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Fact-checking Democratic debate in New York

Posted: 11:09 PM, Apr 14, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-15 09:29:00Z
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled it out in New York Thursday night – a fiery event that marked the last debate before the state’s crucial primary next week. 
 
We’ve teamed up with PolitiFact to determine the accuracy of certain claims made by the candidates, and we will continue updating this story as more fact checks become available.
 
Fact check #1: Clinton charged that Sanders voted for a 2005 law that put restrictions on people’s ability to sue the gun industry for crimes committed using their products – a law that Clinton said gave higher standards to toy guns than real guns.
 
Clinton, who voted against the law, said specifically, "We have tougher standards holding toy gun manufacturers and sellers to account than we do for real guns.”
 
But how true was her statement?
 
The law at issue, the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, was signed by President George W. Bush. Seen as a victory for gun rights advocates, the law protects gun dealers and manufacturers from lawsuits when their products are misused in ways such as committing crimes.
 
PolitiFact notes: “There are several situations that are not protected from lawsuits under the law. It does not protect gun dealers who transfer a gun knowing it would be used for criminal purposes, nor those who knowingly break state or federal law if the violation results in harm. Gun manufacturers can also be sued if the gun, when used properly, causes injury because the product is defective.”
 
A couple experts told PolitiFact that Clinton’s statement is unsound because the law sought to impose equivalent, rather than fewer, standards for gun makers that are already established.
 
And as it stands, the victim of a crime or injury committed with a toy generally cannot sue the toy manufacturer – so there is really not much difference there.
 
However, other experts say real gun manufacturers are immune to certain lawsuits that toy manufacturers aren’t – for example, if an injury is caused by a product defect coupled with a criminal misuse of the product, a toy gun manufacturer could be held liable.
 
However, a real gun manufacturer could not under the 2005 law.
 
"You’ve granted an immunity to the gun industry that you haven’t granted to any other industry," said Mark Geistfeld, a law professor at New York University and an expert in products liability.
 
Geistgeld noted that this supports the gist of Clinton’s point: that Sanders holds guns to a lower standard.
 
PolitiFact’s ruling?
 
Half True – While scholars who believe the law made the gun industry less susceptible to liability than other industries (including the toy gun industry), other scholars think the law made the gun industry’s liability about the same.
 
See the full finding here .
 
Fact check #2: In a statement made to support his well-respected everyman persona, Sanders said, "I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate.”
 
PolitiFact did some research to determine how accurate that claim is.
 
To do so, it looked at the most frequently cited rundown of congressional wealth, which is an annual study by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
 
The data found that Sanders’ net worth does rank him in the bottom one-fifth of the 100-member chamber, with the 19th lowest net worth. Below Sanders’ net worth included members like Mike Lee (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
 
PolitiFact notes a couple caveats, including that the survey is based on congressional financial disclosure forms, which offer the public only broad ranges of income in various categories.
 
To determine minimum net worth, Roll Call used the total minimum reported value of the lawmakers’ assets minus the total minimum reported value of their liabilities. 
 
Basically, the real amount could be higher.
 
PolitiFact further notes: “In addition, the law exempts various types of holdings from disclosure, including the value of a primary residence, the value of personal possessions that aren’t held for investment purposes, and the value of retirement accounts.”
 
Roll Call has subsequently cautioned in its survey that "the disclosure forms are imperfect at best." 
 
However, based on the information, Sanders is largely correct that he’s on the lower end of the chamber’s income scale, with a median net worth sitting at $1.1 million.
 
PolitiFact’s ruling?
 
Mostly True – A credible calculation using financial disclosure forms put Sanders as having the 19th lowest net worth in the Senate, but data is imperfect.

See the full finding here .
 
Fact check #3: Hillary Clinton blasted Bernie Sanders over his connections to the gun lobby, saying, "He’s been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA. He kept his word to the NRA. He voted against the Brady Bill five times.”
 
Clinton is correct about his votes against background checks and waiting periods, which took place from 1991 to 1993 -- but what about her claim that Sanders has consistently supported the gun lobby?
 
PolitiFact has looked into this and found that Sanders has a mixed record when it comes to bills on guns, and in fact, has received consistently low marks from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
 
However, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin noted that Sanders voted for an amendment in the Brady Bill that allows prospective gun owners to buy a firearm if their background checks are not completed in three days.
 
In addition to Sanders’ Brady Bill vote, Clinton’s campaign referred PolitiFact to Sanders’ votes against funding for gun research, and twice for prohibiting lawsuits against firearms manufacturers.
 
The Clinton campaign also cited Sanders’ vote for increasing the burden of proof to prosecute law-breaking gun dealers, and for allowing firearms on Amtrak trains and in national parks.
 
Conversely, however, Sanders also voted in favor of banning assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, regulating high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre.
 
PolitiFact pulled together his votes on key gun bills over his 25 years in Congress, finding he is neither a gun lobby nor gun control advocate.
 
While Sanders voted in favor of certain bills that would be considered 'pro-gun', he also voted against many and in favor of others generally considered 'anti-gun,' such as banning semiautomatic assault weapons in 1994.
 
The Clinton campaign also noted that the NRA helped elect Sanders to the House of Representatives in 1990. 
However, the alignment between Sanders and the NRA was temporary.
 
Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ policy director, noted that Sanders’ latest grade from the NRA was a D, and that the Vermont senator has earned failing grades from the NRA for the past two decades.
 
PolitiFact’s ruling? 
 
Mostly False - Neither the gun lobby nor gun control advocates claim Sanders as their own, and Sanders has voted against major pieces of gun control legislation.
 
See the full finding here .
 
Fact check #4: Does Hillary Clinton think the federal minimum wage should be $12 an hour or $15?
 
Clinton claimed during the debate that she has continuously supported the Fight for $15 advocacy campaign, to which Sanders responded:
 
"I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. When this campaign began, I said that we’ve got to end the starvation minimum wage of $7.25, raise it to $15. Secretary Clinton said let's raise it to $12." 
 
Is Sanders correct?
 
PolitiFact reports that Sanders is right that Clinton’s official position is to raise the national minimum wage to $12 as a floor, however, she has also shown support for the Fight for $15 campaign that pushes for higher minimums in individual states and cities.
 
In June 2015, Clinton spoke with a gathering of Fight for $15 members via phone and told them she supported their campaign. Days later, she delivered a campaign kickoff speech in which she called for raising the minimum wage -- but she did not specify a number.
 
Her support for $12 seems to have first emerged in July 2015, when she praised legislation proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., arguing that it would be more politically feasible. 
 
Sanders, on the other hand, has advocated specifically for a $15 minimum wage since his campaign began.
 
PolitiFact's ruling?
 
Mostly True – While Clinton has called for a $12 federal minimum wage, she is also supportive of local efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15.
 
See the full finding here .
 
Fact check #5: Clinton claimed abortion has been ignored during the Democratic debates, saying, "We've not had one question about a woman's right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care, not one question."
 
She got on the topic when she stated that she would only appoint a Supreme Court justice who believed that Roe vs. Wade is settled law.
 
The line got a big applause from the audience. But was it correct?
 
Multiple news articles stated that moderators haven’t asked about abortion, and a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America told PolitiFact that abortion-related question had indeed not been asked.
 
PolitiFact searched on its own and found no questions directly about abortion in the nine debate transcripts, at times the candidates brought up the topic themselves.
 
This is what PolitiFact came up with:
 
Oct. 13, Las Vegas: Clinton said the Republicans "don't mind having big government to interfere with a woman's right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood."
 
Nov. 14, Des Moines: Speaking about the Democratic candidates, Clinton said "all of us support funding Planned Parenthood."
 
Dec. 19, New Hampshire: Clinton mentioned that a police officer was killed responding to "Planned Parenthood murders" and said that Republicans would defund Planned Parenthood.
 
Jan. 17, South Carolina: No mentions.
 
Feb. 4, New Hampshire: No mentions.
 
Feb. 11, Milwaukee: No abortion questions were asked. Sanders said he had a lifetime 100 percent pro-choice voting record, and Clinton touted her endorsement by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
 
March 6, Flint: No mentions.
 
March 9, Miami:  The candidates were not asked their views on abortion, but a moderator mentioned that the Supreme Court was considering "the most significant abortion restrictions in a generation." But the question was about what qualifications Clinton would look for in a Supreme Court justice.
 
In tonight’s debate, Clinton said governors are trying to restrict women's rights and that Donald Trump said women should be punished for abortion.
 
" And we are never asked about this," she said. "And to be complete in my concern, Sen. Sanders says with respect to Trump it was a distraction. I don't think it's a distraction. It goes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions, and we need to be talking about that and defending Planned Parenthood from these outrageous attacks."
 
Sanders replied:  "You're looking at a senator and former congressman who proudly has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record, who will take on those Republican governors who are trying to restrict a woman's right to choose..." 
 
Sanders then called for expanding funding for Planned Parenthood.
 
In a town hall event, however, Fox News moderator Brett Baier did ask Clinton and Sanders abortion-related questions. However, this does not qualify as a debate.
 
PolitiFact’s ruling?
 
True – It doesn’t appear any debate moderator has asked a direct question about abortion throughout the race.
 
See the full finding here .