(Updates to add Gingrich campaigning in 20th paragraph. For more campaign news, see ELECT.)
Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he faced one “30-second distortion” after another as he saw his lead in Iowa polls diminish to a fourth- place finish in the state’s caucuses. He has reason to complain.
A political action committee called Restore Our Future, which supports Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, ran more than $1.2 million of negative ads in Iowa, mostly aimed at Gingrich. The PAC made at least one false statement and several misleading ones over the course of five of its last commercials.
In one ad, a narrator says Gingrich was paid $30,000 an hour by the government-backed home mortgage company Freddie Mac. That’s not true; Gingrich’s consulting company, the Gingrich Group, received a monthly retainer of $25,000 to $30,000 during one contract he had with Freddie Mac, according to three people familiar with aspects of the business agreement.
Restore Our Future defends the ad in postings on a website at www.newtfacts.com, pointing to a later comment Gingrich made that he’d usually spend an hour with Freddie Mac officials a month. The claim that it’s an hourly rate for Gingrich “is a ridiculous exaggeration,” according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s nonpartisan FactCheck.org.
The repeated airing of debunked claims highlights the new role that outside groups with little accountability are playing in the 2012 election after court and regulatory rulings cleared a path for them. All told, so-called super PACs backing specific candidates had spent $5.3 million on ads through Jan. 3, compared with $5.8 million spent by the candidates, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, finished first in Iowa, beating former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum by eight votes. Each had roughly 25 percent of the vote. U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas came in third, with 21 percent.
By law, Romney can’t coordinate with Restore Our Future. Yet with the independent group financed with unlimited checks from Romney backers aiming at Gingrich, Romney was able to stay above the fray, running $852,370 of positive ads and no negative spots in Iowa through Jan. 3, according to the CMAG data.
Gingrich, in an interview yesterday with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, said of Romney: “He’s not truthful about his PAC, which has his staff running it and his millionaire friends donating to it, although in secret. And the PAC itself is not truthful in its ads.”
Three Restore Our Future ads claim Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, supports “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Gingrich supports a path to legality for certain people with “deep ties” to the community. In a Dec. 15 debate, he gave as an example people who have been in the U.S. for 25 years. The claim in the ad registered a “half true” rating from the nonpartisan PolitiFact site of the Tampa Bay Times.
Romney, in a 2006 Bloomberg interview as he geared up for his first presidential run, took a similar position as Gingrich’s, saying some illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain and gain legal status. “We’re not going to go through a process of tracking them all down and moving them out,” he said at the time, suggesting some could stay and pursue legal status while others are deported.
Romney, in criticizing Gingrich on immigration policy in this campaign, told Iowa voters in November that he has always believed illegal immigrants should be sent back to their countries of origin to apply for legal status.
Another spot targeting Gingrich includes the claim that he co-sponsored a bill with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, that gave $60 million a year to a United Nations program supporting China’s “brutal one-child policy.” The funding for the worldwide family- planning services program was part of a larger bill that never passed, and the claim is “the most notably misleading” in the ad, according to FactCheck.org.
The same ad says Gingrich favored “taxpayer funding of some abortions.” Gingrich supported the Hyde Amendment, which restricted federal funding of abortions while leaving open exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. The anti- abortion National Right to Life Committee highlights the vote for the amendment as a positive for Gingrich.
“While its wording is accurate, its message is misleading,” PolitiFact said, rating the claim “half true.”
On Jan. 3 in Iowa, Gingrich said at a town hall meeting he doesn’t support abortion exceptions in cases of rape or incest, saying he would urge mothers to pursue adoption alternatives.
Romney has changed his abortion views since his 1994 campaign to unseat then-Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. In a debate that year, Romney said he believed abortion “should be safe and legal in this country.”
As a presidential candidate he has opposed abortions rights, though he says wouldn’t ban the procedure in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is endangered.
Restore Our Future spokeswoman Brittany Gross declined to comment on the groups ads. Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, referred to Romney’s comments on Fox News on Jan. 3, when asked about Gingrich’s criticism of the attacks.
“I understand Newt must be very angry and I don’t exactly understand why, but, look, I wish him well,” Romney said on Fox, when asked about Gingrich’s attack on his veracity. “It’s a long road ahead. He’s a good guy.”
Gingrich told supporters he’s going to start drawing more contrasts with Romney. He’s now campaigning in New Hampshire, aiming to cut into Romney’s lead in the state.
“We’re not going to go out and run nasty ads,” Gingrich said while still in Iowa. “I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative, that may be more a comment on his record than it is on politics.”
Gingrich also faced attacks from others in Iowa. Paul’s campaign posted a video almost two minutes long on its website that strings together clips of Gingrich speaking and news reporters and commentators speaking about him. At the end, a voice summarizes Gingrich’s record as “serial hypocrisy.”
As the Paul ad shows, there’s plenty of fodder to attack Gingrich without stretching the truth, said Rogan Kersh, a public policy professor at New York University.
“The irony is that Romney’s PAC hardly had to make up stories to damage Gingrich among Iowa’s conservative voters,” Kersh said. “His own record as speaker is chock-full of the usual array of compromises, side-deals and dealings with Democrats, which -- repeated often enough -- would surely have done the trick.”
--With assistance from Greg Giroux in Washington. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Don Frederick
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