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PoliGraph: Bachmann state aid claim fails the truth test

False image.GIFBy Catharine Richert

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann had some choice words for a recently passed $26 billion bill meant to aid states hit hard by the economic downturn.

"Taxpayer money will essentially be laundered through the public employee unions, and spent to reelect those same Democrats this fall," Bachmann said on the Aug. 10 episode of FOX News's Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano.

The next day, she clarified her point on another FOX News program, saying, "Quite literally what will happen is this money will be shifted over to public employee unions. The unions will skim off the top; they'll put a good portion of that into political action committees."

Bachmann's claim underscores an opinion held by other Republicans that the legislation is meant to win favor with teachers and other workers during an election year. Some have argued that, because the funding will be used to maintain worker salaries, a portion of that money could end up with unions in the form of dues.

Bachmann's claim implies that state aid will literally be used to pad Democrats' campaign-funding chests. But that's not true. The money will go to states, not unions.

The bill includes rules on how the money will be administered and what it can be used for.

The Evidence

The legislation includes $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and about $16 billion to help states maintain expanded Medicaid coverage that was established by the federal stimulus bill.

Bachmann is vague on which "public employee unions" she's talking about, and her office did not respond to inquiries for clarification. But it appears she's referring to teachers' unions. (The Medicaid component of the bill doesn't change how the federal government matches state funding for the program.)

The $10 billion in education funding will be administered by the Department of Education. It will allocate funding to states based total population and school age population. Then, states will distribute funds to schools based on formulas. The Minnesota Department of Education has not decided how it will allocate the funds, but it's important to note that the decision will be left up to state officials, not teachers' unions.

Furthermore, the bill expressly states that the education funding must "be used only for awards to local educational agencies for the support of elementary and secondary education... for the 2010-2011 school year." The legislation also states that the money can be used only to pay school employees who would otherwise be laid-off or to rehire employees. Moreover, the funding cannot be used to pay-off state debt or for "rainy-day" funds.

The Verdict

Bachmann is wrong to say that the state aid will be "laundered" through public employee unions and used to help reelect Democrats. In fact, the bill is clear that the money can only be used to keep teachers on the payroll.

Her claim does not pass the PoliGraph test.


FOX Business, Rep. Michele Bachmann on Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano, Aug. 10, 2010

YouTube, Rep. Michele Bachmann on FOX News, Aug. 11, 2010

Reuters, House Passes State Aid Bill, by Lisa Lambert, Aug. 11, 2010

THOMAS, H.R. 1586, accessed Aug. 13, 2010

Summary, The Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, accessed Aug. 13, 2010

Kaiser Family Foundation, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA): Medicaid and Health Care Provisions, accessed Aug. 16, 2010

Department of Education, Title I -- Improving The Academic Achievement Of The Disadvantaged, accessed Aug. 16, 2010

The Washington Post, Bachmann and Angle agree: State aid is "laundered" money for Dems, by Greg Sargent, Aug. 11, 2010

Interview, Christine Dufour, spokeswoman, Minnesota Department of Education, Aug. 16, 2010

Interview, Lonnie Hartley, spokesman, Education Minnesota, Aug. 16, 2010

PoliGraph is a regular series of reports that checks the veracity of politicians' claims. It is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

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