State Politics

Cooper, Berger, Gorka – whose fact-checks did NC read most? Here’s the top 10 of 2017.

Some of the NC politicians fact checked by PolitiFact NC in 2017 were (clockwise from top left): Gov. Roy Cooper, State Sen. Phil Berger (pictured with Speaker Tim Moore, left), Sebastian Gorka, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger.
Some of the NC politicians fact checked by PolitiFact NC in 2017 were (clockwise from top left): Gov. Roy Cooper, State Sen. Phil Berger (pictured with Speaker Tim Moore, left), Sebastian Gorka, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger.

Gov. Roy Cooper misled North Carolinians in August when he said a bill proposed by Republicans would grant immunity to drivers who hit protesters.

Sen. Thom Tillis was just flat wrong when he said 2016 was “one of the deadliest years ever for law enforcement officers.”

And Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane’s claim that her opponent “vowed to slash funding for parks” wasn’t truthful either.

PolitiFact North Carolina, a partnership between the fact-checking site PolitiFact and The News & Observer, reviewed dozens of statements by politicians from nearly every rung of government (not to mention chain emails and Caitlyn Jenner) in 2017.

But the list of PolitiFact NC’s most-read fact checks might surprise you. Here are the top 10 most popular fact checks:

10. Sebastian Gorka, a former aide to President Donald Trump, said during a November speech at UNC-Chapel Hill that Iran’s regime “every Friday declares war on us.”

The government-sanctioned prayers on Fridays sometimes include chants of “death to America.” Experts say those chants are rhetoric and not serious declarations of war.

Iran has never formally declared war on the US even once, let alone on a weekly basis. PolitiFact rated Gorka’s claim False.

9. State Senate leader Phil Berger said in September that North Carolina has “the strictest anti-gerrymandering standards in the entire country.”

North Carolina may have strict rules for grouping counties into election districts and a unique formula for measuring compactness of those districts. But the legislature didn’t require itself – at least on paper – to use that compactness formula, and other states have similar rules for the shapes of districts.

Furthermore, experts consider other states to do a better job of promoting fairness by mandating the inclusion of both parties or, in a handful of cases, strictly prohibiting mapmakers from favoring one party over another.

Perhaps most tellingly: PolitiFact couldn’t find, and Berger’s office couldn’t point to, an expert or ranking system that puts North Carolina’s redistricting standards among the nation’s best. So PolitiFact rated this claim False.

8. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in March that HB2, the law that regulated transgender bathroom access, hurt North Carolina’s economy by “one-tenth of 1 percent of our annual GDP.”

He was right. While $500 million in economic losses (not to mention at least 1,400 jobs lost) is not insignificant, the state’s overall economy is large enough that the losses are only about 0.1 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. PolitiFact rated this claim True.

7. A chain email circulating in May said there are thousands of registered voters over 110 years old in North Carolina, including one who is 219 years old.

After President Donald Trump announced a new commission on voter fraud, the email began making the rounds in North Carolina suggesting voter fraud and “questionable elections.” It cites thousands of people registered to vote who couldn’t possibly be alive.

However, nearly 98 percent of those people are actually voters who the state lists as being born in 1900 or 1901 since they didn’t have to give their date of birth when registering to vote. Others are on the list simply due to clerical errors.

Of these nearly 5,400 voters who appear 110 or older, no more than 130 are dead. And it could be fewer. A 2016 audit found only two cases of people voting in the name of a dead person, out of more than 4.8 million votes cast.

The email reaches a faulty conclusion based on a dishonest premise, and PolitiFact rated its claim False.

6. Tillis said in November that Senate Republicans’ tax plan wouldn’t raise taxes for Americans earning less than $70,000 a year.

Initially, most – though not all – Americans in that income range would have paid less in taxes under the version of the tax bill that Tillis praised. But after a few years, estimates found more clear losers than clear winners in tax payments among members of that income group.

Tillis was doing some selective presentation of the data. On balance, PolitiFact rated his statement Half True.

5. Cooper said in January that North Carolinians are “already paying for” Medicaid expansion, even though the state hasn’t expanded Medicaid.

Cooper was arguing for the state to accept the expansion of Medicaid, the government health insurance program. He’s right that North Carolinians are already paying into the program, via federal taxes.

Yet what he doesn’t mention is that the state government currently pays nothing into the program but would have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars per year if it did accept the expansion. Doing so would also increase the federal tax burden on people all over the country, including in North Carolina. PolitiFact rated this claim Mostly True.

4. Former Gov. Pat McCrory said in November that HB2 was “never really repealed.”

House Bill 2 was indeed trashed, and the most controversial part of it is gone. Advocates point out that parts of the repeal bill are still restrictive. But it’s incorrect to suggest, as McCrory did, that “nothing’s changed.” PolitiFact rated this claim Mostly False.

3. The NC GOP said in June that former FBI Director James Comey admitted to leaking classified information.

Speaking for the North Carolina Republican Party, former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes said Comey admitted to leaking classified information.

That’s wrong. Comey never admitted to leaking classified information, which would be a crime. In fact, he said he was careful to write the one memo that he did leak so that it would not contain any classified information. The accusation was incorrect and easily debunked. PolitiFact rated this claim False.

2. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in February that “If Governor Cooper’s proposed bill for repealing HB2 becomes law, it will create a state-sanctioned ‘Look But Dont Touch policy in our bathrooms.”

In reality, there are at least half a dozen laws protecting people from the types of scenarios Forest wrongly said would become consequence-free. Cooper even suggested creating stronger penalties for some of them.

Forest defended his claim by saying cities would start letting transgender people in bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.

That’s not what Cooper had proposed, however. Even if it does happen, it’s a local government decision, not a “state-sanctioned” policy. And even in that case, one of Forest’s hypothetical concerns was clearly baseless, and the other was unclear at best. PolitiFact rated this claim Pants On Fire!

Now for the most-read PolitiFact North Carolina fact check ...

Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during a town hall meeting in Mooresville in August 2015. He was an outspoken supporter of an Obamacare repeal bill in spring 2017. The fact check of Pittenger’s claim about pre-existing conditions was the most-read PolitiFact NC story in 2017. Robert Lahser

1. U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger said in May the Republican plan to replace Obamacare “absolutely does not eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions.”

Pittenger’s claim came as Republicans in the House and Senate were trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. One of Obamacare’s key tenets was a requirement that banned insurers from rejecting people on the basis of pre-existing conditions or charging them exorbitant rates for their premiums.

Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican who represents North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, made his claim while voicing his support for the House repeal bill – the American Health Care Act.

PolitiFact found that AHCA would’ve kept the requirement that people with pre-existing conditions be offered health insurance. But it would’ve dropped Obamacare’s rules capping how much extra those people can be charged.

Insurers would have been able to charge people significantly more if they had a pre-existing condition like heart disease, cancer, diabetes or arthritis – possibly requiring people to pay thousands of dollars extra every year to remain insured.

So PolitiFact rated Pittenger’s claim Mostly False.

As for the AHCA, the House ultimately passed it. The Senate crafted several versions of an Obamacare replacement, but none ever received enough votes to pass.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht