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Will 2016 Set A New Standard For Misleading Politics?

By Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star (TNS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In late November, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Chuck Todd of NBC News argued heatedly over Trump’s claim that “thousands and thousands” of people cheered in New Jersey on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks.

“I saw it on television,” Trump said. “I have hundreds of people that agree with me.”

Todd pointed out that no evidence of such widespread celebrations had surfaced.

“You’re running for president of the United States,” he said. “Your words matter. Truthfulness matters. Fact-based stuff matters.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

Stretching the truth, sometimes to the breaking point, has always been a part of politics — candidates and campaigns routinely exaggerate personal and political claims, unfairly characterize opponents’ positions and ignore contrary evidence.

Any visit to a mailbox during campaign season confirms that diagnosis.

But some critics and pundits say 2016 may set a new standard for misleading politics. Trump’s popularity, they say, reflects a new calculation: 21st-century voters are so overwhelmed by political messages they may now discount independent fact-checking.

That view is reinforced, they say, by an explosion of alternative, often partisan media. In 2016, it seems, candidates may feel free to say anything, without fear of contradiction or sanction.

“Politicians have always lied,” David Roberts argues in a column on Vox, a policy and politics website.

“But in the days when there were fewer media outlets and their power was more consolidated, politicians’ ability to lie was at least somewhat shaped and tempered by the media. … Now there are so many outlets, so many voices, that the old guard has very little control over the narrative.”

Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz said Trump has rewritten the rulebook and angered the mass media.

“What’s more, some of the media attacks against the Republican front-runner are so virulent that they overshoot the mark, and possibly even backfire,” Kurtz said.

Political reporter Karen Tumulty in The Washington Post: “Donald Trump’s offensive comments and flat-out falsehoods just keep coming. … Will Trump eventually cross the line — or is he proof that lines no longer exist?”

Trump strongly denies misleading voters, and his supporters vigorously defend their candidate.

“Donald Trump does speak his mind. He is not the most tactful of speakers,” wrote Roger Katz of Arbalest Group, a pro-gun organization.

“However, there is one thing Trump is not. He is not a liar.”

Republicans also point to Hillary Clinton’s statements about her role in the killings in Benghazi, her emails or Al Gore’s claims about his involvement in the early Internet as evidence that Democratic candidates routinely lie and exaggerate too.

Bill Clinton often struggled with facts.

Barack Obama has made misstatements on energy, health care, foreign affairs, taxes and spending. He once promised Americans they could keep their health care plan if they liked it.

But some political scientists say Trump’s approach has been different.

It’s one thing, they say, to claim tax cuts won’t hurt the budget or Mexico can be forced to build a wall along the border — those assertions, and others, are difficult to test and subject to disagreement. They’re not really lies.

But this week, after calling for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration, Trump said police officers refuse to go into certain areas of Paris for fear of Muslim attacks. French officials denied the claim, and The New York Times said the statement “has no basis in fact.”

In a tweet, Trump claimed 81 percent of white homicide victims are killed by blacks, a claim the fact-checking website PolitiFact called “wildly” inaccurate. The correct figure, according to the website and the FBI, is 15 percent.

Trump has repeatedly claimed he is self-funding his campaign. In fact, at the end of September, Trump had raised more than $4 million from the public and had spent $5.5 million. His fundraising records are easily found online.

At the end of last week PolitiFact had examined 72 Trump claims and statements, declaring 45 of them “false” or “pants on fire” untrue, more than any other major presidential candidate. It rated none of Trump’s statements fully “true.”

Trump hasn’t retracted any of it. His statements and tweets routinely criticize fact-checking reporters and news organizations as dishonest.

A recent survey by Quinnipiac University showed Trump comfortably leading the GOP field despite a belief from a clear majority of voters surveyed that the candidate is untrustworthy. (A similar margin found Hillary Clinton just as disingenuous.) But both candidates lead in the poll, suggesting voters this year consider other traits more important than honesty.

“It doesn’t seem to matter what he says or who he offends, whether the facts are contested or the ‘political correctness’ is challenged, Donald Trump seems to be wearing Kevlar,” said a statement from Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll.

But Trump “is a unique case,” said Emily Thorson, a political science professor at Boston College who studies political messaging.

“He just doesn’t seem to care that much about what the media thinks,” she said. “He’s kind of operating in a different sphere.”

In fact, Thorson said, concerns about Trump’s rhetoric among reporters and politicians may be overblown. Voters, she said, will soon look at the presidential campaign more intensely, and candidates’ misstatements will matter more.

“As much as we are paying attention, most people aren’t,” she said. “A lot of the people saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll vote for Trump,’ have no idea of all the things he’s saying.”

The phenomenon isn’t limited to Trump, of course.

Some consultants say voters’ lack of focus on statements and claims can turn up in other campaigns, and has.

Increasingly, they say, voters must wade through so many political messages that they lose focus on the facts. That’s particularly true with the proliferation of websites, blogs, social media and other forms of political communication.

“Voters get bombarded, whether it’s mail pieces or TV ads,” said Kansas City-based communications and political consultant Jason Parson. “They experience fatigue, and factual information gets lost. … It can be very frustrating.”

Stephanie Sharp, a former Kansas legislator and now a communications consultant, used a familiar saying to illustrate the problem.

“What’s the saying about a lie makes it around the world before the truth gets its boots on?” she asked.

“Once it’s out there, it’s been said and there’s no unsaying it.”

©2015 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he leaves the stage after speaking at the meeting of the New England Police Benevolent Association in Portsmouth, New Hampshire December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm


Senate Candidate In Kansas Is A Serial Business And Political Entrepreneur

By Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star

Greg Orman once lent money to actress Debbie Reynolds.

Reynolds and her son wanted to turn her large collection of Hollywood memorabilia into a museum in Tennessee. Orman liked the idea and lent their company more than $1.6 million in 2002.

But the project foundered and the company fell behind on the debt. In 2009, Orman sued, seeking full payment of a balance calculated at more than $6 million.

He eventually settled for $5 million.

Two months ago, Orman’s loan habits may have mattered to a handful of political junkies, and perhaps his family. Now, his improbably competitive independent campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas has electrified the political world — and brought a sharp focus to his 24-year business career.

It turns out Orman’s loan to an obscure museum project was not unique. The independent candidate has invested in dozens of firms over the years, records show, from a local boxing equipment company to a scoreboard graphics design firm in Kansas City.

Some of those investments ended up in court. Most have not. But friends and former associates say they all reflect the candidate’s strong entrepreneurial itch.

“He’s a risk-taker,” said Drue Jennings, the former Kansas City Power & Light Co. executive who worked closely with Orman. “But he’s not a riverboat gambler. … He’s very disciplined, and very studious, and never just took a flier at something. He had it thought through.”

Kansas voters will soon determine if that approach can be exported to the U.S. Senate. He faces veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in a race now considered too close to call.

Orman, 45, is the son of Tim Orman, who runs a furniture store in Stanley, Kan., and Darlene Gates, a retired nurse now living in Minnesota, where Orman was raised.

The elder Orman remembers his son as smart and hardworking.

“He’s the real thing,” he said. “I hope Kansas sees that.”

After working his way through Princeton University, Orman joined McKinsey and Co., a business consulting firm, in 1991. While there, he founded Environmental Lighting Concepts, which designed and installed energy-efficient lighting.

The company caught the eye of Kansas City Power & Light in 1996. The utility bought controlling interest in Orman’s firm and eventually enlisted him to run KLT Inc., a subsidiary that oversaw some of the parent company’s businesses in telecommunications, natural gas and retail energy sales.

It was, in essence, a venture capital firm inside the utility.

Orman left Great Plains Energy/KCP&L in 2002 and launched a venture capital fund, Denali Partners.

“I wanted go back out on my own and start working with small businesses,” Orman said.

Denali’s website says the company usually spends between $1 million and $5 million on small businesses, spin-offs and joint ventures. The fund invests in real estate and energy and once bought a car wash equipment firm.

One of Denali’s fund managers is Mark Schroeder of Minneapolis, a friend who helped set up Orman’s lighting company and worked with him at KLT. Denali, Schroeder said, now has roughly 30 individual investors and is worth “under $100 million.”

He said that the fund is actively involved in the companies it owns, but that Orman has played a diminished role in it for several years.

Orman also invests individually. He owns 75 percent of Combat Brands, which is now embroiled in a $29.6 million trademark dispute with Everlast World’s Boxing Headquarters Corp. of New York over a contract involving sales of boxing gear and security equipment.

An Orman spokesman called the case “without merit.”

Orman’s income and assets have yet to be disclosed. He has until Sept. 21 to file a required personal financial disclosure statement with the Senate.

Orman has contributed to his own campaign. Through mid-July, he had spent $46,749 of his money on the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

He had raised $671,322 by that date.

Orman said he’s giving to his own campaign to avoid taking donations from political action committees.

“Would you rather someone going to Washington only beholden to you,” he said, “or someone going to Washington beholden to PACs and special interests?”

Roberts accused Orman of dodging questions about his political beliefs.

“What are his principles?” Roberts asked. “We’re going to have to discover that.”

Orman has given to other candidates, mostly Democrats, in the past. Records show contributions to Barack Obama’s campaign, as well as former U.S. Reps. Dennis Moor (D-KS) and Nancy Boyda (D-KS); Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Democratic congressional candidate Kay Barnes in Kansas City, Mo.

He also gave $2,000 to former Sen. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, and $2,000 to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri in 2006. Orman says that donation was made after a request from a friend.

“I’ve made contributions to lots of political candidates over time,” he said, “and I’ve generally been disappointed with the results.”

Orman’s budding interest in a political career first became public in 2008, when he ran a brief campaign, as a Democrat, against Roberts.

He raised more than $450,000 for that race, and then quietly withdrew. After Saturday’s debate, he was asked why he backed out.

“I don’t wear party labels well,” he said.

In 2010, Orman started a nonprofit called the Common Sense Coalition for Change Inc., designed to “increase understanding of public policies and their effects on everyday Americans,” according to its initial tax return.

Orman lent the group $22,000 to get it started, which he said has since become a contribution. The group is now being retooled.

But the idea of an independent Senate candidacy had started to grow. In Olathe, Kan., where he lives with wife, Sybil, Orman began work last year on assembling a campaign team for what was then considered an improbable effort to reach Washington.

Not now. Orman’s campaign has drawn national attention — partly because Democrat Chad Taylor’s withdrawal from the campaign seems to have significantly increased the odds for an independent candidate to upset Roberts.

He says he’s ready for the scrutiny he’ll receive.

“I am asking a lot of voters,” he said. “Learn who I am.”

Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds’ son, says he can help. His family’s dispute with Orman, he said, is over.

“We did get into litigation with Greg,” he said in an email.

“In the end, he and I have always settled our issues in person amicably,” Fisher said. “We remain friends to this day.”

Screenshot: Orman for Senate/YouTube

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Kansas Senator’s Years In Washington Are Both Advantage, Vulnerability

By Dave Helling, The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sen. Pat Roberts sits in a Lenexa, Kan., fast-food restaurant, spooning ice cream from a cup.

It’s already been a long day. That morning, the 78-year-old Republican braved the heat of the Lenexa July Fourth parade; after lunch, he would be shaking hands at the VFW hall down the street.
Then on to Wamego, Kan., for another parade. Then Hays, Kan. Then another town, another campaign appearance, another search for votes.

It’s tough and familiar political terrain — Roberts has spent the better part of three decades running for office. If Kansas returns him to the Senate this year, he’ll rank among the longest-tenured public servants in the state’s history.

Does he ever think about stepping aside to give someone else a chance?

Roberts’ face grows red below his Marine Corps ball cap. The ice cream softens.

“Why on earth would I not run, if I feel good (and) the people are for me?” he asks.

“The years have got nothing to do with it.”

The years, of course, are the biggest issue in the campaign.

Roberts was first elected to the U.S. House in 1980, from the sprawling 1st District, after then-boss U.S. Rep. Keith Sebelius walked away from the seat.

Roberts quickly carved out space as a sometimes prickly GOP moderate, focused largely on agriculture. He worked to persuade Ronald Reagan to lift an embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union, while striving to protect generous farm subsidies and agri-business autonomy.

On most other issues, Roberts was a reliable Republican vote. After the GOP won control of the House in 1994, he claimed his reward: chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, the pinnacle of his time in the House.

But it didn’t last long. In 1996 Roberts sought Nancy Kassebaum’s empty Senate seat, winning easily. He’s been re-elected twice, rising to the chairmanship of both the Agriculture and Intelligence committees.

Both assignments caused him headaches.

In the House, Roberts had engineered an overhaul of farm policy with a bill called Freedom to Farm, a measure designed to slowly withdraw taxpayer support for agriculture. Just a few years later, it was widely seen as a failure — and Roberts, then a senator, had to watch as it was largely dismantled.

And he was fiercely criticized for his work on the Intelligence Committee. Democrats accused Roberts of covering up the mistakes of the George W. Bush White House, an accusation he just as fiercely rejected.

For all the successes and failures, though, Roberts’ resume ordinarily would entitle him to a victory lap this year: an easy primary, perhaps token Democratic opposition.

That was pre-tea party. GOP primary challenger Milton Wolf has mounted a serious insurgency, based almost entirely on criticism of Roberts’ years in the nation’s capital.

In contemporary government, national experience can be a decidedly mixed blessing.

“Pat Roberts does things the Washington way,” Wolf says. Exhibit A? Roberts’ residence.

In February, the senior senator told The New York Times he had no permanent home in the state — his Dodge City house was rented out, Roberts said, while he claimed a Kansas voting address at the home of a longtime supporter. Wolf pounced, and hasn’t let up since.

Roberts bristles at the suggestion he isn’t really a Kansan. At the same time, he admits he’s spent most of his political career raising his family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“I would never have seen my kids,” he explained. “It was hard enough (in) Virginia. But had I been in Dodge City, I would have gotten there Friday evening, and … (then) Saturday morning: ‘Bye kids, I’ve got to go all around the district.’ I didn’t want to do that.

“Back in that era, people expected you to be in Washington to do your job.”

In May, a three-person board in Topeka rejected a challenge to Roberts’ claim of Kansas residency and certified him for the ballot.

He clearly owns property in other places — Roberts’ wife, Franki, sells real estate in Virginia, and property ownership is the foundation of the couple’s wealth.

Roberts’ personal financial disclosure statement for 2012 shows ownership of a condominium in Alexandria, Va., worth between $500,000 and $1 million. It also shows a condominium in National Harbor, Md., valued between $250,000 and $500,000, and the Dodge City home, valued between $100,000 and $250,000.

Roberts claims rental income from all three properties.

His 2012 net worth, the Center for Responsive Politics says, was between $850,029 and $2,540,999, not including the Virginia house in which he lives.

By contrast, Roberts’ financial disclosure for 1982 — his second year in Congress — claimed holdings valued between $20,002 and $65,000. The listing included half-interest in a vacant lot in Dodge City.

Roberts’ home and his Washington tenure have dominated the 2014 primary largely because few political issues separate the two major GOP competitors.

Milton Wolf admits this. “Do you know how many issues Pat Roberts will claim I’m wrong on?” he said in March. “Not a single one.”

Indeed, on issue after issue, Roberts has cast votes and made statements designed to please the strongly conservative voters who often dominate GOP primaries.

He was among the first politicians to call on Kathleen Sebelius to resign as health and human services secretary after the disastrous Obamacare rollout — even though Sebelius, daughter-in-law of Keith Sebelius, was a decades-old family friend. Roberts had supported her during the confirmation process.

Roberts opposed the last farm bill. He opposed a spending bill that included significant funds for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense lab in Manhattan, Kan. In 2012, he voted against a vague resolution on a U.N. disability treaty — while mentor and resolution supporter Bob Dole watched from a wheelchair.

He’s aligned himself with conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during battles over the debt ceiling and the budget, although Roberts has supported extensions of the debt ceiling in the past.

Roberts has worked hard on the politics of his re-election as the issues.

He’s cornered endorsements from all of the state’s prominent Republicans: Gov. Sam Brownback, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, all four House members from Kansas.

Roberts has easily outraised and outspent Wolf. For this election cycle, Federal Election Commission filings show, Roberts has raised $4.4 million to Wolf’s $897,000.

For all the endorsements and cash advantage, though, Roberts appears to think his strongest re-election argument is the very thing Wolf calls his Achilles’ heel — experience.

“I’m not intending to be in the Congress forever,” Roberts said.

But “if you have the experience, and you have the people of Kansas behind you, and you know specifically what you want to accomplish, and you have the seniority to make it happen — no other candidate can do that, except me.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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