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

Who's financing the Democratic campaigns?
Who's financing the Democratic campaigns?


    Who's financing the Democratic campaigns?


Who's financing the Democratic campaigns? 01:34

Washington (CNN)The Democratic candidates for president gathered in Milwaukee on Thursday for their sixth debate, 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 rating them either true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated.

Bernie Sanders

    Reality Check: Sanders on African-American youth unemployment
    By Tami Luhby, CNN
    Bernie Sanders once again grossly exaggerated when talking about African-American youth unemployment.
    "Who denies that African-American youth unemployment, real, is over 50%," Sanders said in Thursday night's Democratic debate.
    There is certainly an employment crisis among minority youth. But it's not just an issue of unemployment, but of underemployment. It's an inaccurate claim Sanders has made many times.
    The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute last year found that 51.3% of black and 36.1% Hispanic high school graduates, age 17 to 20, were underemployed. That means they either don't have a job, aren't working as many hours as they would like or aren't currently looking for work but would like a job.
    The comparable number for whites was 33.8%.
    The official unemployment rate for black youth, age 16 to 24, is 14.9%. For Hispanic youth, it's 11.6%, while for white youth, it's 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government data is not limited to high school graduates and has a wider age range.
    By comparison, the overall national unemployment rate is 4.9%
    Our Verdict: FALSE
    Sanders on mass incarceration of African-Americans
    By Marshall Cohen, CNN
    Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about criminal justice reform Thursday night, and said mass incarceration of minorities was "one of the great tragedies in our country today."
    He went on to assert that "a male African-American baby born today stands a 1 in 4 chance of ending up in jail."
    Are the numbers really that high? In fact, according to the Sentencing Project, the numbers are more staggering than Sanders claimed.
    The nonprofit, which researches racial disparities in the criminal justice system, released a report in 2013 with a stark conclusion: "If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime." That report was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
    The NAACP, on its website, also includes these same figures on mass incarceration.
    There is some question over the freshness of these statistics -- some of the conclusions in the Sentencing Project report are based on studies that are 15 years old and there are criminal sentencing reforms happening in many states that may make a difference. But the underlying claim is not an assertion of fact, it is a projection based on historical trends.
    So, if anything, based on the existing projections, Sanders understated the likelihood of African Americans ending up in jail.
    Verdict: TRUE
    Reality Check: Sanders on super PACs
    By Kevin Bohn
    Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly rails on the influences of super PACs during his campaign appearances.
    "We had a decision to make early on. Do we do a super PAC?... we said no. We don't represent Wall Street. We don't represent the billionaire class," Sanders said during the debate. "I'm the only candidate up here of the many candidates, who has no super PAC."
    First, let's define what a super PAC is. No candidate can control a super PAC, although it can support a candidate so long as there is no coordination with the campaign. It can raise unlimited amounts for a candidate, but cannot work in conjunction with that person's campaign on strategy and must disclose its donors.
    Hillary Clinton has several super PACs supporting her candidacy, including Priorities USA Action and Correct the Record, which are run by her allies. Through December of last year, Priorities had raised $41 million and CTR had brought in $3.4 million according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
    Clinton pointed out during the debate the super PAC originally supported Obama four years ago, Priorities, which now backs her saying "It's not my PAC" although she is the only candidate it is working to elect.
    There is also an organization backed by a nurses union that has registered as a super PAC -- National Nurses United which is now supporting Sanders. It was formed in 2010 and has backed other candidates but is a major supporter of Sanders this campaign.
    A spokesman for the group, Charles Idelson, draws distinctions between it and those supporting Clinton since his organization does not take money from billionaires or Wall Street interests.
    "This is totally funded by members' dues," he said.
    It spent $1.36 million through the end of last year with its money dedicated to engaging in grassroots activities, such as sponsoring buses with its members in the key early voting states. Idelson also pointed Nurses United is working to further some of the issues it prioritizes -- health care, college affordability, climate change -- which dovetail with Sanders' positions rather than just overall generally supporting a candidate.
    While the groups supporting Clinton are solely dedicated to backing her candidacy, supporting Sanders is not the only cause for National Nurses United and its leadership are not long-time Sanders allies or staffers.
    Sanders has made clear he does not want the support of a super PAC, while Clinton generally has criticized the influence of money in politics, but has not rejected these groups backing her.
    Verdict on Sanders' statement he has no super PAC: TRUE, BUT MISLEADING, since there is a super PAC supporting Sanders although he says he doesn't want its backing.
    Reality Check: African-Americans lost half their wealth in Great Recession
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    In decrying the havoc that Wall Street wreaked on America, Bernie Sanders said that the African-American and Latino communities were hit especially hard.
    "As I understand it, the African-American community lost half of their wealth as a result of the Wall Street collapse," he said.
    That's pretty much true. The median wealth held by black families declined by 42.6% between 2007 and 2013, the most recent data available, according to an Urban Institute analysis of Federal Reserve statistics.
    The typical Latino family lost 41.8% of its wealth, while whites lost only 26.8%.
    The reasons blacks and Latinos were hit harder is because much of their wealth is tied up in real estate. And homeownership declined faster among minorities than whites between 2010 and 2013.
    Whites, on the other hand, are more likely to own stocks. Since the recession, financial markets had rebounded much more than housing -- at least until 2016. So whites have seen their wealth recover faster than African-Americans and Latinos.
    Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE
    Reality Check: Sanders on Pentagon audits
    By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
    In discussing the federal bureaucracy, Sen. Bernie Sanders said the following about the Defense Department:
    "We have also got to take a look at the waste and deficiencies in the Department of Defense, which is the one major agency of government that has not been able to be audited. And I have the feeling that you are going to find a lot of cost overruns there and a lot of waste and duplicative activities."
    The Government Accountability Office has been required since 1997 to audit all of the government's consolidated financial statements, but has said repeatedly said it has been unable to produce a comprehensive review because it has been unable to obtain all the data necessary to render a full audit. Subsequently, a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill introduced legislation to impose penalties on the Defense Department if it failed to meet a legally mandated goal of being fully auditable by 2017.
    In November 2015, Michael McCord, the comptroller at the Defense Department said "nearly 90% of the department's general fund budgetary resources, approximately $800 billion, was under audit, and we remain committed to being fully audit ready by September 30, 2017."
    But McCord has also said the multiple types of IT systems throughout the Pentagon are not sufficient to support such an audit because the systems are geared more toward supporting logistics and personnel issues.
    "We have so many systems that were built to be something else that need to work together and produce information in a way that auditors can use and verify, which is not what they were built for," he said late last year acknowledging the difficulty the department faces in getting its financial books in complete order.
    While Sanders is mostly correct that the entire Defense Department has yet to be under full audit, it is moving on a path and goal to completing an audit before the end of September 2017.
    Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE
    Reality Check: Sanders: No GOP candidate believes in climate change
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "Why does the fossil fuel industry pay, spend huge amounts on campaign contributions? Any connection to the fact that not one Republican candidate for President thinks and agrees with the scientific community that climate change is real and that we have got to reform our energy system?"
    We're going to break this down into whether there are any GOP candidates who think climate change is real, and then whether any have proposed any sort of action to combat it.
    Among current Republican candidates, we found Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and -- lest we forget -- Jim Gilmore have said they believe climate change is real.
    And that's not even counting former Republican candidates who have stated that climate change is real, such as Lindsey Graham and Chris Christie, to name a couple.
    However, the herd thins out slightly if we see which current GOP candidates think climate change is primarily human-caused -- Rubio has said he doesn't believe that.
    Regarding action on climate change, the candidates who have acknowledged its reality say they've got some ideas, but most of them are fairly vague.
    Bush told Bloomberg BNA that we should "invest in the proper research to find solutions over the long haul but not be alarmists about it."
    His campaign website states, "Energy resources must be developed in a way that protects human health and the environment," but adds the Obama administration has over-regulated the environment.
    Rubio hasn't proposed much that isn't focused on using fossil fuels, but he has said he would use "innovation" to spur the "development of affordable fuel alternatives."
    Kasich hasn't proposed much either, but last summer he said, "Do I think that we should use common sense and do some things that protect (the environment)? Absolutely. Do I think we oughta throw lots of people out of work and let other countries not be as sensitive as we are to it? No, I wouldn't think that would make much sense."
    And last, but perhaps not least; Gilmore hasn't proposed any plans to reduce emissions, but he would support private investing into alternative fuels.
    Verdict: FALSE
    Reality Check: Sanders on declining life expectancies
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Describing a sense of despair dominating the national mood, Bernie Sanders said a study found that increases in suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse have caused life expectancies to decline among working class white Americans aged 45-54.
    "I am deeply concerned of what's happening in every community in America," Sanders said. "And that includes white communities where we are seeing an increase in alcoholism, addiction, earlier deaths, people with a high school education or less are not even living as long as their parents lived. This is a remarkable and horrifying fact."
    Indeed, two economics professors from Princeton University published a paper in November calculating the mortality rate for middle-aged white men and women without a college education.
    According to the report, there's been an uptick in the death rate for white people in the 45-54 age bracket, even as life expectancies have increased for other demographics in America and around the globe.
    The researchers, Angus Deaton and Anne Case, crunched numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and concluded that there was nearly a 9% increase in the death rate for middle-aged white Americans between 1999 and 2013, a steady climb from year to year. They estimated that substance abuse and suicide were the leading causes of a spike in early deaths, with about 500,000 people dying between the ages of 45 and 54 within a 15-year time window.
    Their calculations were disputed by a statistics professor from Columbia University, Andrew Gelman who figured out the age-adjusted death rates.
    According to Gelman's math, there was an increase between 1999 and 2005, but the death rate leveled off between 2005 and 2013. It gets even murkier when gender is factored in. A looming sense of despair took hold as we try to recalculate the numbers. But then we remember that we're fact checking Sanders, not the statisticians. He may have been a bit over-simplistic describing the results but he is correct on the study's broad themes.
    Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' foreign policy votes
    By Eve Bower, CNN
    Throughout the presidential campaign, one of Bernie Sanders' most frequent criticisms of Hillary Clinton has been her 2002 vote to authorize military action in Iraq. Tonight, Clinton seemed to turn a version of the same attack back on Sen. Sanders, highlighting a series of foreign policy votes she claims he has made during his tenure in Congress that are at odds with many voters' current perception of Sanders as a frequent opponent of military intervention. Sanders said Clinton's claims were false.
    We examine each of these claims, point by point:
    Clinton said, "Sen. Sanders voted in 1998 on what I think is fair to call a regime change resolution with respect to Iraq, calling for the end of Saddam Hussein's regime."
    Both Clinton's characterization of the resolution and her statement about Sen. Sanders' vote are accurate.
    Verdict: TRUE
    In October 1998, Congress voted on a measure declaring "it should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government." Then-Rep. Sanders voted in support of HR 4655, also known as the "Iraq Liberation Act."
    With a total of 360 votes, the resolution far exceeded the two-thirds majority needed to pass it.
    Clinton then said, "He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participant in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on."
    Verdict: FALSE
    The phrase "regime change" is widely understood to mean a foreign military intervention targeting an outcome that a country's sitting government does not support. But the resolution Clinton referenced, S.Res.85, adopted on March 1, 2011, actually called on Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to voluntarily "resign his position and permit a peaceful transition to democracy."
    The Senate resolution "welcomed" U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 -- passed three days prior -- which imposed sanctions and an arms embargo, but did not authorize a military intervention. It would be more than two weeks before the Security Council authorized the so-called "no-fly zone" on March 17, 2011, greatly increasing the pressure on the Gadhafi government.
    The Senate approved S.Res85 by unanimous consent, and not technically a vote. Though Sen. Sanders did not have the opportunity to vote on the resolution, he was, however, a co-sponsor, meaning his support for the measure was clear.
    Clinton's characterization of Sanders' "vote" is accurate, on a technicality.
    Verdict: TRUE

    Hillary Clinton

    Reality Check: Clinton says "vast majority" of donors giving small contributions
    By Tom LoBianco, CNN
    Hillary Clinton defended herself on questions of her fundraising, saying, "I'm very proud of the fact that we have more than 750,000 donors and the vast majority of them are giving small contributions."
    Without being able to check the number of small individual contributions through the Federal Election Commission, the Clinton campaign has to be taken at its word regarding the number of individual donations.
    But the FEC does track the total dollar amounts. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations, reports that roughly $19 million of the $109 million Clinton raised through individual contributions last year were small donations (less than $200 each). But large individual contributions accounted for roughly $90 million.
    By comparison Bernie Sanders raised $54 million in small donations and roughly $19 million in individual large donations to make up the $73 million he raised in individual contributions last year.
    Yes, Hillary Clinton raised quite a bit of money from small donors, but Bernie Sanders raised much, much more from small donors.
    Reality Check: Clinton on incarceration rate of black men in Wisconsin
    By Eve Bower, CNN
    In response to a question about the high rate of incarceration of black men in Wisconsin, Clinton said, "the statistics from Wisconsin are particularly troubling because it is the highest rate of incarceration for African-Americans in our nation, twice the national average."
    A 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee supports Clinton's claim. The study found that in April 2010 "12.8% (or 1-in-8) African-American working age men were behind bars in state prisons and local jails," and that this rate was "the highest for African-American men in the country and nearly double the national average of 6.7% (or 1-in-15)."
    The study further found that Wisconsin incarcerated Native American men at a higher rate than any other state, with 7.6% of working age men behind bars, compared to an average 3.1% of Native American men incarcerated nationwide.
    Wisconsin's white men were incarcerated at a slightly lower rate than their counterparts nationwide, at 1.2% and 1.3%, respectively, the study found.
    The NAACP lists policies that promoted "get tough on crime" and the "war on drugs" as being among the chief contributing factors to the racial disparities in incarceration rates in the United States today.
    During her tenure as first lady, during a period of high crime rates, Clinton spoke in support of these policies. In an August 1994 speech promoting then-President Bill Clinton's crime bill, Hillary Clinton "applauded" the New York City Police Department for its efforts "driving drug dealers out of New York," and highlighting the "many dollars in the crime bill to build more prisons."
    Once Clinton became a senator from New York, she appears to have changed her view.
    In 2007, she co-sponsored a bill to eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for first-time possession of crack cocaine and increase funding for drug treatment programs for incarcerated people. While campaigning for president later that year, she also advocated programs to divert non-violent drug offenders away from prison.
    Verdict: TRUE
    Reality Check: Clinton on Obamacare insuring African-Americans
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    During Thursday's Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton said that "the Affordable Care Act has helped more African-Americans than any other group to get insurance, to be taken care of."
    While there is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- helped a large number of African-Americans get health insurance, the legislation has actually resulted in more Latino adults gaining coverage than any other group.
    By the end of 2015, the uninsured rate for Latinos had declined 7.8% since 2013, according Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
    Open enrollment for 2016 recently ended, but the federal government has not yet released official data about the enrollment totals.
    The Affordable Care Act has been criticized for creating a "coverage gap" that many African-Americans fall into. People are at risk of falling into this coverage gap when they are make too much money to qualify for Medicaid programs in states that chose not to expand their programs, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance on the federal health care exchanges.
    The Affordable Care Act was engineered to help people who were not covered by Medicaid expansion be able to afford coverage in the market place, but there are 19 states that had not expanded Medicaid eligibility. It is in those states that the coverage gap appears.
    According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 1.4 million of the 4 million Americans in the coverage gap are black. At the time of the study published in January 2015, 23 states had not expanded Medicaid, so the coverage gap may have shrunk since then.
    When Obamacare first rolled out, Latinos were less likely to enroll in the federal exchange, even though the administration put a lot of emphasis on reaching the Latino community -- with a Spanish-language site and a call center with representatives fluent in Spanish.
    It would certainly be unfair to say that the Affordable Care Act has not helped many African-Americans gain coverage, but the legislation has helped more Latinos get coverage than any other group.
    Verdict: FALSE
    Reality Check: Clinton on Sanders' record on Obama
    By Ryan Browne, CNN National Security Producer
    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged Sen. Bernie Sanders' support of President Barack Obama, saying he had called the president "weak," questioned his leadership and wrote a foreword for a book criticizing the president. She also accused Sanders of supporting a Democratic primary challenger to Obama's 2012 re-election.
    Here is what she said: "Today Sen. Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test and this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he's called him weak, he's called him a disappointment. He wrote a foreword for a book that basically argued voters should have buyer's remorse when it comes to President Obama's leadership and legacy, and I just couldn't disagree more with those kind of comments."
    In an interview with MSNBC that aired Thursday, Sanders said, "There's a huge gap right now between Congress and the American people. What presidential leadership is about closing that gap."
    Asked if he believed President Obama had closed that gap, Sanders said: "No, I don't. I mean, I think he has made the effort. But I think what we need, when I talk about a political revolution, is bringing millions and millions of people into the political process in a way that does not exist right now."
    Sanders said that the President had made an effort but had not closed the gap, he did not say the president failed.
    Verdict: FALSE
    During a July 22, 2011, appearance on the Thom Hartmann radio program, Sanders said "Let me just suggest this. I think that 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."
    Sanders did say that millions of Americans were "disappointed" with the President and saw him as "weak."
    Later in the interview he said he was "giving thought" to encouraging a primary challenger to the President.
    In August, Sanders was asked during a C-SPAN interview whether he had anyone in mind as a primary challenger. Sanders answered, "I don't know of anybody in mind, but I'm sure that there are serious and smart people out there who can do it. Here's the point: If you're asking me, do I think at the end of the day that Barack Obama is going to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2012? I do. But do I believe that it is a good idea for our democracy, and for the Democratic Party -- and I speak, by the way, as an independent -- that people start asking the president some hard questions about why he said one thing during his previous campaign and is doing another thing today on Social Security, on Medicare? I think it is important that that discussion take place."
    Sanders would eventually support the President's re-election campaign.
    Verdict: TRUE
    While Sanders didn't write a foreword for the book, he did pen an enthusiastic endorsement for "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama let Progressives Down" by Bill Press.
    "Bill Press makes the case why, long after taking the oath of office," he wrote. "The next president of the United States must keep rallying the people who elected him or her on behalf of progressive causes. That is the only way real change will happen. Read this book," the endorsement said.
    Verdict: MOSTLY TRUE
    Reality Check: Clinton says Americans haven't had a raise in 15 years
    By Tami Luhby and Chip Grabow, CNN
    Hillary Clinton knows many Americans are angry about the economy, a sentiment her opponent Bernie Sanders has plugged into.
    "For good cause," she said in her opening statement during Thursday's Democratic debate. "Many Americans haven't had a raise in 15 years."
    Wages have remained stubbornly stagnant in recent years, even as employment has recovered from the Great Recession. That's in large part because employers still have their pick of workers to fill positions so they don't need to pay higher wages to attract new hires.
    The income of the typical household was $53,657 in 2014, according to the most recent Census Bureau data available. That's 7.2% lower than it was 15 years earlier, when it was $57,843.
    If one looks at median weekly earnings, there's been a scant 2% rise in pay for full-time wage and salary workers between 2000 and 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
    As the labor market continues to tighten, economists believe wages will finally start to rise this year.
    Verdict: TRUE