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. Review: 'Channel Zero: No-End House' pumps up the prestige horror


    In its second season, Channel Zero cements itself as one of the scariest shows on television.

    Amy Forsyth in Channel Zero: No-End House.
  2. Utilities face barrage of questions as power returns to Tampa Bay


    Nearly all of Tampa Bay has electricity again a week after Hurricane Irma shredded the power grid, but elected officials here say the problem is far from solved.

    Duke Energy's Scott Crellin (right) works to cut tree limbs from a power line along S Pinellas Avenue as apprentice lineman Nick Ceccarini looks on Sept. 11, the day after Hurricane Irma struck Florida. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]
  3. Yep, 2017 hurricane season really is more intense than normal


    It was only 25 days ago that Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

    A handout satellite image from Sept. 8, 2017, of, from left, Tropical Storm Katia, Hurricane Irma and Tropical Storm Jose, which would intensify into a hurricane. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has been unusually active. There have been 13 named storms this year. Only four other seasons since 1995 have had that many by Sept. 18. [NASA/NOAA GOES Project via the New York Times]
  4. Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs could run into their nemesis


    Greg Auman finishes wrapping up the Bucs' win against the Chicago Bears and looks ahead to Sunday's game at Minnesota, where Tampa Bay could run into nemesis Case Keenum, in our latest Cannon Fodder …

    Bucs outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) sacks Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) during a 2016 game. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  5. How to vamp out for Buffyfest in St. Petersburg

    Music & Concerts

    Who's your favorite superhero? I always answer Buffy.

    Photo illustration RON BORRESEN, Photo by Warner Brothers, Photo by SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Members of the Florida Bjorkestra rehearse, Monday, 3/13/17, at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg for their upcoming concert. In the foreground is percussionist Joe Coyle.

Sarah Michelle Gellar