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. Good to be bad? Dirk Koetter's call for bold, brash Bucs


    Is being a badass team all about swagger and toughness? "Our whole thing is about competing," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says. (Loren Elliott | Times)
  2. St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill


    ST. PETERSBURG — The city has put the legal fallout from the sewage crisis behind it.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system in September 2016. The city recently learned that no employees will face charges as a result of that crisis. The St. Petersburg City Council also agreed to spend $326 million fixing its sewer system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. Epilogue: Tony Scaglione served Ybor delicacies and laughs


    Tony Scaglione's childhood dream was to own his family's restaurant.

    Tony Scaglione - the longtime owner of Tony's Ybor Restaurant - has died.  He was 87. Credit: Larry Scaglione
  4. What you need to know for Friday, July 21


    href=""> Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during minicamp this summer. He said the Bucs could be "a bad--- football team." [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Final sign positions should cut danger where trail crosses interstate ramp


    I am concerned with the yield signs I saw recently installed for the new bike and pedestrian trail along either side of Roosevelt Boulevard between Carillon Parkway/28th Street and Interstate 275. These yield signs seem to be pointing to the drivers, one side as they exit the interstate northbound, the other as they …