Since then, Republicans have run some additional misleading ads attacking both Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Here’s a breakdown of two of these ads.
Warnock’s comment about people in jail
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler has made a concerted effort to portray Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, as “radical” and “dangerous.”
At least two of the Loeffler ads show Warnock saying, “Somebody’s gotta open up the jails and let our children go.” At least one of the ads features an even shorter portion of the quote: “Somebody’s gotta open up the jails.”
Facts First: All of these Loeffler ads misleadingly take Warnock’s remark out of context. He was advocating the release of people jailed for marijuana offenses in particular, not a general release of people jailed for all kinds of offenses.
In fact, Loeffler’s own campaign posted a video on YouTube in early November that shows the Warnock comment in context.
Here’s what he said: “Marijuana is seen as an illegal substance. It’s a terrible irony, and we feel it, that right now in America, there are some folk who are becoming billionaires for selling the same stuff that’s got our children locked up all across America. Where is the justice? It’s not enough to decriminalize marijuana. Somebody’s gotta open up the jails and let our children go.”
Loeffler is free to criticize Warnock for advocating the release of people incarcerated for marijuana offenses. But the ads create the impression that he was advocating some sort of mass amnesty for all incarcerated criminals. He was not.
“Reverend Warnock supports efforts to expunge the records of those convicted of non-violent cannabis-related offenses and has worked in the community to help expunge records so that Georgians who have served their sentence may seek employment and housing opportunities without discrimination,” the Warnock campaign said in an email to CNN.
Ossoff and a Senate committee
An ad from Republican Sen. David Perdue’s campaign claims that Ossoff “could face federal investigation” for initially omitting certain payments from his Senate financial disclosure forms.
Facts First: This claim is highly misleading. The supposed basis for the assertion that Ossoff could face federal investigation is the fact that the Georgia Republican Party sent a letter to the Senate’s Ethics Committee asking for an investigation. But any partisan can send a letter to the committee asking for anything, and there is no current evidence that an ethics investigation is actually being contemplated. Ossoff filed amended disclosure forms in July that did list the payments.
The ad’s professed source for the claim that Ossoff could face federal investigation is a Fox News article from December 9. But that article merely reports that the Georgia GOP requested an investigation.
“The fact that somebody’s made a complaint has no stature at all under the law. It’s just a bare allegation,” said Stanley Brand, a general counsel to the House of Representatives in the 1970s and 1980s who has since represented numerous public officials in ethics cases and criminal cases. “Somebody has to take cognizance of that and look into it, and my guess is nobody’s going to look into it.”
The committee is known for its reluctance to take action even over the acts of sitting senators. In this case, it would have to assert jurisdiction over an alleged issue from before Ossoff took office. Said Brand: “For something so technical and minor as what they’re alleging, I just don’t see it.”
The allegation from the Georgia Republican Party is that Ossoff, the CEO of a company that makes investigative films, intentionally failed in May to disclose payments he received from Hong Kong company PCCW Media — in which a state-owned Chinese company has had a minority ownership stake — and from Al Jazeera.
Ossoff, however, submitted amended forms in July that listed these payments, as well as payments from other media companies located around the world. His July forms listed payments from 32 media companies, up from 21 in the May disclosure.
We’re not excusing the May omissions, but it is commonplace for senators and candidates to file amendments that release information not included in initial filings. As Ossoff’s campaign notes, Perdue himself has repeatedly filed amendments.
The ad uses the Ossoff revision to suggest he has a “China scandal,” claiming the Democrat was “paid by the Communist Chinese government through a media company.” The ad goes on to insinuate that the payment was suspicious, asking pointedly, “Why did China really pay Ossoff?”
There is no evidence for the ad’s suggestion that Chinese government paid Ossoff for nefarious reasons. Ossoff’s campaign says his company received about $1,000 in royalties because the Hong Kong media company, PCCW, aired two of its investigations about ISIS war crimes.
We can’t independently corroborate the Ossoff campaign’s explanation about the reason for the payment, nor the total amount, but neither the Purdue campaign nor anybody else has provided a credible alternative explanation or alternative figure. And a modest fee for licensing documentaries — to a media businessman, from a media company in which the government of China is not the majority owner — would certainly not be enough to justify the ad’s portrayal of Ossoff as a suspicious stooge for China.
Further, the Ossoff campaign says the payment of about $1,000 was actually made to Ossoff’s company not by the Hong Kong company itself but by a third-party media production and distribution company, Sky Vision, that licensed the investigations to the Hong Kong company (as well as to other companies around the world).
The campaign says Ossoff listed PCCW itself on his amended disclosure forms because he wanted to be transparent about who was airing his company’s productions. The campaign says transparency is also the reason he listed PCCW on the forms even though the payment was below the $5,000 threshold at which reporting is required.