From Taxes to Keystone: Fact-Checkers Label Billionaire Steyer’s Ads False
Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer has been increasing his ad buys promoting environmentalist causes and candidates. There’s just one problem: many of his ads are being fact-checked as misleading or even false.
Most recently, a Steyer-backed ad against Iowa Republican candidate for Senate Joni Ernst was rated “false” by the fact-checking site Politifact. Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action, put out an ad lambasting Ernst for signing a pledge not to raise taxes that was crafted by the group Americans for Tax Reform.
Republicans have been slammed by Democrats in the past for backing the no tax increase pledge, but the NextGen ad from July claimed the pledge “protects tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.” This, however, was declared to be false by Politifact.
“Ernst signed the Taxpayer Protection pledge, a promise promoted by Americans for Tax Reform, which is a broad vow to oppose all tax increases,” Politifact said. “It does not specify protecting tax loopholes for companies that have employees overseas.”
“In one instance, Americans for Tax Reform urged signers to vote against a bill that closed one of these loopholes, but the decision was more about stopping a tax increase than protecting outsourcing, and Ernst had yet to sign the pledge then, anyway. We rate this claim False,” declared Politifact.
Indeed, the ATR pledge states that signatories should “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
If anything, the pledge allows for closing tax “loopholes” — they just have to be offset by lowering base tax rates. ATR bills itself as a group that wants a “system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today.” Getting rid of loopholes would certainly make the tax system simpler.
NextGen Climate Action did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on their anti-Ernst ad.
The attack on Ernst was not the first time that NextGen has been called out for bending the truth in their ads. Back in January, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave a NextGen ad attacking the Keystone XL pipeline “four Pinocchios.”
Steyer was first thrust into the public sphere because of his opposition to it on global warming grounds. Despite some potential conflicts of interest with his former hedge fund, Steyer put out ads and funded studies trying to show that Keystone would harm the U.S. economy and be bad for the planet.
In particular, Steyer tried to paint the pipeline as an export project that would simply move oil through America’s heartland so it could be shipped to China, a dubious claim at best.
One ad put out by NextGen tried to show that Keystone would benefit China, not America. The ad claimed that Chinese government-backed companies had billions invested in Canadian oil sands development and was “counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada’s pipeline to ship oil through America’s heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs.”
The ad caught the attention from fact-checkers who looked into NextGen’s claims about Keystone being used to ship oil to China. Kessler wrote the “ad does not even meet the minimal standards for such political attack ads. It relies on speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality.”
Why? Because while China has invested billions in Canadian energy development, it’s only a small player in the oil production game. Asian-owned companies only make up about seven percent of Canadian oil production — this includes China, Japan and others.
The NextGen ad also features a top TransCanada official saying “I can’t do that…” after the ad claims the company “under oath…won’t commit to selling us one single barrel” of oil. But this quote by TransCanada’s president of energy and oil pipelines, Alexander Pourbaix, was “turned on its head,” reports the Post.
“Here’s the context: Pourbaix had explained that the refiners sometimes export refined products such as diesel, and then will import ‘incremental volumes’ of refined products,” Kessler wrote. “So a lawmaker asked him to ensure that any volume exported was met with an equal volume of imported products, so there was no net difference.”
Pourbaix actually said, “I can’t do that because I am merely the shipper of this oil.” The ad cuts him off and then poses a question he was never asked.
“Chinese state investment in the Canadian oil sands is an interesting development, but not worthy of the jingoistic treatment given here,” Kessler wrote. “While depending on market conditions some refined products may be exported, there is no evidence that every single barrel of oil would simply pass through the pipeline on the way to overseas shores. The twisting of Pourbaix’s remarks is especially disturbing, even by the standards of attack ads.”
Despite the “four Pinocchios” rating by the Post, NextGen later recycled the debunked ad in an attack on Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in April.
Steyer again attempted to sway public support for Keystone in June by hiring former Navy SEAL chief David Cooper to say the project posed a huge national security risk. Cooper issued a report saying a “small group of evildoers could easily cause a catastrophic spill of millions of gallons of diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude, from the Keystone XL,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
“They could do it with as little as four pounds of commercial-grade, improvised explosives,” Businessweek added, citing Cooper’s report.
“A coordinated attack at several critical points would not only wreak havoc,” Cooper wrote in his report, “it would likely overwhelm the existing engineering capability needed to clean it up.”
But National Journal noted that the report leaves out “crucial context” that dampens the Steyer’s attempt at painting Keystone as a national security liability.
“Here’s what it doesn’t say,” National Journal reported. “While terrorist attacks on energy infrastructure may be on the rise around the world, terrorist strikes on U.S. soil have declined dramatically in recent decades.”
“During this time, the most likely targets of a terrorist attack in the U.S. were businesses, followed by private citizens and property. Attacks tended to take place in urban areas, and non-fatal events vastly outnumbered deadly strikes,” the report continued, adding that Cooper even acknowledged the low probability of an attack on Keystone.
National Journal concluded that “while Keystone XL could fall victim to a terrorist attack, the odds of that happening in the near future are low relative to potential targets and past years’ activity.”
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