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FACT CHECK: Misfires on the campaign trail

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to an audience at a town hall meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday March 14, 2012. Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks to an audience at a town hall meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday March 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)
By Calvin Woodward
Associated Press / March 16, 2012
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WASHINGTON—Rick Santorum says oil drillers in the Gulf of Mexico are being slammed by "worse and worse and worse" delays in getting federal approval even as gas prices go through the roof. Actually, the wait for permits is getting better and better. Newt Gingrich boasts that small donors are powering his Republican presidential campaign. In reality, one deep-pocketed financial angel and other big money people have been doing loads of heavy lifting, too.

The claims of the Republican presidential rivals are not getting the exposure they once did, ever since the crackling series of debates drew to a close. But in smaller venues or turns on TV, the assertions still fly, as do exaggerations, oversimplifications and outright mistakes.

So, too, on the Democratic side. A polished new film from President Barack Obama's campaign, out Thursday night, pushes the gauzy hero worship beyond what has really happened in recounting the auto industry bailout and recovery. Called "The Road We've Traveled," the fundraising film takes Republican front-runner Mitt Romney out of context in the process.

A look at recent claims from the campaign trail and how they compare with the facts:

OBAMA CAMPAIGN on the automakers' recovery: "With business booming, they repaid their loans."

THE FACTS: The General Motors and Chrysler aid has not been paid back in full, and it is unlikely to be, contrary to the film's narrator, actor Tom Hanks.

More than $1 billion of the $12.5 billion Chrysler bailout is not expected to come back to the government. The government has recouped more than $22 billion of its nearly $50 billion GM bailout after agreeing to take stock in return for most of its investment. But the government's remaining stock would have to rise massively in value for taxpayers to get all their money back. If the stock were sold at some recent values, taxpayers would still be out more than $10 billion.

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SANTORUM, speaking this week in Lafayette, La., a city heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry: The Obama administration "almost put this town under with the moratoriums, the delays in permitting that are getting worse and worse and worse -- and as a result, the ability for the men and women who go out and drill these wells and service these wells, to go out and earn an income, and more importantly for them to get that oil and gas into the shore so we can use it here in this country."

THE FACTS: Permit approval rates are actually getting faster for exploration wells, the type that was being drilled at the time of the BP well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2009, before the Macondo well blowout, it took the government 46 days to approve a drilling permit for a new deep-water well. After the accident, the administration imposed a five-month moratorium on new deep-water drilling while it worked on new safety regulations to minimize the risk of another spill. The BP disaster released an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the water, killing wildlife, soiling sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches, and closing vast areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing.

Once the moratorium was lifted, processing times for deep-water exploratory drilling permits were longer than before the spill -- an average of 97 days.

But contrary to Santorum's claim, the government's performance is improving. Permit approvals are now happening on average in 62 days, more than a month faster. That's 16 days longer than before the spill, but regulatory protections are tougher now.

Santorum also implies that the entire drilling industry was shut because of the moratorium. Yet, the temporary ban only covered wells drilled to explore or produce oil and gas in deep water. Wells already in production were not covered by the moratorium.

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GINGRICH, emphasizing the importance of small donors to his campaign, at a rally Wednesday in Rosemont, Ill.: "We have over 175,000 donors now. Most of them are small. Over 95 percent of our donors give $250 or less."

THE FACTS: Gingrich's assertion is probably correct on its face, but not too meaningful. In almost all campaigns, the number of small-dollar donors far exceeds the number of major givers. President Barack Obama's campaign, for example, makes a similar boast -- that 98 percent of its 1 million contributors gave small amounts.

A more significant number is how much of the money Gingrich raised came in small denominations and how much in big checks. Federal Election Commission reports show that through Jan. 31, roughly $11.5 million came from donations under $250. That's about 63 percent of Gingrich's total fundraising. For Obama, the comparable figure is nearly 80 percent.

And the whole calculus leaves out the biggest influence on the Gingrich campaign's financial fortunes -- the group Winning Our Future, an independent super PAC that has been running ads supporting him. Of that group's $13.1 million in total contributions, about 75 percent -- or $10 million -- came from just two people: Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

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CHICAGO MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, quoted in the Obama campaign film on Romney's opposition to the auto bailout: "A lot of conventional wisdom wanted to do what Mitt Romney did -- let it go, can't be saved, why put good money after bad?"

THE FACTS: Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, joins some of Romney's Republican rivals in twisting the meaning of his 2008 New York Times article opposing the bailout. The article's headline, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," has caused Romney plenty of grief, and the film displays it. But his prescription was meant to save the automakers by having them go through bankruptcy, with the government guaranteeing financing afterward and backing up new car warranties. There is plenty of skepticism that such an idea would have worked, given the chaos in private lending institutions at the time, but he never argued that the auto industry could not be saved.

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ROMNEY on whether Obama is responsible for high gasoline prices, speaking Thursday on Fox News: "Absolutely. He has not pursued policies that convince the world that America is going to become energy secure and energy independent. He held off drilling in the Gulf. He's held off drilling out of ANWR. He said no to the Keystone pipeline from Canada."

THE FACTS: Despite the former Gulf moratorium, Obama's opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and his decision to delay -- not kill -- the Keystone XL project, the U.S. produced more oil in 2010 than it has since 2003, and all forms of energy production have increased. Offshore production alone surged in the first two years of the Obama administration after being on a downward trend since 2003.

Rising energy demand in developing countries, a cold winter in Europe and tensions with Iran have put pressures on the world oil market and are among the contributors to higher gasoline prices that presidents have little if any power to control.

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VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, in a speech to autoworkers Thursday in Toledo, Ohio: "One more thing: the president's historic fuel economy efficiency standards that nearly doubled the efficiency of cars, saving the American families $1.7 trillion at the pump, helping free us from foreign oil dependence. "

THE FACTS: Biden is about 13 years ahead of things. The doubling of mileage standards is to be achieved by 2025. Estimated savings at the pump, though considerable, will be partly offset in the showroom, because the standards will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a car.

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Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello, Jack Gillum, Steve Peoples, Ken Thomas and Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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