Fact-checkers cite both Cortez Masto, Laxalt for misleading claims

WASHINGTON – A war of words in the Nevada U.S. Senate race has resulted in independent fact checkers skewering Democrat incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican challenger Adam Laxalt for false and misleading advertisements or statements.

Independent analysis by news organizations have pilloried both candidates for straying from the truth in their attacks on one another.

Cortez Masto earned “three Pinocchios” from the Washington Post fact checker for blatant falsehoods in advertisements about Laxalt, which claimed that as state attorney general he did not sue an opioid company while pocketing its campaign contributions.

Last week, a Laxalt claim that Cortez Masto voted to raise taxes on those making as little as $30,000 was found to be false by the Associated Press in a fact check.

Meanwhile, PolitiFact, the Poynter Institute’s independent fact checker, scolded both candidates for other half truths: Cortez Masto for claiming Laxalt sided with big oil while taking campaign cash, and Laxalt for claiming the Inflation Reduction Act would raise taxes across all income brackets.

Campaign spokesmen for both candidates were nonplussed by the criticism, defending their questionable claims and doubling down on the attacks.

In a statement to the Review-Journal, a Laxalt campaign spokesman cited analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office, which was also examined by the Associated Press in its fact check that ruled against the candidate’s claim.

Brian Freimuth, the Laxalt campaign press secretary, said that “…one can only conclude that low and middle-income Americans can expect to face more taxes, more audits, and a higher cost of living.”

The Associated Press, however, said Republican politicians and candidates were distorting the bill’s effect on taxes for the middle class.

As for the Cortez Masto charges against Laxalt, a spokeswoman for Laxalt told the Washington Post that the senator’s ads over lawsuits and pharmaceutical companies were designed to deceive voters.

In response, a Cortez Masto campaign spokesman defended the opioid lawsuit attack on Laxalt, claiming he did not, as Nevada attorney general, sue a pharmaceutical company and did receive campaign contributions from that company.

The spokesman, Josh Marcus-Blank, also defended the senator from attacks by Laxalt, as well as national and state Republican political committees, for her vote on the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Adam Laxalt is a corrupt politician who has consistently sided with Big Oil and Big Pharma companies squeezing Nevadans, and now he and his allies are lying about Senator Cortez Masto and her strong record of lowering costs for families,” Marcus-Blank said in a statement.

Exaggerations, out-of-context comments or distorted claims are nothing new in political ads.

The shrill statements and campaign ads in the Nevada Senate race merely underscore the importance of the outcome. The result could determine which party controls the Senate, which is currently split at 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

In Nevada, a purple state, the race is considered highly competitive and close.

Nonpartisan election analysts, including The Cook Political Report, have rated the Nevada race a “toss up.”

The battle over false or misleading ads began early in the campaign cycle, and has escalated in recent weeks.

Laxalt joined other Republican lawmakers and candidates in an orchestrated attack on the Inflation Reduction Act, a Democratic bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. The legislation will allow Medicare to negotiate low drug prices and place out-of-pocket drug caps to help seniors.

The spending measures in the Democratic bill will be paid for with taxes on corporations and increased IRS enforcement of current tax laws.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that GOP lawmakers and candidates were making false claims about the bill. The report included a Laxalt tweet: “.@CortezMasto just voted to raise taxes for Nevadans making as low as $30k/year.”

“THE FACTS: Nothing in the bill raises taxes on people earning less than $400,000, contrary to Laxalt’s claims. There are no individual tax rate increases for anyone in the bill, experts say,” the Associated Press reported.

This week, Cortez Masto was singled out for her attack ad. “As Nevada’s attorney general, Adam Laxalt refused to sue an opioid company that dumped 400 million pills onto our streets. Maybe that’s because Laxalt took tens of thousands of dollars from opioid manufacturers to fund his campaign. Adam Laxalt took their money and turned his back on Nevada.”

A second ad involving lawsuits brought by Nevada and the city of Reno on pharmaceutical companies also was found to be misleading by the Washington Post fact checker.

“This was a dispute over tactics, not Laxalt wanting to give opioid manufacturers a break. The ads then insinuate — using the weaselly word “maybe” — that Laxalt was beholden to pharmaceutical companies because of campaign contributions. There’s no evidence that is the case, especially since he sued one of those companies,” the fact check notes.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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