But that's not what the Obama administration said. This, too, gives its source as the 2010 Washington Times article. It's a second way of misstating the same sentence, which cited the Energy Department. “The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms. ...” Again, that simply doesn't say that the tax credits went overseas. It says they went to foreign companies. Meanwhile, it sets up the expectation that the next three examples illustrate those "$2.3 billion of tax credits" that “went overseas.” But not a single one of the three has anything to do with manufacturing tax credits -- or tax credits at all. Or, in one case, even the stimulus. [PolitiFact.com, 5/4/12]

Solar Plant In Mexico

PolitiFact: Loan Guarantees Actually Helped Fund Plant In California; Claim Is “Pants On Fire” False. From PolitiFact, discussing a similar claim made in a nearly identical AFP ad:

We'll start with what's true: An American solar company, SunPower, was approved for federal stimulus money. It also opened a solar panel plant in Mexico.

(Or, rather, it moved its Mexican manufacturing from Chihuahua to a building it's leasing in Mexicali, said company spokeswoman Natalie Wymer.)

That's where the claim's relationship to the truth ends.

• The company didn't get tax credits, but a $1.2 billion loan guarantee. What's the difference? The Energy Department expects the loan to be paid back -- with interest.

• That loan guarantee wasn't for the Mexico plant -- a separate project with its own funding -- but to build the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Construction on the California project has already started, with the Energy Department projecting 350 construction jobs and 15 permanent ones. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the state's largest utility, will ultimately buy the power.

• Most of the solar panels for the California project will come from SunPower's California manufacturing facility in Milpitas, though given the size of the project, they'll also come from the company's plants in Mexico and Asia, Wymer said.

• SunPower no longer owns the California Valley Solar Ranch project. The solar project -- and the loan guarantee -- belong to New Jersey company NRG Energy. That's the company that will get the federal loan money, and be responsible for repaying taxpayers.


The ad strings together alarming-sounding tidbits about actual stimulus projects to create the impression of something else entirely -- in a way that's ultimately ridiculous. And that earns our lowest rating, Pants on Fire. [PolitiFact, 5/2/12]

FactCheck.org: AFP Ad “Strings Together Two Largely Unrelated Facts To Create A Misleading Impression.” From FactCheck.org:

The ad claims the stimulus included "$1.2 billion to a solar company that's building a plant in Mexico." This strings together two largely unrelated facts to create a misleading impression. Here are the facts: SunPower Corp., a company based in San Jose, Calif., applied for a $1.237 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to build a massive solar generating facility in San Luis Obisbo, Calif. SunPower later sold the project to NRG Solar, but SunPower company will still help to construct the 250 MW alternating current PV solar generating facility, called the California Valley Solar Ranch, for NRG.

Last August, SunPower announced that it was opening a solar-panel fabrication plant in Mexicali, Mexico. But it's a big leap from that to claiming that $1.2 billion of American taxpayer money is being used to fund jobs in Mexico, as the ad implies.

It's true that some of the solar panels installed in the new California Valley Solar Ranch will come from the new SunPower facility in Mexico, as well as from other SunPower plants in Asia, company spokeswoman Natalie Wymer told us. But the overwhelming majority of solar panels will come from SunPower's nearby plant in Milpitas, Calif.

Moreover, the solar facility is being built in California, employing some 350 American construction workers for several years, Wymer said. The facility will employ 15 people permanently once the facility begins operations in September.

“The loan guarantee, issued to NRG, does not finance SunPower's manufacturing facilities or other operations in Silicon Valley, where we manufacture today, Mexicali or anywhere else,” Wymer said. “The SunPower Mexicali facility was a shift from ongoing manufacturing with a partner to our own plant.” [FactCheck.org, 5/2/12]

Jobs In Finland

PolitiFact: Automaker “Chose To Manufacture The Car In Finland, Without U.S. Help”; Claim Is “False.” From PolitiFact, discussing a similar claim, that stimulus money "created hundreds of jobs in Finland," which was made in a nearly identical AFP ad:

The reality: Half a billion in loans from a Bush-era program were approved for Fisker Automotive. But they weren't tax credits, weren't part of the stimulus bill, and didn't go to Finland. And so far, the company has only gotten $190 million in those loans, far less than the half a billion.

Instead, the U.S. company spent a third of the money on U.S. engineering of a new electric vehicle. It chose to manufacture the car in Finland, without U.S. help. Another two-thirds of the loan, which it may or may not get, will go toward retooling a shuttered GM plant in Delaware.

The ad strings together disparate statements to tell a concocted story. The result is simply False. [PolitiFact, 5/3/12]

FactCheck.org: Automaker And DOE Say Loan Money That The Company Did Receive “Was Spent Exclusively In The United States.” From FactCheck.org:

The Fisker loans came in two parts. The first part, according to a statement from Dan Leistikow, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, was a $169 million loan guarantee to support the development of Fisker's first luxury electric car, called the Karma. The company has made about 1,400 of them so far (and sold 800 for about $97,000 apiece), all of them assembled in Finland. But the Department of Energy and Fisker insist the government loan money was spent exclusively in the United States “to support the engineers who developed the tools, equipment and manufacturing processes for Fisker's first vehicle, the Fisker Karma.” According to Fisker officials, that work was done in Fisker's U.S. facilities, including its headquarters in Irvine, Calif.,“which has 700 employees and plans to continue hiring.”


It's possible that DOE money used to fund operations in the U.S. allowed private investment to concentrate on overseas manufacturing. But it would be simply inaccurate to claim that all of that $169 million funded jobs overseas. Moreover, a number of American suppliers were used to make parts that were assembled in Finland, Ormisher said, creating about 1,500 jobs. Last year, Fisker officials estimated more than 45 percent of the components of the Karma were manufactured by about 40 U.S. suppliers.

In addition to the $169 million, the DOE approved a much larger, $359 million loan to help Fisker develop a lower-priced version of its car, called the Nina. The plan is to build those cars at a shuttered General Motors factory in Delaware. That project has hit some snags. In February, amid delays to the project, Fisker let go 26 employees from the Delaware factory.

However, Fisker still plans to move forward with the car, and the “first option” is still to build them at the factory in Delaware, Ormisher said. If it moves forward, the plant could employ up to 2,500 workers. A prototype of the car, renamed the Atlantic, was unveiled recently, but a launch date was not announced.

To date, Fisker has drawn down $193 million of the $529 million in government loan guarantees, Ormisher said. Fisker has been negotiating with DOE since last May regarding the future of this second part of the funding. [FactCheck.org, 5/2/12]

Chinese Street Lights

PolitiFact: Street Lights Were Assembled In U.S. For Domestic Use, But Some Components Were Manufactured In China. Examining a similar claim made in a nearly identical AFP ad, PolitiFact wrote:

As the ad's narrator talks about China, the words, “Stimulus money pays for street, traffic lights ...” “in China ...” appear on the screen, over an image of a traffic light that's slowly layered with the deep red and yellow of the Chinese flag.

The ad was clearly suggesting U.S.-funded lights on Chinese streets. It wasn't until we pulled up the Tribune-Review article we realized the ad's claim could be heard another way.

Oh! Lights built in China, for American streets.

But even that clarification didn't get us to the complete story.

The Tribune-Review article, by Lou Kilzer, a reporter who has won Pulitzer prizes for investigative reporting and public service, digs into grant money -- not tax credits, as the ad claimed -- awarded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It says that tens of millions of stimulus dollars went to replace streetlights and traffic lights across the country with energy-efficient versions -- “made mostly in Asia.”

The reason? Certain components of those energy-efficient street and traffic lights, such as light-emitting diodes or LEDs, weren't available in large enough quantities from U.S. manufacturers back in 2010, so the Energy Department issued a waiver to the Recovery Act's “Buy America” provision for those parts. [PolitiFact, 5/3/12]

PolitiFact: AFP's Claim About Chinese Street Lights Is “Mostly False.” From the PolitiFact article:

It is clear that the “tens of millions” reflects spending for American-assembled lights that included varying amounts of foreign-made components. But it's an exaggeration to say they were built in China.

None of this evidence supports the strong suggestion in the ad that Americans paid for streetlights on roads in China, or even that they paid to build streetlights in China. Instead, for less than a year, stimulus funds could be used to buy products that used components produced in other countries, including China.

Our ruling

We watched this ad and imagined Chinese street corners with shiny new American-funded traffic lights.

The reality is nearly the opposite: American cities, counties and states bought and installed new energy-efficient street and traffic lights with stimulus grants. Many of those lights contained foreign components, including some from China, but it's simply not clear how much stimulus money went toward those parts during the eight months it was allowed.

The ad's claim has a tiny sliver of truth, but it pairs words and images to create an altogether different impression. We'll have to put the brakes on this traffic light claim, and rate it Mostly False. [PolitiFact, 5/3/12]

Wash. Post: “The Lights Were Assembled In The United States.” From The Washington Post:

Americans for Prosperity also asserts that the stimulus bill sent “tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China.” The source is the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, but again, the article was much more nuanced. The traffic lights are for the United States market, but the article noted that there is a shortage of American-made light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, so parts are sourced overseas while the lights were assembled in the United States. [The Washington Post, 4/30/12]

FactCheck.org: One Signal Maker “Relocated Some Of Its Manufacturing From Mexico To The U.S.” From FactCheck.org, discussing a similar claim made in a nearly identical AFP ad:

Last, the ad claims the stimulus included “tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China.” The Department of Energy did spend tens of millions through the stimulus to build and install energy efficient traffic lights around the U.S. Back in February 2010, the department granted a waiver to the stimulus' Buy American requirement with regard to the LED lights that go inside traffic signals after the assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) determined there was insufficient availability in the U.S. to meet demand. A Pittsburgh Tribune Review investigation found most of those components were being purchased from Asia.

However, that waiver was withdrawn on Dec. 1, 2010, after the EERE learned that at least one manufacturer of LED traffic signals relocated some of its manufacturing from Mexico to the U.S., and that the plant had the capability to satisfy the demand from stimulus fund recipients. In November 2010, the Department of Energy reported that Dialight Corp., an LED lighting manufacturer with U.S. corporate offices in Farmingdale, N.J., and a parent company based in the U.K., invested nearly $3 million to renovate its production facility in Roxboro, N.C. The Roxboro plant hired 100 people to engineering, management and direct labor positions. [FactCheck.org, 5/2/12]