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Advocacy groups leaving out details

WASHINGTON — Interest groups spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence Utah's U.S. Senate race are making claims that often skirt the truth.

This weekend, delegates at the state Republican convention will attempt to wade through the numerous ads and campaign speeches and select a nominee to represent the GOP in November's general election. Sen. Orrin Hatch is seeking a seventh term in office while his competitors are hoping that delegates will repeat the story line from the 2010 convention, where they ousted three-term Sen. Bob Bennett.

Claims being made against Hatch have largely been financed by the tea party affiliate FreedomWorks for America. The political action committee produced a 44-page brochure about Hatch's record.

Meanwhile, a separate political organization, Freedom Path, has financed television ads and mailers critical of his chief rivals, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, and to a lesser extent, state Rep. Chris Herrod. Little is known about Freedom Path, but it has ties to political operatives who used to work for the National Republican Senatorial Committee when former Sen. John Ensign was chairman.

The two groups are the biggest players in a Senate race that has featured more than $1.2 million in spending conducted independently of the campaigns.

While both groups make points that are on the mark, they have also exaggerated in some cases or left out key details. Here are some examples:

Claims made about Hatch by FreedomWorks for America:

Claim: "Hatch is one of the Senate's leading abusers of earmarks."

Facts: Hatch actually ranked about in the middle when it comes to securing federal dollars for Utah projects. In the three years prior to a moratorium kicking in, Hatch secured $378.8 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, which makes it its business to monitor government spending. That ranked him 54th out of 118 senators who served during some or all of that period. To make its case, FreedomWorks for America included $211 million for a new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, but that funding originated with a request from the judiciary and the General Services Administration. Steve Ellis, a spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that spending requests originating with the judicial branch of government does not meet its definition of an earmark that should be attributed to a particular lawmaker.

Earmarks have become more frowned upon in recent years, and Hatch's voting record reflects that change. In March 2008, Hatch voted against an amendment that would have established a one-year moratorium on earmarks. In November 2010, however, Hatch voted for an amendment that would have established a three-year moratorium.

Claim: Hatch "supported the infamous government takeover of General Motors and bailout of Chrysler."

Facts: Congress didn't specifically authorize the government to bail out automakers, and separate votes that took place in the Senate contradict such a sweeping conclusion. Hatch voted for the program, known as TARP, which authorized the government to shore up banks and insurance companies rocked by the recession. However, the White House under President George W. Bush and then Barack Obama sidestepped Congress when using TARP money to keep Chrysler and General Motors operating.

On votes specific to financial aid to automakers, Hatch voted to block a bailout from being considered in one instance. In another case, he opposed an amendment designed to prevent further assistance to the auto companies, but as his campaign argues, the amendment stripped money from the Commerce Department and would not necessarily have prevented the Obama administration from intervening.

Claim: Hatch also supported the "unconscionable bailouts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

Facts: Hatch actually voted against it. Congress responded to the housing crisis in 2008 by passing legislation that provided relief for lenders and borrowers, and injected capital into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While Hatch voted to let the bill be considered for a final vote, he voted "no" when it was up for final passage.

Claim: "Hatch once supported a government takeover of health care when he co-sponsored legislation that required people to purchase health insurance coverage."

Facts: Hatch did support a requirement that people buy health insurance, but that doesn't amount to "a government takeover." The insurance people would buy still would have been provided by private companies. The 1993 legislation that Hatch co-sponsored was the GOP's answer to the health overhaul sought by President Bill Clinton. It included a provision that required every citizen to have health insurance coverage.

Claims made about Liljenquist by Freedom Path:

Claim: Dan Liljenquist missed 24 percent of legislative votes in 2011.

Facts: Utah Data Points, a service run by Brigham Young University political scientist Adam Brown, ranked Liljenquist eighth for the percentage of missed votes among the state's 104 lawmakers. On average, senators miss about 14 percent of the votes and representatives miss about 7 percent.

Attendance records, however, are only a small measure of a legislator's effectiveness. In the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature, many bills pass with very little opposition and can move quickly during the 45-day session. In 2011, Liljenquist was particularly focused on Medicaid reforms and spent significant time trying to develop a consensus bill.

The Medicaid reforms as well as changes to the state employee's pension system helped earn Liljenquist national acclaim, such as being named one of the 2011 Public Officials of the Year by Governing Magazine.

Claim: "Liljenquist allowed state employees to double-dip, claiming a pension and a paycheck."

Facts: In 2011, Liljenquist sponsored a bill that did allow retired state employees to return to work without losing their pension, but only if they earned less than $15,000 a year and received no benefits. The change was needed so state pensioners could still work as substitute teachers and other similar positions with low pay and a shortage of qualified employees.

The change followed a 2010 bill, also sponsored by Liljenquist, which prohibited state retirees from working for the state, collecting retirement benefits and accruing credit for future benefits. Retirees returning to state employment could still choose to either cancel their pension or not earn any additional benefits.

Freedom Path also notes that state Rep. Chris Herrod voted in favor of the 2011 bill, which is true because it passed both the Senate and House unanimously.

Another claim in the same ad is that the changes will cost the state $100 million over a decade, which is false. The Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimated the 2011 bill would not impact the state budget, while the 2010 changes would save the state $30 million over two years.

Claim: "Liljenquist voted to exempt himself and other politicians from many public records requests."

Facts: True, but he also voted to repeal the law less than a month later after significant public outcry. The original law would have exempted text messages and emails from public records request. Another ad levels a similar claim against Herrod, who also voted in favor of the initial bill as well as the repeal.