i9 Fact Checker: Attack ad uses political donations without context

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 6:32 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A new attack ad, which is airing on TV9, tries to use Sen. Grassley’s more than 50 years of political experience against him by tying him to the decrease in family farms.

Source: Mike Franken for Iowa

According to documents from the Federal Elections Commission, Mike Franken for Iowa is Admiral Mike Franken’s (D) campaign for United States Senate. The Democrat is running against Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) to become Iowa’s representative in the United States Senate. His new attack ad frames himself as a retired admiral, who grew up on a family farm. The ad argues Sen. Grassley destroyed family farms.

Claim #1: “But, Washington stacked the deck against us. Since Chuck Grassley took office Iowa has lost half of our farms”

Analysis: Franken’s campaign used numbers from the United States Department of Agriculture’s census in 1959, when Chuck Grassley represented Butler County in Iowa’s House of Representatives.

According to the USDA, there were 174,708 farms. The federal agency’s last census in 2017 said there were 86,104 farms, which is about a 50.7% decrease.

Iowa saw a larger decrease in farms before Chuck Grassley went to Washington D.C in 1975 to serve in the House of Representatives. The number of farms in Iowa continued to decrease until it leveled off in 1995.

Nationally, the number of farms fell sharply until the 70′s according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The number of farms in the United States decreased sharply but leveled off in 1974.

The campaign didn’t give any specific examples of laws or policies enacted, which led to a decrease in farms.

Conclusion: The number of farms did cut in half since Sen. Chuck Grassley took office as a state representative. This claim gets an A.

Claim #2: “Chuck’s taken over $1 Million from Big Ag and he’s passing laws to help them squeeze out the little guy,”

Analysis: The campaign uses data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization tracking campaign spending. It is specifically looking at donations since 1989, when Sen. Grassley was halfway through his second term.

Sen. Grassley, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has taken $1,597,450 from Political Action Committees (PACs) related to Agribusiness since 1989. The amount is equivalent to about 11% of all donations from PACs based on numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The amount of money from those groups is smaller if you decrease the range Franken’s campaign is using to make its advertisement.

For example, Agribusiness PACs gave $148,000 from 2021 to 2022. The largest donations from those groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, were $10,000 from the Altria Group, Hy-Vee, California Dairies Inc, Land O’Lakes, National Corn Growers Association and Deere & Co.

The Franken campaign said the laws it’s specifically referring to in the ad are Chuck Grassley’s votes to join the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) in 1993 and the changes made to federal taxes under former President Donald Trump in 2017. The ad doesn’t cite either law in the ad.

NAFTA went into effect in 1994 when the number of farms in the United States relatively stayed stable. Organizations like the National Corn Growers Association and Public Citizen have had conflicting opinions on NAFTA’s effects.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which supporters call the Trump Tax Cuts, made structural changes to the federal tax code for farmers. A study from the USDA published in 2018 found taxes for an overwhelming amount of farmers decreased from the new tax law.

The study found midsized farms, which it considers farms between $350,000 and $999,999 in gross cash farm income, would receive the largest decrease in their income tax rate from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Conclusion: Sen. Chuck Grassley has taken over $1 Million in political donations. However, the ad leaves out it using 33 years of political finance data while using opinionated arguments on laws never mentioned in the ad. It’s why this claim gets a C.

Claim: “I’m not taking their money,”

Analysis: Admiral Mike Franken has promised to not take political donations from a corporation or Super PACs, which are political action comittees the FEC said can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it independently of campaigns.

This has become a trend in Democratic politics, which our i9 Fact Checker has checked in previous election cycles.

FEC data shows Franken’s campaign took money from Leadership PACs, like Common Ground PAC. Documents from the FEC show the PAC is associated with Senator Tim Kaine (VA-D). FEC data shows corporations including Honeywell, BAE Systems, Toyota, Capital One and FedEx all gave donations to Common Ground PAC within this election cycle.

So, while Franken isn’t directly taking money from corporations. He is getting money from Leadership PACs, which do take political donations from corporations.

Conclusion: There’s no way to tell if the dollars given from Leadership PACs are money from individuals, corporations or Super PACs. However, the intricate nuances in political financing make this claim murky enough to get a B.