Fact Check

Fact Checker: Monica Vernon and GOP money

Former Cedar Rapids city councilwoman Monica Vernon greets a member of the audience prior to a debate for Democratic candidates for the US House 1st District  with former Iowa speaker of the house Pat Murphy at the Tama Ballroom in Tama on Friday May 13, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Former Cedar Rapids city councilwoman Monica Vernon greets a member of the audience prior to a debate for Democratic candidates for the US House 1st District with former Iowa speaker of the house Pat Murphy at the Tama Ballroom in Tama on Friday May 13, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Introduction

“Now, Monica’s trying to buy a seat in Congress with Republican money” (on-screen graphic: “Monica Vernon raised $80,000 from Republicans)

“Even refusing to sign a pledge banning right wing, Republican money.”

Source of claim: TV ad “Republican” from former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy’s campaign

Analysis

Murphy attacks fellow Democrat Vernon’s past as a Republican in his new ad, which started airing May 8. Murphy and Vernon are vying for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum.

Murphy’s campaign said it cross-referenced the list of Vernon’s campaign donors with Iowa’s voter registration records at the time of the donations. The campaign found 51 Republican donors gave $31,750 to Vernon in 2014, when she lost to Murphy in the 1st District primary, and 83 Republicans have given $48,805 to her 2016 bid for a total $80,555.

The list of Republicans who donated to Vernon includes former colleagues and family members. Cedar Rapids City Council member Scott Olson, True North President Duane Smith, Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust President Larry Helling and University of Iowa Head Women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder are all Republicans who gave Vernon money.

The Fact Checker duplicated those efforts by obtaining a list of Vernon donors from the Federal Elections Commission and buying a list of registered Republican voters from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.

We found results similar to Murphy’s campaign, with a few names missing, Because we could obtain only a current list of registered Republicans, that could be explained by some donors switching party affiliation after making a donation.

In all, Vernon’s contributions from registered Republicans accounted for 6.4 percent of her individual campaign contributions in 2014 and 4.9 percent of her contributions so far in this campaign.

Vernon is also not alone in getting Republican donations; We found several of Murphy’s donors in his most recent campaign are registered Republicans.

The pledge Vernon refused to sign is one Murphy put forward.

It states the candidates “agree to reject any outside spending.” This refers not to donations, but direct campaigning efforts by an outside group — for example a PAC running an ad supporting a candidate or attacking an opponent. Earlier this week a Super PAC called Women Vote! placed ads supporting Vernon’s campaign. Women Vote! was formed by Emily’s List and advocates for abortion rights.

Murphy’s pledge differs significantly from what is depicted. The ad claims the pledge bans “right wing, Republican money” when it actually would ban spending from all outside groups — Republican and Democrat.

Conclusion

Vernon was a registered Republican up until 2009, four years before her first bid for Congress, so it is no surprise she still has friends who are Republicans. Many of her Republican donors are family members or former colleagues, so their support may transcend political ties. It’s also not unusual for any candidate to get donations from a differing party as both Murphy and Vernon have in this campaign.

It is true Vernon has refused to sign the outside spending ban, but that ban is much broader than what is presented in the TV ad.

While accurate on the donations and Vernon’s refusal to sign the pledge, this ad leaves out some critical information, particularly regarding the pledge. That’s why the claims measured in this ad get a ‘B’.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements 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.

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This Fact Checker was researched and written by Adam Carros.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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