Fact check: The GOP’s dishonesty-filled barrage of ‘defund the police’ attack ads
Republicans have been running ads around the country that use a variety of dishonest tactics to try to create the inaccurate impression that the Democratic candidates they are targeting support defunding the police.
Some of the Republican ads simply make things up. Other ads falsely describe bills the Democratic candidates have supported. Still other ads try guilt by association, noting that the candidates have supporters who have called to defund the police but not mentioning that the candidates themselves have rejected defunding the police.
One particularly egregious guilt-by-association ad accuses a Democrat of marching with a pro-defunding progressive group without providing evidence of the supposed marching and without noting that the event in question was a local “Fun Fest” that took place nearly three years before the group endorsed defunding.
“Defund the police” is a vague slogan that means different things to different people, from completely disbanding the police to shifting some percentage of police funding to other programs and services. These ads are deceptive regardless.
Below is a look at eight deceptive Republican ads that have run in September or October. This is not a comprehensive list.
Some of the Republican ads conjure up “defund the police” attacks out of thin air.
For example, an ad from Kevin Kiley, the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in California’s 3rd District, claims of Democratic opponent Kermit Jones: “If Pelosi has her way, Jones will join her to defund the police.” On-screen text says, “PELOSI-JONES AGENDA: Defund The Police.”
But all of this is fiction. Neither Pelosi nor Jones supports defunding the police.
Pelosi said in February that defunding the police “is not the position of the Democratic Party” and said in 2020 that “from the standpoint of our legislation, we’re not going to that place.” During Pelosi’s tenure as House speaker under President Joe Biden, Democrats have passed policing reform legislation, not defunding legislation. In fact, they have passed legislation that provides additional funding to police.
Jones, a physician and military veteran, has explicitly rejected the idea of defunding the police.
Campaign manager Michaela Kurinsky-Malos said in an email to CNN: “Dr. Kermit absolutely does not want to defund police.” She noted that Jones is endorsed by the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a major law enforcement organization, and that the organization has dismissed the claim that Jones would defund the police if elected.
Defending the ad, Kiley campaign consultant Dave Gilliard said in an email to CNN that Jones has been endorsed by groups that have supported defunding the police. But Gilliard did not provide evidence that Pelosi or Jones have supported defunding the police.
Numerous Republican ads claim that Democratic candidates voted in Congress or state legislatures to defund the police. But some of these assertions are false or highly misleading. Here are four examples.
An ad attacking Abigail Spanberger of Virginia
An ad from a super PAC called Moms for Safe Streets attacks Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is running for re-election in Virginia’s 7th District, by claiming that “Abigail Spanberger joined AOC’s effort to defund the police.”
In reality, Spanberger – a former CIA officer and former employee of the postal service’s law enforcement arm – has been one of the most vehement Democratic opponents of defunding the police. So what is the ad even talking about? In small text, it cites Spanberger’s support for a policing reform bill House Democrats passed in 2021. That bill would not defund the police. Rather, it includes various measures to try to improve police conduct.
Spanberger campaign spokesperson Justin Chermol noted that Spanberger has forcefully rejected defunding the police and has supported various measures to increase police funding. Moms for Safe Streets did not respond to a request for comment.
An ad attacking Steven Horsford of Nevada
An ad from Republican House candidate Sam Peters, who is running in Nevada’s 4th District, features a narrator describing economic and public safety problems and then saying, “And what’s our congressman, Steven Horsford, doing? He’s been working on defunding the police.”
But the ad provides no source to support this claim about Horsford – probably because it is not true.
The Democratic congressman has rejected the idea of defunding the police. Horsford campaign spokesperson Miguel Ayala told CNN that the video clip the ad plays at this moment is of Horsford speaking after the House passed a bipartisan bill aimed at combating gun violence. That bill included language from Horsford’s Break the Cycle of Violence Act bill – such as a section that provides $250 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives.
“Both of these bills fund police work and give police departments more tools for providing better protection for our communities,” Ayala said. He also noted that Horsford voted for the American Rescue Plan pandemic relief bill that provided significant funding for police.
The Peters campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
An ad attacking Andrea Salinas of Oregon
A Republican ad against Andrea Salinas, a state legislator who is the Democratic House candidate in Oregon’s 6th District, features a retired police officer claiming, “Andrea Salinas has voted numerous times to defund the police.”
But none of the three state bills the ad cites as supposed evidence actually defunded the police.
The first bill limits minor traffic stops by police. The second bill narrows Oregon law on the criminal offense of interfering with an officer. The third bill would, among other things, prohibit the police from making arrests without a warrant for certain misdemeanors they did not witness.
Republicans are free to criticize these bills, but not to describe them as defunding bills.
“I did not defund the police and I found it actually very offensive,” Salinas told Salem’s Statesman Journal, adding that she “would never take away the resources for our law enforcement or our first responders to do their jobs and do them well.”
The ad is from the National Republican Congressional Committee and Salinas’ opponent Mike Erickson. Neither responded to a request for comment about it.
An ad attacking Wiley Nickel of North Carolina
A National Republican Congressional Committee ad attacking Wiley Nickel, a state senator, defense lawyer and the Democratic House candidate in North Carolina’s 13th District, features a narrator claiming: “Wiley Nickel even voted against funding law enforcement – defunding the police. Yep, Wiley Nickel is a defund-the-police Democrat.”
But Nickel said in a statement to CNN that he has never and will never support defunding the police. So what is this ad referring to? Its small text cites Nickel’s vote against the overall state budget in late 2021 – which Nickel explained at the time was a protest against the budget’s phased elimination of the state’s corporate income tax, which Nickel complained would deprive the public education system of needed funds.
It’s misleading at best to use that vote as evidence that Nickel supports defunding the police. And Nickel’s campaign pointed CNN to a variety of bills he has backed in support of law enforcement, including the “Fund Our Police Act” to give officers a bonus in recognition of their service during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Congressional Leadership Fund ad attacking Liz Mathis, a state senator and the Democratic House candidate in Iowa’s 2nd District, claims that “Mathis marched with a far-left group that wants to defund the police.”
But the basic timeline shows that the claim is absurd. And that’s not the only factual issue with it.
The ad’s small type specifies that it is talking about Mathis having marched in 2017 with Indivisible. (Indivisible groups sprang up nationwide after the late-2016 publication of a guide to how citizens could fight the agenda of the newly elected President Donald Trump.) But the national Indivisible organization did not begin calling to defund the police until nearly three years later, in mid-2020, when the once-obscure concept bubbled into the national conversation after the murder of George Floyd.
Second, the 2017 event where Republicans have noted that Mathis appeared with Indivisible activists was an Iowa city’s family-friendly Fun Fest, not a policing-related protest – and though Mathis posed for a picture with Indivisible there, “she DID NOT march with our organization,” a representative of the Cedar Rapids Indivisible group that posted the photo told CNN. Rather, the representative said, “This photo was taken AFTER the parade when our group was taking a picture and Liz Mathis happened to be walking by and stepped in for the picture.” (The ad doesn’t explicitly say what 2017 event it was talking about; the Congressional Leadership Fund did not respond to a request for comment.)
Third, local Indivisible groups like the ones Mathis posed with may not share the particular policy preferences of the national Indivisible organization. Emily Phelps, a spokesperson for the national organization, said that Indivisible groups are “independently founded and independently functioning” entities that “don’t sign on to a specific policy platform.”
Mathis has run an ad touting her support for law enforcement and opposition to defunding the police.
Other Republican ads try to link Democratic candidates to “defund the police” by citing the views of their supporters – and omitting the stated anti-defunding position of the candidates themselves. Here are two examples.
An ad against Dan Kildee of Michigan
An ad from Paul Junge, the Republican House candidate in Michigan’s 8th District, claims that Democratic incumbent Dan Kildee is “getting support from groups that want to defund the police.” But the ad never identifies the groups, instead pointing generally, in small text, to campaign financial records – records that list donations to Kildee’s campaign from hundreds of different people and organizations.
While any such list may well include some supporters of defunding the police, that clearly doesn’t mean Kildee shares this view. The ad doesn’t mention that, in fact, Kildee has explicitly rejected the idea of defunding the police.
The Junge campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
An ad against Tina Kotek of Oregon
An ad from Christine Drazan, the Republican candidate for governor of Oregon, claims that Democratic opponent “Tina Kotek stood with defund-the-police extremists.” On-screen text is even more dramatic, saying “STOOD WITH DEFUND THE POLICE.”
But the ad does not cite any Kotek remarks or votes supporting defunding the police, a concept she is on record opposing. Instead, the ad notes in small text that Kotek, the former speaker of the Oregon state House, has an endorsement from “AFT-Oregon.” What is that? An Oregon teachers union, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.
AFT-Oregon supported defunding the police in a June 2020 Facebook post that was later taken down. But it’s bizarre to insinuate that accepting the endorsement of a local union of educators means Kotek is supportive of the union’s views on every issue – much less that Kotek is supportive of an opinion the union expressed in a two-year-old Facebook post that no longer exists.
Drazan spokesperson John Burke also pointed to the endorsement Kotek received from NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group that has expressed support for defunding the police. But that argument has the exact same flaw as the one about the AFT-Oregon endorsement. And Burke argued that Kotek has an established record of “undermining” the police. But the ad said “defund,” not undermine.
Kotek spokesperson Katie Wertheimer said, “the ad flat-out lies about Tina’s record.”