Fact Check: McCain, Obama Charges and Countercharges

ABC News independently checked some of the claims made by John McCain and Barack Obama during the debate tonight.

With reporting by the ABC News Fact Check team John Berman, Lisa Chinn, Dennis Dunlavey, Brian Hartman, Tom Giusto, Kimberley Randolph, Z. Byron Wolf, Justin Rood, Teddy Davis, Karen Travers, Kirit Radia, Luis Martinez, Ariane deVogue, Arlette Saenz, Reynolds Holding and Jerika Richardson.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Money

Early in the debate tonight, McCain charged that Obama had the second highest donations of anyone in the Senate from troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

TRUE. The Illinois senator has received $126,349 ($120,349 from employees and $6,000 from Political Action Committees or PACs) since he joined the Senate in 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His total is the second largest of any member of Congress, right behind Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., at $165,400.

A split screen picture of John McCain and Barack Obama from the debate.Play

McCain has received $21,550 from employees (nothing from PACs) since 1989 -- a period 14 years longer than Obama has been in the Senate -- according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pork Barrell Spending

McCain charged that Obama was guilty of driving up pork barrel spending -- government spending on programs that benefit his state of Illinois. McCain said, "While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks, he voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects including, by the way, $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Ill."

TRUE: In July 2007, Obama requested a $3 million earmark for the Adler Planetarium to repair the 40-year-old projector to the Sky Theater, as detailed on his Web site.

round two debatePlay

AND FALSE: As to the first part of the claim, that Obama voted for nearly a billion dollars in pork barrel earmark projects, any senator, including McCain, who casts a vote to pass spending bills, in effect, votes for far more than that.

But if McCain misspoke and meant to say that Obama requested nearly a billion in earmarks, he's not even close. According to the Citizens Against Government Waste's annual Pig Book for 2008 Appropriations, Obama requested 53 earmarks worth a total of $97.4 million.

Small Businesses and Taxes

Obama defended his tax plan against McCain's charge that "Obama's secret that you don't know is that his tax increases will increase taxes on 50 percent of small business revenue." Obama responded that "only a few percent of small businesses make more than $250,000 a year. So, the vast majority of small businesses would get a tax cut under my plan."

TRUE...AND TRUE: Only 4.3 percent of the total U.S. businesses are small businesses that make more than $250,000 a year, according to tax data. It's also possible that a majority of "small business revenue" comes from these firms. Obama is referring to the number of firms, McCain is referring to the concentration of revenue at the top end of the small business food chain. Both managed to make the facts work for their arguments.


McCain charged that "Sen. Obama likes to talk loudly. In fact, he said he wants to announce that he's going to attack Pakistan."

FALSE: Obama has not said that he would "attack Pakistan," but he has said that if Pakistan was unwilling or unable to move in on Osama bin Laden, he would.

This charge started with a speech Obama gave on Aug. 1, 2007, called "The War We Need To Win," in which he said: "I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."


When asked what he would do to make Congress move quickly to address the environment, Obama said, "This is one of the biggest challenges of our time, and it's absolutely critical we understand it's not a challenge, it's an opportunity ... we can do it but we're gonna have to make an investment. The same way the computer was invented by a bunch of government scientists." Were computers invented by the government?

FALSE: The Mark I, widely considered to be the first digital computer, was developed by Harvard scientist Howard Aiken working in conjunction with IBM from 1939 to 1944.

A year later came the final assembly of the ENIAC, a computer developed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania who were under contract with the U.S. Army in order to more rapidly compute firing and bombing tables.


McCain said, "In Lebanon, I stood up to President Reagan, my hero, and said if we send Marines in there, how can we possibly beneficially affect the situation, and said we shouldn't. Unfortunately, almost 300 brave young Marines were killed."

FALSE: This is an issue that came up in the first presidential debate, as well. And in both cases, McCain exaggerates his position. Marines were already in Lebanon when McCain arrived on Capitol Hill in 1983, and his vote was to prevent invoking the War Powers Act to extend the Marines already deployed. McCain did vote against that, but as he did in the first debate, McCain is wrong to imply that he opposed sending the Marines to Lebanon.

Town Meeting?

Perhaps the biggest exagerration of the night came from the debate organizers, who called the format a "town meeting." Of the 21 questions asked during the 90-minute debate, nine came from moderator Tom Brokaw, eight from the live audience in the hall and four from Internet users.