Friday, December 15, 2017
Politics

PolitiFact: Adam Putnam repeats long-disproved Obama cellphone myth

The statement

An Obama campaign tactic for rallying voters is to "offer them cellphones."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Wednesday at a Mitt Romney rally in Tampa

The ruling

In 2009, a reader asked us to check a chain email declaring, "TAX PAYER MONEY IS BEING REDISTRIBUTED TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS FOR FREE CELL PHONES."

The email called the phones "Obama phones," suggesting the program was an Obama administration creation.

There is, in fact, a government program that provides discounted phone service to low-income people, depending on where participants live, through Federal Communications Commission programs. Lifeline provides discounts on basic monthly phone service, according to the FCC website.

Eligible participants must have an income that is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level or use Medicaid, food stamps, federal public housing assistance, or supplemental security income, among other things.

Lifeline was created in 1985 and expanded in 2008 during the Bush administration to include cellphone service.

The "Obama phones" myth re-emerged in September when video of an unidentified woman protesting at a Romney rally in Cleveland made its way onto some conservative websites. The woman claimed to have received a free "Obama phone."

"Everybody in Cleveland — low, minority — got Obama phones," she tells an interviewer. "Keep Obama in president (sic). He gave us a phone. He's gonna do more."

The interviewer asks how Obama gave her a phone. Her response: "You sign up if you on food stamps, you on Social Security, you got low income, you disability."

The "he gave us a phone" video has become an Internet meme, yielding remixes and parodies.

We reached out to Putnam's spokesman, Sterling Ivey, and shortly after our inquiry, Ivey pointed us to Putnam's Facebook page, where this was posted: "About those cell phones: I'd heard about the YouTube video, wasn't aware it was disclaimed. Won't happen again."

Ivey added: "I think it's one of those myths that's obviously grown a life of its own. He wasn't aware there was a disproving of the statements in the video."

Internet chatter claiming that Obama gave cellphones to welfare recipients contains a tiny grain of truth: The federal government does have a program to subsidize phone service for low-income people. That program, though, existed long before Obama became president.

But Putnam squeezes all reality out of the story, twisting it into an allegation of dirty campaigning. He has since acknowledged the statement was wrong — but not before announcing it at a high-profile presidential campaign rally. We rate his statement Pants on Fire!

This ruling has been edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

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