Democratic Town Hall: CNN's Reality Check team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • The Democratic candidates for president gathered in New Hampshire for CNN's Democratic Town Hall on Wednesday
  • The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the event and selected key statements, rating them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated

Washington (CNN)The Democratic candidates for president gathered in New Hampshire for CNN's Democratic Town Hall on Wednesday, and CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the event and selected key statements, rating them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated.

Bernie Sanders

Reality Check: Sanders on America's large prison population
By Kate Grise, CNN
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said there are "more people in jail in America than any other country."
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were more than 2.2 million adults held in local jails and in prisons in the United States in 2014.
The Chinese have 1.66 million people locked up in their prison system, while the Russian prison population doesn't hit a million, with about 644,000 people incarcerated, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.
However, the institute notes that China's incarcerated population is probably higher since that number does not include people held in detention centers. In 2009, an additional 650,000 people were held in detention centers, according to numbers reported by Chinese government officials.
Just based on those raw numbers, we rate Bernie Sanders' claim as true.
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However, many experts say it is best to compare the prison population rate of countries.
By this measure, the United States locks up 698 per 100,000 people, which puts it at second, according to the ICPR.
Only the island nation of Seychelles tops the United States with 799 prisons per 100,000 people. However, some incarceration experts say that it is unfair to compare Seychelles, with a population of about 90,000, to the United States, a country with more than 300 million people. The Prison Policy Initiative did not include countries with less than half a million residents when they published their 2014 States of Incarceration report "to make the comparisons more meaningful."
China's rate is 119 prisoners per 100,000 people and Russia's is 446 per 100,000.
Even when looking at the numbers from a different perspective, we still rate Sanders' claim as true.
Reality Check: Sanders on $16 billion to veterans health care
By Ryan Browne, CNN
When asked by an Army veteran about his position on veterans issues, Sanders referenced his record in passing a bipartisan bill to address veterans' health care.
Sanders said: "It was the most significant piece of veterans health care legislation passed in modern history. We put some $16 billion into veterans' health care, as well as in taking care of veterans in a number of other areas."
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The 2014 bill was co-sponsored by Sanders and Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain and came in the wake of a series of systemic scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs that involved cover-ups and the failure to deliver adequate care. The bill did indeed involve a $16.3 billion overhaul of the department.
The bill called for the building of more VA medical facilities, the hiring of more doctors and nurses, increased funding to allow some veterans can get health care in private facilities, and also made it easier to fire or otherwise discipline senior VA officials.
Soon after the bill's passage, McCain, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, told The Hill newspaper that Sanders "does have a record of advocacy for our veterans."
The bill did involve a $16.3 billion overhaul.
Verdict: True.
Reality Check: Sanders says he's never run a negative ad
By Tami Luhby and Tom LoBianco, CNN
Sanders said he's never run a negative ad. Throughout his campaign, he has pledged not to make personal attacks on Clinton.
"I have never run a negative ad in my life and I look forward to never running a negative ad in my life," he said.
But over the course of a sharp-elbowed campaign against Clinton, Sanders has walked right up to the line of what counts for a "negative ad" and possibly crossed it, depending on how it's viewed.
In mid-January, Sanders began talking more and more about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Clinton had received in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs at his rallies -- a clear tactic to exploit one of her greatest weaknesses as the race tightened in Iowa.
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Then, a little more than a week before the Iowa caucuses, in an ad that was a broadside against Wall Street, the Sanders campaign fashioned that talking point into a brief line in the spot.
In his "Two Visions" ad, Sanders says there are "two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street." One vision, Sanders relays, "says it is OK to take millions from big banks and then tell him what to do." The second option is Sanders' plan to break up big banks, close tax loopholes and make the wealthy "pay their fair share."
Clinton is never mentioned by name in the ad, but it's clear that she is the target.
In December, the Sanders campaign abruptly pulled an internet ad that highlighted ties between Clinton and financial institutions, according to The Washington Post. A Sanders spokesman told the Post that the ad appeared due to "a miscommunication in our communications shop."
Clinton and her supporters have said that the ad is one piece in one of the most negative campaigns run by a Democrat. Sanders and his team say that a negative ad only consists of personal attacks, and that any talk of Goldman Sachs fees counts as a "contrast ad" on the issues.
Sanders carefully parsed his language to say he hasn't engaged in a negative "ad."
Sanders has certainly injected negativity into the campaign. He hasn't been shy about going hard after Clinton on her speaking fees and a whole range of items on the trail and in social media.
Here's an example: A tweet posted from his presidential campaign Twitter account two hours before the town hall listed more than two dozen of Clinton's failings, including having a Wall Street-funded super PAC and supporting the invasion of Iraq.
Verdict: True, but misleading.

Hillary Clinton

Reality Check: Clinton on Johnson Controls 'inversion'
By Chip Grabow, CNN
Many voters feel former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton represents the interests of corporate America, moderator Anderson Cooper told the Democratic candidate on Wednesday. Clinton denied the characterization, citing that many Wall Street interests were funding other candidates in an effort to defeat her.
She called it a "strange argument" since she made various efforts as senator of New York to crack down on Wall Street, from calling them out she said on changes to CEO pay to mortgage issues and calling for a consumer financial protection bureau.
She went further, saying: "I'm not just going after Wall Street, though. I think that's too narrow a target. I think we need to go after a company like Johnson Controls that is trying to avoid paying taxes after all of us bailed it out by pretending to sell itself in a so-called inversion in Europe. It's a perversion. It should be stopped."
She was referring to a Milwaukee-based auto parts maker. That company benefited from the 2008 bailout of the automotive industry by the federal government. But Clinton also was referring to a more recent event, Johnson Controls' agreement last week to merge with Ireland-based manufacturer, Tyco Controls. The sale to an overseas company allows Johnson to reduce its U.S. tax obligation by $150 million, according to the New York Times. That corporate maneuver is known as a tax inversion.
Our verdict on Clinton's characterization of Johnson Controls' avoiding having to pay taxes in the U.S. is true.
Reality Check: Clinton on former secretaries of state delivering paid speeches
By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Clinton, a former secretary of state, defended herself against claims of cashing in on her government job by suggesting her predecessors followed the same practice.
"I made speeches to lots of groups," Clinton said. "Every secretary of state that I know has done that."
Clinton is right that former top diplomats are all charging premium rates for imparting their wisdom upon paying audiences. Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright are all listed as speakers-for-hire on the website of Washington Speakers Bureau, an agency that helps organizations book top speaking talent.
What differs between those former secretaries of state and Clinton is the paychecks they're able to pull in.
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Rice, who served as top diplomat in President George W. Bush's second term, earned a $150,000 payday for a speech at the University of Minnesota in 2014, the Minnesota Daily reported at the time.
Her predecessor, Powell, earns similar amounts for his appearances, raking in between $100,000 to $200,000 per speech, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Albright, President Bill Clinton's envoy in his second term, earns in the five-figure range, according to booking sources who spoke to The New York Times in July.
Meanwhile, Clinton's financial disclosure forms show she earned more than $300,000 for her top-paid speeches. The oft-cited figure of $675,000 for remarks to Goldman Sachs was payment for three speeches delivered in different states.
Clinton's claim that she isn't alone in earning money on the speaking circuit holds up, but, as one of the country's most famous women, she earns substantially more per speech than her predecessors at the State Department.
Verdict: True, but given the amounts, misleading.
Reality Check: Clinton on Iraq War vote
By Ryan Browne, CNN
When asked about her 2002 Senate vote that authorized military action in Iraq, Clinton said she regretted the vote but at the time thought it would help compel Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government to allow the U.N. to continue inspections for possible weapons of mass destruction.
Clinton said: "The very explicit appeal that President Bush made before announcing the invasion that getting that vote would be a strong piece of leverage in order to finish the inspections. And he made that comment. And the U.N. inspector, Hans Blix, said give us the time, we will find out, give us the hammer over their head, namely the vote, and we will be able to find out what they still have in terms of (weapons of mass destruction)."
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While Clinton during the time of the vote did say that it was not a vote for unilateralism, the then-senator from New York opted to vote against an amendment to the resolution that would have stressed a U.N.-centric approach.
The amendment by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, would have limited U.S. military action to enforcing a new U.N. resolution to eliminate Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. If the United Nations did not act, Congress would immediately be convened so the president could seek a second vote to move against Iraq without U.N. support.
Blix, who was the U.N. chief weapons inspector at the time, never voiced support for a unilateral military authorization in Iraq.
While speaking to the U.K. Iraq War inquiry in 2010, Blix acknowledged the pressure of the U.S. military buildup in the region had led Saddam to permit U.N. inspectors to return in September 2002.
However, Blix also said that he did not believe the U.S. was entitled to invade Iraq without a U.N. Security Council resolution specifically authorizing military action.
Clinton's statement seems to suggest that Blix requested the Senate vote to aid inspections. There appears to be no evidence of this.
Verdict: False.
Reality Check: Clinton on the auto bailout
By: Kate Grise and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
Clinton sung the praises of President Barack Obama's bailout of the auto industry, saying, "All of us paid for it. They paid back the Treasury. We didn't lose any money and we saved a lot of jobs."
When the Treasury Department closed the books on the $45.9 billion bailout, taxpayers had lost $10.6 billion.
General Motors did repay everything it was obligated to pay back, but because the administration chose to buy GM stock rather than give it a loan during the bailout, taxpayers got the short end of the stick. GM stock was never profitable enough to recoup all of the investment.
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Taxpayers also lost about $1.3 billion on the bailout of Chrysler Group.
Those losses, however, may have been a bargain in the long run. If the two automakers had gone out of business, it would have cut taxes collected from automakers, their suppliers and dealers. Unemployment benefits would have needed to be paid to 1.5 million workers out of a job and they would have been paying less in personal taxes. Overall, the Center for Automotive Research estimates that all of those losses could have cost the federal government up to about $50 billion to $60 billion in the first year and another $34 billion to $54 billion in the second year.
The Center for Automotive Research, a Michigan think tank, also estimates that the bailout saved 1.5 million U.S. jobs by keeping GM, Chrysler and the companies that depended on them in business.
We rate Clinton's claim that taxpayers didn't lose any money as false because the Treasury did not recoup its full investment in either automaker, but her claim that the bailout saved "a lot" of jobs as true.
Reality Check: Clinton on drug overdose deaths in New Hampshire
By Lisa Rose, CNN
After taking a question on the topic of medical marijuana, Clinton expressed concern about substance abuse in New Hampshire. She said drug overdoses are a leading cause of death in the state, adding, "There have been more deaths by overdoses than car crashes."
Clinton is correct in that assessment, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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In 2014, 334 people died of drug overdoses in New Hampshire, according to the CDC.
There were 95 traffic fatalities in New Hampshire the same year, according to the NHTSA.
Although it's questionable to conflate the topics of medical marijuana and opioid addiction, Clinton's numbers are on the mark. We rate her claim true.
Reality Check: Clinton's campaign donors are mostly women
By Sonam Vashi, CNN
Clinton touted her individual campaign contributions, saying, "I'm proud to have 90% of my donations from small donors and 60%, the highest ever, from women, which I'm really, really glad about."
Clinton is vague in the first part of her statement, leaving open the possibility that she's talking about 90% of the number of donations rather than 90% of the total amount she's raised.
In her most recent filings released Sunday, which reflects the end of 2015, the Clinton campaign reported that 94% of the number of donations to her campaign were in increments of $100 or less.
However, as a percentage of money raised, about $9 million, or 24% of the money raised in the last quarter, were from donations of $200 or less.
That percentage is close to what the Federal Election Commission shows of the total amount given to Clinton in this campaign cycle: donations of $200 or less were 28.5 million, or 25%, of the total amount of money her campaign has raised. For comparison, the FEC also shows that the same small donations to Sanders were 62.8 million, or 85%, of the total amount his campaign has raised.
So, as a percentage of contributors, the 90% that she cited is true. But looking at percentage of money raised, small contributors gave only 24% of the total raised. If we include that calculation, we must rate her claim as true, but misleading, since her campaign is mostly funded by large donors.
For the last quarter, the Clinton campaign also reported that more than 60% of its donations were from women.
Currently, Clinton's large donor breakdown by gender is 53%, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- but that percentage only includes those who have given $200 or more, not small donors.
In the reporting period ending in September 2015, women also made up 60% of Clinton's donors. However, in that same period, Sanders' campaign claimed that more women had donated to the Vermont senator than to Clinton (more than 300,000 women to about 240,000, respectively).
We rate her 60% claim to be true.