What Are Facts in Latest Campaign Attacks?

The two major presidential campaigns turned to domestic issues today. And with the new focus come new misrepresentations.

In Philadelphia today, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made a harsh charge against the president about stem cell research.

"Three years ago, President Bush enacted a far-reaching ban on federally funding stem cell research," Kerry said.

Has the president instituted a "far-reaching ban"?

"There is no 'stem cell ban,'" said Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. "There is not a ban on federal research, neither is there any ban on private interest using private money to fund stem cell research."

What the president did do is enact significant restrictions on the kinds of stem cell research that receive federal funding.

"There is a limited — very limited — sum of money available for federal research into embryonic stem cells," Ornstein said.

Or, as actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, put it at an event with Kerry earlier in the day in New Hampshire, the president "so restricted the stem cell lines available to us that it was kind of like he gave us a car and no gas and he congratulated himself on giving us the car and we sat there. And we sit there still."

That's one take on the significant restrictions Bush enacted on federal funding of stem cell research — but it is not a ban.

New Ad Hits TV

While Kerry was attacking the president on that issue today, a new ad from the Bush campaign hit the airwaves, accusing the Democrat of voting for higher taxes 350 times.

"Three hundred and fifty times," the ad says. "Higher taxes from the liberals in Congress and John Kerry."

Has Kerry voted 350 times for higher taxes?

"On close examination, the Bush campaign's list of Kerry's votes for 'higher taxes' is padded," wrote Brooks Jackson of factcheck.org. "It includes votes Kerry cast to leave taxes unchanged (when Republicans proposed cuts), and even votes in favor of alternative Democratic tax cuts that Bush aides characterized as 'watered down.'"

The Bush campaign, for instance, counts as "votes for higher taxes" 67 times that Kerry voted to cut taxes — but not as much as some others would have liked.

The 350 number also includes a May 1985 vote Kerry cast to continue a tax on cigarettes of 16-cents per pack instead of increasing Medicare premiums. It also includes Kerry's September 1992 vote for an amendment to reduce how much tobacco companies could deduct for advertising for tobacco products from 100 percent to 80 percent, with the revenue generated going to anti-smoking campaigns chiefly targeted at pregnant women and children — a proposal 14 Republicans voted for as well.

"Kerry has voted to increase taxes," Ornstein said, "but the 350 number almost reaches the point of ridiculousness because it is such a gross exaggeration."

Mark Twain once said, "Get your facts first, and then you can distort 'em as much as you please." Both campaigns seem to be taking his advice.