Fact check: Breaking down attack ads in the Perdue vs. Ossoff Georgia Senate race

Earlier this week, we fact checked some of the attack ads in the race between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Now let’s turn to the other big race.

Republican Sen. David Perdue and his allies are depicting Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff as a radical left-winger. Ossoff and his allies are going after Perdue for his stock trades and his comments about the coronavirus pandemic.

Here’s a fact check breakdown of some of the claims in ads that have run in November and December.

An ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee says “Jon Ossoff praises AOC’s radical Green New Deal.” Another ad from the same organization uses similar language, saying “Ossoff praised radical socialist AOC’s Green New Deal.”
Facts First: This is misleading. Ossoff has long been clear that he is opposed to the Green New Deal, a sweeping progressive resolution that is focused on the environment. In September 2019, Ossoff praised one specific aspect of the proposal, saying he agrees with the fact that it connects environmental policy with infrastructure policy. But he then offered more criticism.
The Green New Deal resolution goes beyond traditional environmentalist priorities, wrapping in ideas like “providing all people of the United States with…high-quality health care.” Here’s what Ossoff told the New York Times last year: “Now on the Green New Deal, I commend Senator Edward Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for linking environmental policy and infrastructure policy. However, do I believe that the critical path to fighting climate change requires the abolition of the private health insurance market? No, I do not. And I’ll debate that all day, while still recognizing the value and honoring the political contribution of folks who maybe see it a little bit differently.”

So there is a compliment in there. But the ad tries to create the impression that Ossoff is generally favorable toward the Green New Deal. He is not.

Democrats, Ossoff and health care

A Perdue ad warns of dire consequences if Democrats win the Georgia runoffs (which would give them control of a 50-50 Senate through the vice president’s tie-breaking vote). Among other things, Perdue says such an outcome would result in “your private health insurance taken away.”
Facts First: We can’t definitively fact check what will happen in the future, but Perdue’s claim does not match the actual agenda of President-elect Joe Biden. Biden has been a vocal opponent of the “Medicare for All” single-payer health care proposals that would ban most private insurance and move people to a government insurance plan. Biden has instead proposed a “public option,” in which people could voluntarily enroll in a government plan but could also choose to keep their private insurance.
Ossoff also supports a public option and opposes “Medicare for All” plans.
It’s possible that, over time, a popular public option would affect private insurers’ willingness to offer some plans. An anti-Ossoff ad from a Republican-aligned super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, makes an accusation that alludes to this legitimate concern — saying that an Ossoff win would mean Democratic leaders could pass “a radical government-run health care scheme, jeopardizing access to private insurance and the doctor of your choice.”

This claim is debatable, but it is more nuanced than Perdue’s own claim.

Democrats, Ossoff and policing

The Perdue ad says that Democrats winning in Georgia would result in “police defunded.”
Facts First: This claim, too, does not match the President-elect’s agenda. Biden has said over and over that he opposes the concept of police defunding. (Also, it’s worth noting that local governments, not the federal government, are responsible for the vast majority of police funding.) Ossoff has also opposed police defunding. Like Biden, he has instead called for policing reforms.

Perdue’s comments on the pandemic

An Ossoff ad accuses Perdue of echoing President Donald Trump in downplaying the pandemic crisis as the death toll spiked.

The ad matches Trump quotes about the pandemic with similar Perdue quotes. As the audio of the quotes plays, an animated graphic shows the number of deaths rising rapidly.

For example, the ad plays the audio of Trump saying, “The risk to the American people remains very low.” It then plays the audio of Perdue saying, “The risk of this virus still remains low.” In the time it takes Perdue to say those eight words, the death counter goes from around 10,000 to around 80,000.

Facts First: The ad’s simultaneous use of the quotes and the death counter is misleading: the number of deaths shown by the counter does not come close to matching the real number at the time Trump and Perdue uttered the quotes. In addition, some of the quote snippets leave out important context.

As FactCheck.org noted, Perdue made his comment about how the virus risk “remains low” in an interview on March 11. At the time, there were fewer than 50 reported coronavirus deaths in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University data — not the 10,000 to 80,000 the death counter shows as that quote is heard.

The ad doesn’t explicitly link the timing of the quotes to the timing of the deaths, but it may suggest to viewers that Perdue made this remark calling the virus low-risk even after tens of thousands of Americans had died. He did not.

It’s also worth noting that, around the time of this Perdue comment, some prominent experts were saying much the same thing as he did. For example, six days prior, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that “the risk in the United States as a whole is still low.”

Also, Perdue made other comments in the same March 11 interview that were more wary about the pandemic. He noted that the mortality rate for the virus was higher than that of the flu. Although he cautioned against “overreacting,” he said that “we’re presuming the worst and preparing for the worst.” He also said that elderly people and people with respiratory illnesses should “stay away from large crowds” and sick people.

Perdue and stocks

Another ad from Ossoff’s campaign calls into question Perdue’s stock transactions before the pandemic-related stock market crash. The ad highlights three of Perdue’s moves after senators received a private January 24 coronavirus briefing from senior federal health officials.
“That same day, David Perdue bought medical equipment stock,” the ad’s narrator says; the screen shows the name of DuPont de Nemours, which makes personal protective equipment among many other products. “Then he bought vaccine shares,” the narrator continues; the screen shows the name of pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The narrator then says Perdue “dumped casino stock”; the screen shows the name of casino company Caesars Entertainment.
Facts First: The ad is correct about Perdue’s DuPont, Pfizer and Caesars stock transactions, according to Perdue’s public disclosure forms. However, it’s worth noting Perdue says he did not attend the January 24 briefing the ad insinuates was the impetus for these trades. Ossoff’s campaign has not presented proof Perdue was there.

An Ossoff campaign spokeswoman, Miryam Lipper, responded that Perdue has not presented proof he was somewhere else during the briefing. She said Perdue “certainly hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt” given what she said is his history of deception on the subject of his stock trading. But Perdue campaign spokesman John Burke said the “burden of proof” is on the Ossoff campaign, and “they have never provided any.”

Perdue’s campaign reiterated its regular claim that his trades are conducted by outside financial advisers without his involvement. The New York Times, however, has reported that this was not true in one case the Ossoff ad does not discuss. In that case, the Times reported that Perdue personally directed his financial adviser to sell shares in a financial analysis firm.

Burke said the Times report is “totally consistent with what we’ve said from the beginning,” but he did not explain how the report is consistent with the assertion that Perdue has not been directly involved in trading.

The Times also noted that Perdue, a businessman who had been a frequent stock trader, also made February stock purchases that would seem to run counter to a suggestion that he was trading on inside information about a coming economic calamity. For example, he bought shares in Delta Air Lines, which soon plummeted in value.

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