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PolitiFact Checks Out The GOP's Boulder Debate

A crowded scene in Boulder, Colo.
A crowded scene in Boulder, Colo.

Anyone who has watched any of the presidential debates knows the claims have been flying around fast and furious. So we're going to take on some of those claims from the recent debate in Boulder, Colorado, from the Florida-based candidates in a bit of a lightning round with JoshGillenofPolitiFactFlorida.

First, Ben Carson, who's the new front-runner in many polls, was asked by one of the moderators about his connections to a company called Mannatech, a nutritional supplement company. In fact, the surgeon who lives in South Florida called it "total propaganda" to suggest he had any connection to the company.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

At the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate, hosted by CNBC in Boulder, Colo., moderator Carl Quintanilla asked Carson about his involvement with the company.

"This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship," Quintanilla said. "They offered claims they could cure autism, cancer. They paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continues. Why?"

"Well, that’s easy to answer: I didn’t have an involvement with them," replied Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon. "That is total propaganda. And this is what happens in our society -- total propaganda. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product."

Mannatech sells nutritional supplement pills made from larch tree bark and aloe, ingredients with disputedhealth benefits. The company in 2009 settled the lawsuit, which stemmed from claims that the company was deceptively pitching cures and treatments for illnesses such as cancer and even Down Syndrome.

For Carson to say he "didn’t have an involvement with" Mannatech is a stretch. While he was not any sort of employee for the company as far as we can tell, it’s hard to see the speeches he’s delivered, as well as other promotional work, as anything but a full-throated endorsement of the product. Further, Mannatech appears to view Carson as a product promoter.

Our ruling

Carson said, "I didn’t have an involvement with" the nutritional supplement company Mannatech.

As far as we can tell, Carson was not a paid employee or official endorser of the product. However, his claim suggests he has no ties to Mannatech whatsoever. In reality, he got paid to deliver speeches to Mannatech and appeared in promotional videos, and he consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements. As a world-renowned surgeon, Carson’s opinion on health issues carries weight, and Mannatech has used Carson’s endorsement to its advantage.

We rate Carson’s claim False.

Next up - former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

During the debate, Jeb chimed in about the low cost of tuition in Florida:

 "In Florida, we have the lowest in-state tuition of any state, because there's accountability, just as John (Kasich) said. You'll create a much better graduation rate at a lower cost, and you won't indebt the next generation with recourse debt on their backs."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

Comparison of in-state tuition

Bush spokesman Matt Gorman said that when Bush left office in 2007, Florida had the lowest in-state tuition for a public four-year university among the 50 states. The data from the College Board bears that out: It was $3,881 for a four-year public university in 2006-07.

But during the debate, Bush didn’t say he was referring to when he ended his tenure as governor — he made it sound like he was talking in the present tense, so we looked at that data, too.

The College Board publishes an annual comparison of in-state tuition and fees at four-year public universities nationwide, comprised of survey data from almost 4,000 postsecondary institutions. The comparison refers to average price paid by a full-time student for one year of undergraduate enrollment.

For 2014-15, the lowest was Wyoming at $4,646, followed by Arkansas at $6,138; Utah at $6,177; New Mexico at $6,190; Montana at $6,279, and then Florida at $6,351. So Florida was the sixth-lowest, although four of the states were only between $72 and $213 cheaper than Florida.

"Florida is one of the most affordable states for public university tuition," said Ralph Aiello, who supervises college counselors for Broward County public schools in Florida.

Our ruling

Bush said, "In Florida, we have the lowest in-state tuition of any state."

That’s not accurate if we look at 2014-15 tuition for four-year public universities compiled by the College Board. That data shows Wyoming had the lowest tuition followed by Arkansas, Utah, New Mexico, Montana and Florida. Florida was the sixth-lowest.

Bush’s campaign said he was referring to Florida’s ranking as the lowest in 2006-07 when he left office, but he didn’t specify that timeframe during the debate.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

On to Sen. Marco Rubio,who's been steadily climbing in the polls. This is in spite of some very public questions about the Miami-based politician's ability to handle his personal finances.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

At the Oct. 28, 2015, debate in Boulder, Colo., CNBC moderator Becky Quick asked Rubio how qualified he felt to guide national fiscal policy when he’d had so many money problems himself.

"Sen. Rubio, you yourself have said that you've had issues. You have a lack of bookkeeping skills," Quick said, quoting Rubio’s 2012 book An American Son before listing several examples. "You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money. You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought. And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That's something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties.

"In terms of all of that, it raises the question whether you have the maturity and the wisdom to lead this $17 trillion economy. What do you say?" she asked.

Rubio’s response was to dismiss all of Quick’s examples as partisan smear tactics.

"Well, you just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I'm not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all," he said. He then went on to detail his blue-collar upbringing with immigrant parents.

The response made us pause, because we wondered what had been "discredited" about Rubio’s widely reported financial mishaps. In this context, "discredited" means the things Quick said are not true or accurate.

Rubio’s campaign did not respond to our requests for comment, but we’ll take them one at a time and explain what happened:

"You accidentally inter-mingled campaign money with your personal money." Years before Rubio became speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2006, he created two political committees to pay for travel and other expenses.

A 2010 Tampa Bay Times and Miami Heraldinvestigation found he failed to disclose paying $34,000 in expenses, including $7,000 to himself. He paid his wife Jeanette, who was treasurer of one of the committees, $5,700 for "gas and meals." Rubio also gave relatives another $14,000 and charged $51,000 in travel expenses to his own credit cards.  

Speaking of credit cards: In 2005, the Republican Party of Florida gave him an American Express for expenses. Rubio charged thousands of dollars’ worth of restaurant meals while his meals in Tallahassee were being covered by taxpayers as part of being in the state House.

Rubio routinely used the party’s card to pay personal expenses, which he later he repaid. Those included a rental car, repairs to his personal vehicle, flights to Tallahassee, a family reunion trip and paver work to his home.

In all, he spent more than $100,000 between November 2006 and November 2008. He didn’t release disclosures prior to that. The Florida Commission on Ethics in 2012 dismissed a citizen complaint that had been filed during Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign.

Rubio wrote in his book that the expenses were the result of simple mix-ups. "For example, I pulled the wrong card from my wallet to pay for pavers," he wrote. Another time, "my travel agent mistakenly used the card to pay for a family reunion in Georgia."

"Each time, I identified the charges and paid the costs myself, directly to American Express. The Republican Party of Florida didn't pay a single one of them. Nevertheless, in hindsight, I wish that none of them had ever been charged."

Quick’s description of these events is accurate.

"You faced foreclosure on a second home that you bought." In 2005, Rubio bought a house in Tallahassee with then-state Rep. David Rivera for $135,000. The pair used the home while in town on state business.

Foreclosure proceedings on the Tallahassee house were started in 2010 when Rivera, then Florida House budget chairman and running for Congress in Miami, failed to make mortgage payments for five months. The loan had been structured for interest-only payments on an adjustable rate mortgage until April 2010. Rubio and Rivera stopped paying the loan in February because of a dispute over how much the payments would be after April.

In June 2010, Deutsche Bank filed a lawsuit for $136,000, prompting Rivera to make a hasty payment for the missing months. Foreclosure proceedings were stopped.

Rivera later became entangled in ethics investigations and Rubio has kept some distance from him. They sold the house in June 2015 for $117,000.

It’s worth noting that the foreclosure proceedings didn’t proceed, but Rubio did "face" them on a second home.

"And just last year, you liquidated a $68,000 retirement fund. That's something that cost you thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties." Rubio disclosed in May 2015 he had cashed out a tax-advantaged retirement account on Sept. 1, 2014, closing an American Bar Association account for the cash infusion.

"It was just one specific account that we wanted to have access to cash in the coming year, both because I'm running for president, but, also, you know, my refrigerator broke down. That was $3,000. I had to replace the air conditioning unit in our home," Rubio told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. "My kids all go to school and they're getting closer to college and school is getting more expensive. And then when you're running for president, we just wanted to access the sum of that cash."

Because of the way most traditional IRAs are structured, Rubio was able to put money into the account without paying taxes. When he closed the account, by law he would have likely had to pay both income taxes and a 10 percent penalty, a move financial advisers usually do not recommend.

Taxes and penalties could have ranged from about $24,000 to as high as $30,000, but it’s unclear how much he paid.

Quick’s description here, too, is accurate.

Our ruling

Rubio said the premise of questions about his financial skills are "discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents."

He was responding to examples Quick gave when asking if he was prepared to oversee the nation’s economy as president. She listed troubles Rubio had experienced with campaign bookkeeping, foreclosure proceedings and liquidating an IRA at severe tax penalties.

All of these events happened and have been well-documented. It’s not accurate for Rubio to refer to the issues as "discredited," whether his opponents have used them to attack him or not. Quick was not making things up nor shading the facts.

We rate Rubio’s statement False.

And last, but certainly not least, Donald Trump​, the Palm Beach resident and owner of a PGA golf resort in Doral. Trump had an exchange with CNBC co-moderator Becky Quick over something he said about Marco Rubio.  Apparently, Trump's website called Rubio Facebook founder 'Mark Zuckerberg's personal senator'.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

We looked at the immigration-policy page of Trump’s campaign website and found the following:

"Here are some additional specific policy proposals for long-term reform: "Increase prevailing wage for H-1Bs. We graduate two times more Americans with STEM degrees each year than find STEM jobs, yet as much as two-thirds of entry-level hiring for IT jobs is accomplished through the H-1B program. More than half of H-1B visas are issued for the program's lowest allowable wage level, and more than eighty percent for its bottom two. Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities."

And here’s a screenshot we took during the debate:

Quick circled back later in the debate, noting that she got her information from Trump’s website. Trump did not offer a rebuttal. We did not receive an immediate response from the Trump camp.

Our ruling

In the debate, Trump said he "never said that" Marco Rubio was Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator. But he may want to check his own website, which says exactly that. Pants on Fire!

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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