Democratic debate: CNN's Reality Check Team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • The Democratic candidates for president gathered in South Carolina for their fourth debate Sunday
  • CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test

Washington (CNN)The Democratic candidates for president gathered in South Carolina for their fourth debate Sunday, 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 debate, selecting key statements and then rating them True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated.

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders & Martin O'Malley

    Reality Check: Sanders, Clinton and O'Malley on bank donations
    By Kevin Liptak and Tom LoBianco, CNN
    Contrasting himself with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declared that, unlike Clinton, "I don't take money from big banks. I don't get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs." Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley made a similar claim, saying he hasn't received "a penny" from Wall Street donors.
    Sanders' attack on Clinton for her habit of collecting speaking fees from big Wall Street banks isn't new, and is rooted in the period between her resignation as secretary of state and her run for the White House. In 2013 alone, Clinton earned $3.15 million from speaking to banks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and UBS.
    An analysis by CNNMoney of her tax returns indicated a third of her speech income came from Wall Street banks and investment houses.
    So, too, do much of her campaign contributions originate from Wall Street banks. Employees and PACs from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley were among the largest contributors to her campaigns dating back to 1999.
    Sanders, meanwhile, has drawn top support from California-based tech firms like Alphabet, Inc. (the parent company of Google), Microsoft and Apple.
    And his financial disclosure reports show no paid speeches to large banks. He earned less than $2,000 delivering speeches in 2014 to a publishing company. The proceeds went to charity.
    But he has received money from the industry. According to Open Secrets, Sanders has taken in $47,187 from employees or PACs connected to the securities and investment field this cycle. That, however, is near the bottom of a list of industries contributing to his campaign.
    Clinton, meanwhile, has taken in $5,591,095 this cycle from the Securities and Investment field.
    Sanders' claim that Clinton earned speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, and has benefited from campaign cash donated by PACs or employees of big banks, it accurate, as is his claim that he's avoided doing the same.
    Verdict: True
    Meanwhile, O'Malley railed on Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, but she fired right back, saying that he had done some of his own fundraising from a group that has become the boogeymen for the Democratic base of voters.
    But O'Malley parried the attack, saying he had not raised "a penny" from Wall Street this year.
    "You know, governor, you have raised money on Wall Street. You raised a lot of money on Wall Street when you were the head of the Democratic Governors Association," Clinton said.
    O'Malley replied, "Yeah, but I haven't gotten a penny this year, somebody please, go on to, go on, send me your checks. They're not giving me -- zero."
    There's little question that O'Malley has not exactly been a fundraising juggernaut, but he has definitely received money from the industry and even a few New York investors.
    OpenSecrets notes that O'Malley has raised $103,300 from donors in the "securities and investments" industry. O'Malley's top contributions came from lawyers, totaling $357,819, but the securities and investments is still sizable.
    And O'Malley accepted a handful of donations from New York investors, including $2,700 each from liberal investor Jonathan Soros, who runs JS Capital Management and Joshua Klein, managing director of Monarch Business and Wealth Management, according to Federal Election Commission records.
    Those donations were in 2015. There is no data for 2016 yet. Still, the claim seems disingenuous given the amount raised last year.
    Verdict: False

    Bernie Sanders & Hillary Clinton

    Reality Check: Sanders and Clinton on numbers of people with health coverage
    By Nadia Kounang, CNN
    Sanders argued that universal health care was a priority, saying, "we have to deal with is the fact that 29 million people still have no health insurance."
    Early estimates for the first half of 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey, which polls the country by phone, estimated 28.5 million persons were without health insurance.
    Verdict: True
    Clinton cited the Affordable Care Act as providing 19 million more Americans with insurance since its inception. However, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, only 17.6 million more Americans have been added to the rolls.
    Clinton may have been referring to a June 2015 Congressional Budget Office report, which estimates that if the ACA was repealed, 19 million Americans would lose health care coverage.
    Verdict: False
    Reality Check: FDR and Truman supported universal health care?
    By Amy Roberts, CNN
    Sanders and Clinton may not agree on the details of a universal health care program, but they do agree that the Democratic Party has been promoting the concept since Harry Truman's days as president in the 1940s. Sanders took his assertion one step (one president?) farther back in time than Clinton did, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
    Truman proposed a national health care program in 1945, which included improving access to health care for people living lived in rural areas, including more doctors and better hospitals, and participants would pay monthly premiums in exchange for federal coverage of medical expenses. Congress never came on board, however, so Truman's plan never came to fruition.
    FDR mentioned "security of the home, the security of livelihood and the security of social insurance" as future objectives in the recommendations he made to Congress in 1935 regarding the Social Security Act. However, he did not specifically advocate the adoption of health insurance, although he supported "further study of the subject." In 1939, the National Health Act covered employees' and their dependents' medical expenses, including doctors' visits, hospital stays, lab tests and prescriptions, but it died in committee.
    Verdict: Mostly True

    Hillary Clinton

    Reality Check: Clinton says Sanders called Obama "weak," recruited an opponent
    By Sonam Vashi & Gisela Crespo, CNN
    Hillary Clinton said that Sen. Bernie Sanders called President Barack Obama "'weak, 'disappointing.' (Sanders) even in 2011 publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama."
    While he did not use those words to directly criticize Obama, he did use the words "weak" and "disappointment" indirectly to talk about some Americans' perceptions of the President. In interviews, he did call for a more progressive agenda or candidate for the 2012 election.
    Clinton, Sanders disagree on support of President Obama
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      Clinton, Sanders disagree on support of President Obama


    Clinton, Sanders disagree on support of President Obama 01:16
    Here are the transcripts that Clinton is referring to:
    In July 2011, on the Thom Hartmann Radio Program, Sanders said, "I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the President, who believe that, with regard to Social Security and a number of other issues, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president who cannot believe how weak he has been, for whatever reason, in negotiating with Republicans and there's deep disappointment. So my suggestion is, I think one of the reasons that the President has been able to move so far to the right is that there is no primary opposition to him, and I think it would do this country a good deal of service if people started thinking about candidates out there to begin contrasting what is a progressive agenda as opposed to what Obama is doing. ... I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition."
    And in March of that year, Sanders said in an interview with WNYC that "if a progressive Democrat wants to run, I think it would enliven the debate, raise some issues and people have a right to do that. I've been asked whether I am going to do that. I'm not. I don't know who is, but in a democracy, it's not a bad idea to have different voices out there."
    Verdict: Mostly true
    Reality Check: Clinton on health care costs
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    In defending the Affordable Care Act, Clinton said, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years."
    First of all, it's the annual growth in health care costs that had been at the lowest rate since the federal government began keeping records in 1960, not the costs themselves.
    Clinton to Sanders: I'm not starting over on healthcare
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      Clinton to Sanders: I'm not starting over on healthcare


    Clinton to Sanders: I'm not starting over on healthcare 02:12
    It's true that the growth in health care spending was at historically low levels of about 4% for several years following the Great Recession, according to federal statistics.
    But Obamacare doesn't deserve the majority of the credit, experts say. About three-quarters of the slowdown was due to the weak economy, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Altarum Institute, a health research group, concluded in a 2013 report. The rest stemmed from efforts to keep spending down, including measures introduced under Obamacare.
    Also, the growth rate of health care spending is on the rise. In 2014, expenditures grew by 5.3%, driven primarily by the 8.7 million people who gained health insurance through Obamacare and by rapidly rising prescription drug costs. And the growth in spending is expected to pick up in coming years.
    Verdict: False
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' gun vote record
    By Chip Grabow, CNN
    Gun control was one of the first topics brought up during Sunday's debate. Clinton specifically called out Sanders' voting record on guns. She claimed he voted with the National Rifle Association "numerous times" and that Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times; that he voted for the so-called Charleston loophole; and that he voted to let guns go on Amtrak and be allowed in national parks.
    First, regarding Sanders' vote over guns on Amtrak and in national parks: A look at the Congressional Record shows that in 2009, Sanders did vote for an amendment that allows Amtrak passengers to carry guns in their checked baggage. He also voted for an amendment in 2009 that allows firearms in the National Parks System.
    Bernie Sanders defends gun control record
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      Bernie Sanders defends gun control record


    Bernie Sanders defends gun control record 01:32
    On the so-called Charleston loophole -- the three-day waiting period that gun control advocates blamed for enabling Charleston shooter Dylann Roof to legally purchase the firearm he used to shoot 10 people last June -- the loophole refers to a "default proceed rule" that allows licensed gun dealers to sell a gun if they haven't been notified by the FBI within three days of a background check that the sale would be illegal.
    In Roof's case, a clerical error caused the FBI to not complete its background check in three days, and Roof was allowed to purchase the gun. What does Sanders have to do with this? During the debate over 1993's Brady Bill, an amendment to the bill would have required instant criminal background checks five years after the bill was enacted. If the instant check didn't result in an answer, the time to process the firearm purchase was cut to 24 hours. Sanders did vote for this amendment. Negotiations over the final version of the bill led to the three-day waiting period.
    On the 1993 Brady Bill, Clinton stated Sanders voted against the the bill five times. There were, in fact, several votes in that bill's evolution, the first vote coming in 1991. Sanders voted against a draft that required a seven-day waiting period for background checks. A subsequent version of the bill returned to the House and Sanders voted against it. Then, in 1993, two more drafts returned to the House, and Sanders voted against those. Finally, later in 1993, the Brady Bill finally passed, but without Sanders' vote.
    Clinton claimed Sanders voted for immunity for gun dealers, referring to a vote in 2005 over the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protected gun manufacturers in lawsuits involving shootings. Sanders voted for it and the NRA did call it the most significant piece of pro-gun legislation in 20 years.
    Finally, Clinton claimed that Sanders voted against an amendment in the federal budget that would have provided funding for gun research. That vote was in 1996 and Sanders did indeed vote against it.
    Though Sanders' role in the Charleston loophole is less direct, he didn't directly vote for the three-day waiting period.
    Verdict: Mostly true
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' vote to deregulate financial markets
    By Eve Bower, CNN
    Clinton said Sanders "voted to deregulate the financial market in 2000," leaving the government unable to "regulate swaps and derivatives, which were one of the main causes of the collapse in '08."
    The vote Clinton referenced was for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, and Sanders did vote in support of the act. It passed with a veto-proof supermajority.
    The law had been championed by key members of the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton, including then-Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and his predecessor, Robert Rubin. However, in a 2010 interview with Jake Tapper, then with ABC, Bill Clinton said of his administration's support for the bill, "I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong."
    The act was later named a major cause of the Great Recession. According to the 2011 bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report, "over-the-counter derivatives contributed significantly" to the 2008 financial crisis, and the enactment of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 "was a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis."
    Verdict: True
    Reality Check: Clinton on number of African-American men going to prison
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    Clinton pointed out that one in three African-American men will go to prison at some point in their life.
    "One out of three African-American men may well end up going to prison. That's the statistic," she said. "I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men, and very often, the black men are arrested, convicted and incarcerated for offenses that do not lead to the same results for white men. So we have a very serious problem that we can no longer ignore."
    The often-cited "one in three" statistic comes from a 2013 report published by the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy organization based in Washington.
    The report projected that if current incarceration trends continued, one in three African-American males will go to prison at some point in their life, while one in six Hispanic males and one in 17 white males will spend time behind bars.
    The report used a prediction made in a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics report which projected the one in three statistics using 2001 incarceration rates.
    Since 2001, however, incarceration rates for black males have declined.
    In 2014, the incarceration rate had dropped by more than 20% from its 2001 rate to 2,724 African-American males per 100,000 black male Americans imprisoned in state or federal prisons.
    The original projection from the 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics report hinges on the phrase, "if incarceration rates remain unchanged" to make its claim. The simple fact is, the incarceration rates have changed since then.
    Clinton's point that there are racial disparities in the criminal justice system may be better supported by pointing out that 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Two percent of Hispanics and 1% of white males in the same age group were imprisoned.
    The data that supported Clinton's claim appears based on a 2001 study that has not been updated, but incarceration rates for African-American males appear to have dropped since then. For that reason, we rate her claim to be true, but misleading based on the age of the data.