Romney on Huckabee II

Romney launched another negative ad in Iowa this week, where the Republican presidential candidate has been battling the new front-runner, Huckabee. This time, Romney attacks Huckabee's record on methamphetamine laws and the clemencies he granted as governor of Arkansas. We found that:

The ad says Romney "got tough on drugs like meth" while governor of Massachusetts, but the legislation he supported never passed, and his state's laws are much weaker than Arkansas'. Convicted meth dealers face both minimum and maximum prison terms in Arkansas that are four times longer than those in Massachusetts.

The ad misrepresents news articles, implying that they supported Romney's actions as governor when that's not what the news organizations said. One article, in fact, gave critical views of Romney's refusal to issue a pardon.

Analysis
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced that the ad would begin airing in Iowa Dec. 17. It's a sequel to an earlier Romney attack on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee that we reviewed here, and it begins with the same misleading description of similarities between the two before going on the attack with new material.

Injecting Meth into the Campaign
The ad says Romney "got tough on drugs like meth" while Huckabee "even reduced penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine." But wait: While Romney did submit legislation in 2005 that would have broadened state laws against meth production, such as setting sentencing guidelines for possessing various methamphetamine precursor ingredients, this effort to get "tough" failed. That bill died in committee in Jan. 2007.

The legislation Huckabee supported, meanwhile, did shorten the amount of time a convict would have to serve before being eligible for parole from 70 percent of the sentence to 50 percent. But Arkansas has strict meth laws that remain on the books, and they are far tougher than those in Massachusetts. A convicted meth dealer can be sentenced to 40 years in Arkansas, but in Massachusetts the maximum term is 10 years. The mandatory minimum in Arkansas is 10 years in prison, but it's only a two-and-a-half-year state prison term in Massachusetts. And, in fact, the bill this ad criticizes was drafted with the help of Arkansas state prosecutors to help alleviate overcrowding problems in the state penal system.

Here are the details of the state laws: In Arkansas, offenders found guilty of intent to distribute or manufacture while in possession of less than an ounce of meth face a minimum sentence of "not less than ten (10) years nor more than forty (40) years, or life" and a fine "not exceeding twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000)." In Massachusetts, the penalty for a person convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to manufacture or distribute a substance that contains any quantity of methamphetamine is "a term of imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two and one-half nor more than ten years." A fine of no more than $10,000 may be imposed as well. The legislation Romney backed would not have increased the mandatory minimum, even if it had passed.

One possible reason that Arkansas has far tougher meth laws than Massachusetts is that it has a far larger meth problem: The federal Drug Enforcement Agency counts 407 methamphetamine "lab incidents" in Arkansas in 2006, compared with only one in Massachusetts. The DEA says methamphetamine is Arkansas' "primary drug of concern," while in Massachusetts the drug is "available in limited quantities" and "rarely abused." However, meth is a huge problem in Iowa, where this ad is airing. In 2006, there were 318 meth lab incidents, according to the DEA, down from a high of 1,370 in 2004. Iowa enacted a tough law in 2005 that made it illegal to sell non-prescription pseudoephedrine to a minor or to keep it anywhere but behind a pharmacy counter. Pseudophedrine is found in common  over-the-counter medications such as Sudafed and has been widely used to make meth.

Print Your Own Newspaper!
The ad uses news clippings to borrow the independent credibility of newspapers and bolster Romney's claims. However, in several instances, the ad reconstructs the words of the newspapers to distort the original reporting. For instance, it lists the Berkshire Eagle as saying "tough on drugs like meth" on Aug. 15, 2005. But the paper didn't exactly say that. What the paper did say was:

Berkshire Eagle: Legislation filed by Gov. Mitt Romney would heighten the penalties for the possession of methamphetamine as well as toughen penalties for the possession of the chemicals used to produce it.

The newspaper is clearly reporting on the legislation filed. Romney's ad changes the words to make it appear the newspaper is endorsing his effort. Filching the credibility of news organizations is an old trick we've found in past elections here, here and here.

Pardonable Offenses
In another example of skewing the news in his favor, the ad shows a June 12, 2007, Associated Press tagline under the headline "never pardoned a criminal." But the closest the AP article comes to saying that is this:

AP: During the four years Romney was in office, 100 requests for commutations and 172 requests for pardons were filed in the state. All were denied.

The language from the ad appears nowhere in the news article, which is certainly no endorsement of Romney's policies. It actually portrays the governor as unreasonably stubborn. The article focuses primarily on Romney's refusal to pardon National Guard Lt. Anthony Circosta, who had been convicted of assault at age 13 for "shooting another boy in the arm with a BB gun, a shot that didn't break the skin," according to the AP. After returning from duty in Iraq, Circosta wanted to become a police officer but needed to have his childhood charge pardoned first. Romney refused twice, despite the recommendations of the state Board of Pardons.
 
We're not passing judgment on either governors' record on clemencies, but we take issue with Romney's misleading attempt to claim this news article endorsed his actions. It didn't.

Sources
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Senate bill No. 2183, "An Act to Control the Use of Methamphetamine." 18 Aug. 2005.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Chapter 94C: Section 32A. Class B controlled substances. Accessed 18 Dec. 2007.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Arkansas state fact sheet 2007. Updated June 2007.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Massachusetts state fact sheet 2007. Updated June 2007.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Iowa state fact sheet 2007. Updated June 2007.

"Meth in Iowa" fact sheet. Prepared by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute on behalf of the Midwestern Governors Association Regional Meth Summit, Dec. 2005.

Kendell, Gary W. "Methamphetamine Abuse in Iowa." Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy, 19 Jan. 2007.

Arkansas Code (Non annotated) > Title 5 Criminal Offenses > Subtitle 6. Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, Or Welfare > Chapter 64 Controlled Substances > Subchapter 4 — Uniform Controlled Substances Act — Prohibitions and Penalties > 5-64-401. Criminal penalties.

Arvidson, Erik, "Romney acts to boost meth penalties," The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, MA). 15 Aug 2005.

LeBlanc, Steve, "As governor, Romney opposed pardons, a blanket policy challenged by case of Iraq war veteran," AP. 12 June 2007.

Robinson, David and Thompson, Doug, "House approves repeal of 70-percent law for meth producers," Arkansas News Bureau. 9 Mar 2005.