Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Theresa Greenfield says she doesn't take corporate PAC money. But it's not that simple

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks Nov. 2, 2019, alongside U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer during the
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks Nov. 2, 2019, alongside U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer during the Finkenauer Fish Fry at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa’s airways are being taken up by political ads as the election for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield draws closer.

Both sides have gone on the offensive in new ads released over the past several weeks, including a recent television spot by Greenfield’s campaign called “Best of Iowa” that accused lawmakers of voting to provide economic aid to corporate donors over small business owners.

Refusing donations from political action committees has become a major part of Greenfield’s campaign. In addition to criticizing Ernst, Greenfield says in the ad that “I don’t take corporate PAC money.”

Graded a B

Analysis

Greenfield’s campaign has raised more than $7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group that tracks lobbying and money in U.S. elections. By comparison, the Ernst camp has raised about $12 million.

Greenfield pledged a year ago she would not take corporate PAC money, earning the endorsement from End Citizens United, a left-leaning committee that calls for the end to donations from corporate PACs.

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On its website, Greenfield’s campaign said she “isn’t taking money from corporate PACs like those in the health care or pharmaceutical industry, so she is ready to fight for what’s best for Iowans.”

A corporate PAC is a fundraising committee made up of employees of a specific corporation that funnel donations to candidates or campaigns for or against ballot initiatives. These committees are different from those formed by a labor union or by donors around single issues.

Some of the largest corporate PACs in the United States, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, are Raytheon Technologies, Comcast and AT&T.

A Fact Checker review of FEC filings from April 2019 to May 2020 shows the Greenfield campaign has received no direct contribution from corporate PACs. In addition, a similar claim made by Greenfield was deemed mostly accurate by PolitiFact.

According to the FEC, the campaign received contributions totaling $62,100 from Democratic Party committees. And the filings show Greenfield has received donations from other PACs totaling up to $450,000.

That includes thousands of dollars from Democratic leadership PACs, which are established by current and former members of Congress or by prominent political figures. For example, the Forward Together PAC that names Virginia’s U.S. Sen. Mark Warner as its honorary chair donated $10,000 to the Greenfield campaign during the primary and general election cycles.

But a review of data available at the Center for Responsive Politics shows these leadership PACs have themselves received funding from corporate PACs. In the past year alone, Forward Together has accepted thousands of dollars from companies that include AT&T, Amazon, Hilton Worldwide and Microsoft.

Still, while the degree of separation between Greenfield’s campaign and corporate PACs is small, the candidate has not taken donations directly from the them.

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The pledge to reject donations from corporate PACs has become a popular campaign promise among non-incumbent Democrats in recent elections, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is largely a symbolic gesture and one that “doesn’t become a sacrifice until they’re elected to Congress.”

Among those up for election in the 2020 Senate race, all but 19 of the 50 biggest recipients of business PAC dollars this year are incumbents; 12 were for challengers and seven went to candidates vying for open seats.

All the top recipients of corporate PAC contributions for the House election are incumbents.

Conclusion

Greenfield’s claim that she doesn’t take corporate PAC money is accurate if you consider only direct donations.

However, she has received thousands in dollars from other PACs, including Democratic leadership committees, that have received contributions from businesses PACs — so the Greenfield campaign has benefited from corporate PAC even if her organization did not accept direct donations.

Therefore, the Fact Checker team gives her claim a B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in 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 factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Michaela Ramm of The Gazette.

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