Fact Check: Is Greenfield lying about donation pledge?

Published: Jul. 17, 2020 at 10:26 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - An ad from Republican Sen. Joni Ernst accuses her challenger, Democrat Theresa Greenfield of lying about her pledge against corporate donations. Our fact check found the specific words matter in this ad.

Claim:Theresa Greenfield wants you to think she doesn’t take a dime of special interest money. Problem is… she’s lying. Greenfield’s taken over half a million dollars from corporate lobbyists, executives, and CEOs.”

Source: Campaign ad from Sen. Joni Ernst now airing in Iowa.

This ad attacks Theresa Greenfield’s pledge not to take corporate PAC money for her campaign. It’s a similar pledge many other candidates have signed with End Citizen’s United, a group named after the court ruling the allowed unlimited corporate political donations through PACs.

The Ernst campaign points to individual donations the Greenfield campaign has received from corporate officials and registered lobbyists with corporations. Their math put it at about $500,000 of her $7 million in total donations.

The ad uses some key terminology here that is important, saying Greenfield promised “she doesn’t take a dime of special interest money”. It even backs it up with a clip of her from a primary debate on Iowa Public Television saying she “won’t take one dime”. But here is the full quote.

“(Iowans) need a senator that won’t take one dime of corporate PAC donations and I’m ready to be their next Senator,” Greenfield said, which built on her earlier statement that “I’ve taken a pledge not to accept one dime of corporate PAC donations.”

Notice she doesn’t say special interest but instead says she’ll refuse money from corporate PACs. That is a key distinction. Special interest money is a very broad term that simply means any donation meant to influence policy or a politician. It can include anything from PAC donations to individuals who support a cause. Corporate PACs have a specific definition in campaign finance. They are formed and managed by companies and include donations only from employees of that corporation.

Our review of Greenfield’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission shows she has not taken any donations from Corporate PACs, fulfilling her pledge.

But even that is not quite so simple. Greenfield has taken about $1.5 million from other PACs and committees, many of which do receive corporate donations. So, in a roundabout way, Greenfield has likely indirectly received money from Corporate PACs. Experts say, though, that greatly reduces the influence those corporate donations might have.

CONCLUSION: Like anything dealing with campaign finance, this is complex and nuanced because corporate donations and money are rampant in political campaigns and comes in many forms (we didn’t even cover Corporate PACs running their own campaign ads for or against a candidate).

Theresa Greenfield has received special interest money – it would be nearly impossible to find a candidate who has not received it in some form or another. But she never refused to take special interest money, as the ad states, only Corporate PAC money. While some of that money may have made it into her campaign coffers – none of it has come directly, meaning Greenfield has kept her promise and did not lie.

That’s why this ad gets a D.

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