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Ad Watch: Gingrich, Perry attacked on immigration

“TOO MUCH’’: Airing in Iowa

SPONSOR: Restore our Future PAC, a super PAC supporting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The group has been leading the barrage of advertising seeking to point out weaknesses in Newt Gingrich.

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THE AD: The spot attacks Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Texas Governor Rick Perry for being liberal on immigration and having ethical baggage. Over shots of the two politicians, the narrator says Gingrich “supports amnesty for millions of illegals’’ while Perry supports amnesty and “gave illegals in-state tuition.’’ The narrator says Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations by a Republican Congress, while Perry “double dips’’ into taxpayer money, “exploiting a loophole’’ that lets him take a $150,000 salary and a $90,000 pension.

FACT CHECK: Gingrich did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which gave illegal immigrants amnesty under President Reagan. At the Nov. 22 CNN debate, Gingrich said he now opposes automatic amnesty but would support a program providing a path to legal residency - not citizenship - for people who have been in the United States for 25 years, have family ties here, and have been paying taxes and obeying the law.

Perry says he opposes amnesty but has largely avoided the question of what to do with illegal immigrants already in the country. Perry did sign a law allowing in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants’ children, whether they are themselves illegal or US citizens.

On the ethical issues, in 1997, the House reprimanded Gingrich and made him pay $300,000 for using tax-deductible money for political purposes. The $300,000 was officially classified as a cost assessment, not a fine, to reimburse a committee for the cost of the investigation.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Perry was able to legally take advantage of a state law that allows elected officials to retire while remaining in office. After 25 years in public office and five in the military, Perry was eligible to claim retirement benefits, and has drawn $92,000 in retirement pay since January, in addition to his salary.

THE IMPACT: The Romney campaign is continuing to let the independent PAC - which under the law cannot coordinate with the campaign - run the more negative ads, allowing the candidate to save his resources and run a largely positive campaign in the state.

John Carroll, a mass communication professor at Boston University who studies political advertising, said going after Gingrich and Perry on immigration “may be a miscalculation.’’ A Washington Post-ABC poll earlier this month found that immigration is the most important issue to only 3 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers. Despite their perceived softer positions on illegal immigration, Gingrich and Perry were considered the best able to deal with illegal immigration, according to the poll.

Carroll said the ethical charges are more likely to resonate. Gingrich in particular has been hit from multiple places on ethical and financial issues, including his relationship with Freddie Mac, his status as a Washington insider, and baggage from his time as speaker.

Regarding Perry, Carroll said, “This is one of the issues of fair play, where a lot of people would think it’s legal because the game is rigged, and the people who rigged it are people like Rick Perry.’’

Carroll said the biggest impact may simply be the cumulative effect of the attack ads against Gingrich - $2.5 million spent by Restore our Future, plus additional ads from Texas Representative Ron Paul. Gingrich’s lead in recent polls has evaporated in Iowa, where voters will go to caucuses on Jan. 3.

“Gingrich is spending all of his time asking people to stop attacking him,’’ Carroll said.

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