116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Early voting already is well underway, but the jabs are getting sharper between Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic challenger Mike Franken as the race inches to Election Day on Nov. 8.
A recent ad attacking Franken containing claims about health care, abortion and support for hiring thousands of IRS agents included one claim that stands out as something voters don’t hear about in ads every election cycle.
“Mike Franken loves big government …” the ad from Grassley’s team starts, before going into several claims of which responsibilities they say Franken would like the government to assume like:
“Mike Franken wants government … to pay for political campaigns, then fine you if you don’t vote.”
The fine print in the ad for this claim cited a Franken campaign appearance May 9 at the Iowa Veterans Post in Waverly. To support their claim, Grassley’s team forwarded recordings of Franken speaking at in-person events in Waverly, Chariton and West Des Moines between February and May, before the June primary.
The first in West Des Moines records Franken as saying on Feb. 2: “I’m happy to do federally funded or state-funded races. I’m absolutely OK with that.”
This seems to imply that Franken is talking about funding of political campaigns, since the mechanical functions of elections — the parts that involve voters casting ballots — are already funded by states.
In an extended recording that provides more context leading up to the quote, Franken talked about changing the manner in which candidates for public office run campaigns in order to “take all the money out” of the typical equation that involves private funding sources or donors. He then goes into offering ideas to change the length of congressional and presidential terms and enacting term limits — the latter of which Grassley has supported.
The issue of election funding has been a matter of concern for Democratic voters since 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting the independent expenditures a corporation can make to a political action committee — the birth of “Super PACs” that have become big players in campaign funding.
For this portion of the claim, Grassley’s ad is accurate.
The latter part of the claim involves two audio recordings of Franken speaking at pre-primary campaign events in May. The audio recordings were produced by a combination of sources including Grassley supporters present at the events as well as other public sources, Grassley staff said.
The first, on May 9 in Waverly, details some of Franken’s ideas for enacting term limits and changing the length of terms for presidents and members of Congress, as well as making elections more accessible by holding Election Day on a weekend or making it a national holiday.
“If you don’t vote, (you’ll be charged) 15 bucks on your tax bill — something like that,” he said. “Something like that (which) takes just a little bit.”
At a May 25 gathering in Chariton, he reiterated the ideas for term lengths and limits, as well as penalties for those who don’t vote.
“Let’s put our Election Day on a Sunday, make it a national holiday and make a game out of it,” he said. “And if you don’t vote, we’ll take 25 bucks out of your income tax (return). Damn it, vote. Other countries do it — it’s not a wild idea.”
Since winning the Democratic primary, it’s unclear if Franken has publicly voiced a position on penalties or incentives for voters. The position does not appear on his campaign’s website.
“Admiral Michael Franken supports giving every citizen who votes — no matter who they vote for — a $15 tax credit as a way to encourage folks to participate in our democracy,” said Franken communications director C.J. Petersen.
Petersen told The Gazette that, after listening to feedback from Iowans in the last several months since the May meetings, Franken has evolved on the issue to support a carrot instead of a stick for voters.
“He’s come to the position of an incentive … rather than something that people will view as a penalty,” he explained.
Though Franken may have evolved on the issue and takes a different position now on voting incentives and penalties, the claims made in the two May audio recordings were authentic and represented his view at that time.
Grade: The grade for this claim in the Grassley campaign is an A.
The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate or officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in advocacy ads that appear in our market.
Claims must be independently verifiable.
We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.
If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan and Marissa Payne. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Elijah Decious.