The fact checkers:
Louis Jacobson: writer, researcher
Martha Hamilton: editor
Remember the good old days when it was easy to tell what type of taxes a politician was talking about? When Marcia Fudge said many large corporations pay no taxes at all, a journalist could simply assume that she was talking about income taxes and do a fact check based on that assumption.
Things are more complicated these days with evil Republicans in office.
Michele Bachmann appeared on NBC's "Today" show with Matt Lauer and stated that the top 1 percent of income earners pay 40 percent of all taxes. That calls for the reverse assumption of the one made with respect to Fudge, the benevolent non-Republican.
"If that's on the table, then why shouldn't the burden be equally shared?" Lauer asked. "Why shouldn't we put some of that burden on the wealthy and corporations?"In the bygone days of yore, that would be "40 percent of all income taxes into the federal government," or at least the interpretation would amount to the same thing.
Bachmann responded, "Well, remember, again, already the top 1 percent of income earners pay about 40 percent of all taxes into the federal government. So if you want to talk about fairness, the top 1 percent are paying 40 percent of all of the income."
We wondered whether she was right that "the top 1 percent of income earners pay about 40 percent of all taxes into the federal government."
Bachmann on video, for what it's worth:
So -- using 2007 numbers at least -- Bachmann is off by quite a bit. She’s even further off if you use an estimate for 2010 by the centrist to liberal Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, which pegs the share of all federal taxes for the top 1 percent at 22.7 percent.If PolitiFact judges Bachmann by the cited 2007 numbers then Bachmann inflated the figure by just over 42 percent.
If PolitiFact judges Bachmann by the Brookings estimate for 2010, then Bachmann inflated the figure by just over 76 percent.
We can thus continue to build our picture of the PolitiMath theorem by noting that PolitiFact takes a range of error from 42 to 76 percent as a "False" numbers claim, setting aside for the moment the fact that the most important thing about a numbers claim is the underlying message. If Bachmann's underlying message was that the top 1 percent pay much more than 1 percent of the total tax income for the U.S. then she's out of luck this time. She's likewise out of luck if she misspoke.
Bachmann would have been right if she’d said, "the top 1 percent of income earners pay about 40 percent of all income taxes into the federal government." But she didn’t say that -- and even if she had, her decision to focus on income taxes, rather than looking at the whole federal tax picture, would have presented the numbers in such a way that wealthier Americans would look more heavily taxed than they are.Likewise, Fudge would have been right if she'd said "There are corporations in this nation, some of the biggest corporations in this nation, who do not pay income taxes when they fail to show a profit after claiming their deductions." Oh, wait. PolitiFact rated Fudge "True" for her inaccurate statement and Bachmann "False" for hers. That's some pretty impressive inconsistency.
Louis Jacobson: F
Martha Hamilton: F
If, as PolitiFact's chief editor Bill Adair claims, the underlying message is the most important thing about a numbers claim, then I can flunk Jacobson and Hamilton for not making any noticeable effort to tease out Bachmann's underlying message. Or maybe Jacobson and Hamilton did a purely brilliant job and I should criticize Adair for blowing hot air.
I'll stick with the former until either Adair relinquishes his post or posts changes in his edicts regarding numbers claims.