Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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: Adam Putnam repeats long-disproved Obama cellphone myth 10/31/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 8:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Austin software company acquires second Tampa business


    Austin, Tex.-based Asure Software acquired Tampa's Compass HRM Inc. late last week for $6 million. Compass focuses on HR and payroll.

    [Company photo]
  2. Hackers hide cyberattacks in social media posts


    SAN FRANCISCO — It took only one attempt for Russian hackers to make their way into the computer of a Pentagon official. But the attack didn't come through an email or a file buried within a seemingly innocuous document.

    Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, former NSA employees and co-founders of Synack, a cybersecurity company, in their office in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2013. While last year's hacking of senior Democratic Party officials raised awareness of the damage caused if just a handful of employees click on the wrong emails, few people realize that a message on Twitter or Facebook could give an attacker similar access to their system. 
[New York Times file photo]
  3. On average, a quarter of Transformation Zone staff not returning next school year


    Combined, nearly one in four teachers staffed at eight schools in the Pinellas County school district's Transformation Zone will not return to their school in the fall.

  4. New Port Richey police investigating shooting that left one man wounded

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A man was shot and wounded Saturday after police said he assaulted a restaurant employee.

  5. What to watch this week: 'Still Star-Crossed' on ABC, 'House of Cards' Season 5



    Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey in House of Cards Season 5.