Editor’s Note: At the Oct. 19 debate in Atlanta and in the original version of this article published on Oct. 24, The Current cited research from OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, stating that Rep. Buddy Carter was the 10th wealthiest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Last week, OpenSecrets corrected the estimate cited in the article, saying Carter’s estimated net worth in 2019 was $33 million, instead of the $66 million it had originally reported. This made him the 16th wealthiest representative in 2019, not the 10th, the organization said. The Current has updated its fact check to reflect the OpenSecrets correction. After examining financial disclosure forms filed by Rep. Carter earlier this year that cover the 2021 calendar year, the organization this week appraised his median net worth at $32,346,527.
The Carter-Herring debates are over. There was plenty of campaign rhetoric and political spin when the pair met at the Atlanta Press Club last Tuesday and a day later in the studios of Savannah’s WTOC.
At the same time, the two debates between the Republican incumbent Earl L. “Buddy” Carter and Republican challenger Wade Herring reflected their campaign strategies.
Partly because Herring has never held elected office and thus has no record to attack, Carter has sought to make the contest a referendum on the state of the country, the economy, and the Democratic Party, which currently holds the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
He focused during the debates on crime, inflation, and immigration, and used the phrase “rubber stamp for failed policies” 24 times to describe what Herring would do if elected.
For his part, Herring has sought to cast Carter as a Washington fixture, beholden to Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Republican National Committee talking points, and out of touch with the people of Coastal Georgia.
In the debates, he targeted Carter’s wealth and his positions on health care, Social Security, abortion, and the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol, which he reminded viewers again last week, propelled him into the race in the first place.
Below, we have unpacked the candidates’ statements with an eye towards facts and context — or absence of them.
“We’ve got the highest inflation in 40 years.” — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
“The policies of this administration have ruined our economy. We had this economy running and humming in the Trump administration.” — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
Carter is correct in saying that the U.S. recorded its annual highest inflation rate in 40 years, 8.6% in May. But that assertion, which he uses to support his argument that the policies of the Biden administration have “ruined our economy,” lacks important context.
Carter doesn’t mention the surge in prices caused by the global post-pandemic shortages, coupled with Putin’s war in Ukraine and China’s lockdowns. Inflation is a global problem. The U.S. inflation rate has quadrupled in the past two years but in many other countries, it has risen even faster — Israel being the fastest.
Carter also doesn’t mention that the Federal Reserve, the main U.S. institution assigned the role of controlling inflation, operates independently of the White House. Its chair, Jerome Powell, was nominated not by President Joe Biden, but by Donald Trump, when he was president, in 2017.
Economic pain is certainly being felt by some voters. But U.S. corporate profits are also at the highest margins since 1950. Commerce Department data shows that companies have been able to pass on their rising cost of materials and labor to consumers, leading Herring and other Democrats to accuse them of price-gouging.
In the debates, Carter also castigated Democrats for “out-of-control spending.” He doesn’t mention that the national debt rose by almost $7.8 trillion during Donald Trump’s time in office
— the third-biggest increase, relative to the size of the economy, of any U.S. presidential administration.
Unlike George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln, who oversaw the larger relative increases in deficits, Trump did not launch two foreign conflicts or have to pay for a civil war, notes ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative news organization.
Herring’s law practice
“Most of my clients have been small businesses to medium-size businesses.” — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
Herring’s characterization of his clients is misleading.
According to the website of HunterMaclean, the Savannah law firm where he is a partner, he has represented Gulfstream, Murphy Oil, the Savannah Airport Commission, American General Life and Accident Insurance Company, among other large businesses.
Whatever the merits of his clients’ cases, Herring’s failure to mention this part of his and his firm’s business is an omission conveys inaccurate impressions about his legal practice.
“They [Democrats] want to have you to be able to have an abortion up until the time of birth, and have the taxpayers pay for it.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
“Nobody says that abortion should occur right up to the moment of birth. Nobody says the federal government should pay for it. The Hyde Amendment prevents that.” — Herring, Oct. 19, 2022
Carter appears to be referring here to the “Women’s Health Protection Care Act of 2022,” which the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in July approved in July in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The bill says says that states cannot restrict health care providers from providing abortions after fetal viability, generally around 24 weeks into pregnancy. States can only do so, however, only “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health,” according to the legislation..
In his portrayal of the Democrats’ position on abortion, Carter focuses on the bill’s allowance for abortion after fetal viability but ignores the caveat—only “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”
Herring is correct in saying that the Hyde Amendment, signed into law in 1976, bars the use of federal funds for an abortion except to save the life of the woman, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape. House Democrats sought in March to remove it from this year’s spending bill, arguing it discriminates against low-income women who depend on federal funding for health care and say it puts a disproportionate burden on women of color. House Republicans defeated the effort.
Carter also implies that late-term abortions are common — and that they are routinely accepted by Democrats. In fact, they are exceedingly rare. About two-thirds of abortions occurred at eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier, and nearly 90% take place in the first 12 weeks, or within most definitions of the first trimester, according to estimates by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. About 5.5 percent of abortions take place after 15 weeks, with just 1.3 percent at 21 weeks or longer.
“Everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, we’ve outlawed abortion.’ No, it just simply sends it back to the states. The states have to decide.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
It’s true that in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, Carter praised the decision as a victory for states’ rights. Since then, however, he has co-sponsored federal legislation that would set national standards for abortion and abortion-related issues. Notably, the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act” would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy nationwide.
“I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe that life is precious and should be protected. That we are all created in the image of God.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
In introducing a religious dimension into a public discussion about abortion, Carter echoes some widely held views. It’s important to note, though, that his position differs with that of the United Methodist Church to which Carter belongs.
“Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers,” the church’s Book of Discipline states.
As for late-term abortion, the church opposes it “except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”
“We’ve got crime running rampant in our cities. … The problem with crime is that it’s the Democrats rhetoric about defunding the police. … We’ve got attorney generals, district attorneys, who aren’t enforcing the law, who aren’t prosecuting people. … Until the Democratic Party decides that they’re going to support our police and back the blue—like I have done and like I will continue to do—that’s not going to happen.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
“The bipartisan bill that provided for background checks, and red flag laws Mr. Carter voted against doing all things.” — Herring, Oct. 19, 2022
GOP claims to the contrary, it’s difficult to say with certainty whether crime is rising nationwide, remaining stagnant, or even dropping. That’s because the FBI’s National Crime Data for 2021, released earlier this month, was woefully incomplete. About 7,000 police departments — including Savannah and Chatham County — did not submit data to the FBI because of its requirement for new reporting software.
The 2021 data that was released, despite the missing police departments, showed homicides increased 4.3% and violent crime dropped by 1% from 2020. The FBI warned against putting too much stock in those numbers, however, and noted that crime rates have been relatively constant.
“The nonsignificant nature of the observed trends is why, despite these described changes, the overall message is that crime remained consistent,” the FBI wrote in its press release.
In response to a question at the Oct. 19 debate about rising crime in Savannah and elsewhere in the nation, Carter said crime is “running rampant in our cities.”
The numbers point to a different picture.
Statistics from the Savannah Police Department for mid-October show reported “aggravated assaults with a gun” increased year-to-date compared to the last two years. So far in 2022, there have been 261 for non-domestic crimes and 36 for domestic crimes, according to the data. That’s an increase of around 18% and 19% respectively, from the same time last year.
But a review of annual statistics from Savannah Police shows that the 261 reported aggravated assaults so far in 2022 is far below its recent high of 323 for all of 2020. It’s also below 265 for all of last year. There are still two months left in 2022 for things to change.
Violent crime has risen since the beginning of the pandemic, when homicides and gun violence spiked, but it’s also nowhere near where it was before.
Savannah has recorded 24 homicides so far this year. That’s down from 26 at the same time last year, and 28 at the same time in 2020, data shows. But the highest number of homicides reported in Savannah was 53 in 2015, according to Savannah’s statistics. Since then, the numbers dropped and have been consistent since 2017. Savannah’s second highest ever murder count was 44 in 1991.
In the debates, Carter did not cite a single Democratic candidate who is calling for defunding the police. Herring himself said a comprehensive approach to fighting crime was needed, including mental health resources. As for gun violence, he said — correctly — that Carter had voted against bipartisan legislation calling for better background checks.
Environment, climate change
“I have acknowledged that climate change is real. I’ve said, yes, man plays a part in it. …But this war on American energy that this administration has embarked on is what led to this inflation.” — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
Carter has repeated his stance on climate change many times. For instance, in a May 10, 2022, interview with “Right Voices,” he said, “I believe in climate change. I do believe it’s cyclical. I believe man does have a certain impact on it.” He later added, “I think most of it has been cyclical.”
This view is not scientifically defensible. Climate scientists disagree, among them Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the global conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy and a professor at Texas Tech.
Hayhoe calls the idea that natural cycles are responsible for climate change the “number one most popular myth about climate change.” Hayhoe produced a short video to debunk the notion, explaining how sun cycles, volcanoes, El Nino cycles and orbital cycles are not responsible for the climate change we see now.
“For the first time in the history of our planet it’s us,” she concludes.
“Mr. Carter has been a climate-change denier. We know on the coast the reality of climate change and rising sea levels. We need to act with urgency. That’s what the Inflation Reduction Act did. It will spur growth and the green economy, the energy efficient economy, and provide jobs for Georgians.” — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
In the debates, Herring was correct in saying that Carter has been a climate denier.
In 2016, he told the Savannah Morning News, “I’ve never bought into the climate change. I’m not naïve enough to believe that we don’t have some impact on it, but to think that we have enough image to really change what is happening naturally, I’m not one of those who has really bought into that.”
Since then, Carter’s stance has evolved, with him now saying climate change is “real.” But he doesn’t accept the scientific consensus that it’s almost entirely a result of burning fossil fuels.
Herring is partially correct that Coastal Georgians know the reality of climate change. In the most recent Yale Climate Opinion Map, 70% of residents in Georgia’s 1st congressional district agreed that, “global warming is happening.” But only about half, 49%, agreed that “global warming is caused mostly by human activities.”
Herring’s “need to act with urgency” aligns with the recommendations of the vast majority of climate scientists.
“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climatologist and co-chair of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II, said in a statement released with the group’s February 2022 report.
“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.”
The Inflation Reduction Act provided an unprecedented $369 billion toward clean energy solutions. Jesse Jenkins, a Princeton engineer who models the impact of climate measures, predicted the act’s clean energy investments “will drive the first sustained period of declining fossil energy consumption in U.S. history.”
Georgia is likely to snag some of those resulting new jobs, according to experts at Drawdown Georgia.
“I voted against the infrastructure bill. Yes, because only 9% of it went toward infrastructure. And whereas the rest of it goes to these Green New Deal policies. And that’s the problem with inflation. That’s why we’re suffering from the highest inflation we’ve had in 40 years.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in November 2021. It authorizes $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years, of which about half, $550 billion, is new spending. The 9% that Carter refers to corresponds to the amount allocated for roads and bridges — $110 billion. That’s 9% of the $1.2 trillion.
But there are lots of ways to slice these numbers. If you consider new spending only, then spending on roads and bridges jumps to 20%.
As other fact checks have pointed out, roads and bridges are not the only type of traditional infrastructure included in the act.
There’s also money for passenger and freight rail, airports, port, and waterways, and public transit totalling $147 billion. Include those and the portion of new spending for infrastructure jumps to 47%.
Spending for broadband, the power grid and water infrastructure adds another $188 billion, bringing the total to 81% of the new spending for infrastructure. This statement lacks essential context.
“Already it [the Inflation Reduction Act] has triggered $28 billion in new investment in this country and green energy, like battery plants across the United States, like the battery plant that’s in Georgia. — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
Writing in Forbes on Oct. 12, 2022, Silvio Maracci of the nonpartisan climate think tank Energy Innovation, also cited the figure of $28 billion. “These investments have primarily happened in the electric vehicle, battery, and solar manufacturing sectors — but the trend is just getting started.” Maracci said.
Both of the large battery factories planned for Georgia, SK Industries in Jackson County and Hyundai in Bryan County, were announced before the IRA passed. But other, similar battery factories in Georgia were announced after the IRA passed. Herring’ s campaign confirmed that Herring was citing the Forbes article when referring to the amount of new investment in battery plants and other forms of green energy.
“Mr. Carter said recently on Fox Business that he wants to raise drug prices because he’s a pharmacist. … He opposed the cap on insulin. He opposed the cap on out-of-pockets for seniors. He opposed the ability of Medicare to negotiate drug prices. He’s working for Big Pharma.” — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
On Fox Business, I said that I wanted prescription drug prices to go up? Where do you get that from? I want to see that clip. That’s ridiculous. — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
At issue in this exchange was the Inflation Reduction Act, which the House and Senate passed and President Biden signed into law on Aug. 16. The act authorizes Medicare to negotiate the prices of some high-cost prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies, puts an annual $2,000 limit on how much Part D prescription drug plan members will have to pay out of pocket for their medications, and levies tax penalties on drugmakers that increase product prices by more than the rate of inflation.
The new law also caps the cost of Medicare-covered insulin at $35 a month and eliminates out-of-pocket costs for most vaccines under Medicare.
In a Sept. 1, 2022, interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business, Carter said the IRA’s caps on insulin and prescription drug pricing would be addressed if Republicans flip control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections:
“That is something I’m very interested in as a pharmacist and, and I’ve been asking my colleagues, how are we going to undo that when we get into the majority because that is going to destroy research and development.”
It’s impossible to prove Herring’s assertion that Carter’s position on the IRA’s prescription drug-related measures stems from Carter being a licensed pharmacist allegedly working for Big Pharma.
But Herring’s statement that Carter would tolerate a rise in drug prices appears to be a reasonable interpretation of what the congressman said on Fox Business — that is, he was keen to roll back (“undo”) the IRA’s price-control measures.
Medicare, Social Security
“Mr. Carter wants to be budget chair and cut Medicare and Social Security.” — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
Herring’s assertion, one of many dismissed by Carter during the debates as “ludicrous,” appears true.
Carter has announced his desire to run for the chair of the House Budget Committee if he wins reelection and the GOP wins back control of the House from the Democrats.
And an Oct. 11, 2022, story by Bloomberg News about the contest to lead the committee quotes Carter as saying, ““Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary — it’s got to be on entitlements,” he said.
In an interview with Punchbowl News in late September, Carter discussed Social Security reform and opened the door to the possibility of future benefit cuts.
“I am not suggesting anyone who’s on Social Security right now have their benefits cut,” he told the outlet. But for future retirees, he added, “There are ways that we can address [the looming insolvency of the program] and make it sustainable.”
“He became a multimillionaire selling drugs to seniors.” — Herring, Oct. 18, 2022
“That $66 million is wrong. … The 33 [million] was right before Joe Biden took office. I can assure you it’s not that way now because we’re suffering from the policies of this administration.” — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
“Let me assure you, you don’t benefit financially as a member of Congress. We haven’t had a raise in 14 years, and it’s expensive to live in Washington, D.C. It’s expensive to have to maintain two places, one at home and one in Washington, D.C.” — Carter, Oct. 18, 2022
In an April 2020 report, OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics, ranked Carter the 10th wealthiest member of the 116th Congress, with an estimated net worth of $66,464,062.
Citing the report, The Current’s editor in chief, Margaret Coker, asked Carter in the Oct. 18 debate what steps he had taken to recuse himself from legislation that affects his and his family’s “personal financial interest.” She also cited Carter’s appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” on Sept. 22, 2021, during which he said, “I am not wealthy but I am comfortable.”
In reply, Carter said the OpenSecrets estimate of his net worth was incorrect. He added that his net worth was $33 million before the Biden administration took office in January 2021 but didn’t disclose a more recent figure.
A day after the first debate, OpenSecrets appended its 2020 report with the following note:
“Oct. 19, 2022: An earlier version of the chart in this article inadvertently listed the estimated net worth of Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga) as $66 million instead of $33 million.”
While the $66 million figure is incorrect, as Carter says, OpenSecrets this week confirmed the group’s estimates of Carter’s net worth in 2019 of $33,232,031 and $20,811,530 in 2015.
The 2015 figure ranked Carter as the 32nd wealthiest member of the House of Representatives, while the 2019 figure ranked him as the 16th wealthiest member of the House, not the 10th, said Alex Baumgart, the researcher who handles financial disclosure data for OpenSecrets.
OpenSecrets’ estimates of the personal net worth of members of Congress are based on financial disclosure reports filed by each member of Congress, as required by law. To estimate a member’s wealth, the group averages the maximum and minimum value of lawmakers’ assets and debts, Baumgart said.
After examining the reports filed by Carter earlier this year covering the 2021 calendar year—the most recent such reports available—OpenSecrets this week appraised his median net worth at $32,346,527.
So, although Carter is correct in saying that OpenSecrets’ estimate of his wealth in the April 2020 report was wrong, Herring’s description of his opponent as a “multimillionaire” was also correct.
Herring also is correct in describing the source of Carter’s wealth as “selling drugs to seniors.”
In discussions about economic policy, Carter routinely describes himself as a “small businessman for over 32 years.” In an interview earlier this year with Georgia Pharmacy magazine, he mapped the evolution of his business, describing how he worked for nine years as a pharmacist before opening his own business in 1988. At the urging of a college friend, he started servicing nursing homes alongside his retail business.
“I started with two nursing homes, then four, then six,” Carter said. He eventually separated the retail business from his nursing home business when the number of nursing homes he supplied expanded to 14.
“My institutional business was actually bigger than my retail business. I did exceptionally well with that and continued to grow. I had three retail pharmacies. I sold my institutional business in the late 1990s and still had my retail pharmacies, one of which I owned for 32 years. I just recently sold my last pharmacy.”
Questions over possible conflicts of interest have trailed Carter since he was elected to Congress in 2014, as he pursued seats on congressional committees that debate and shape drug policies and regulation.
To comply with House rules, he transferred ownership of his three retail pharmacies to his wife after his election, according to financial disclosure forms cited by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Two of those pharmacies were later sold, the newspaper quoted Carter as saying in its Dec. 16, 2016 article.
Last week, in the first debate, he said his financial portfolio is managed independently. “I don’t know whether a piece of legislation is going to have an impact on something that I am involved in.”
In a statement to The Current after the Oct. 18 debate, Carter’s office said he has complied with all disclosure requirements as required under law.
January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol
Look, I condemn what happened on Jan. 6 … and I did it day one, minute one. What happened then was wrong. … but you know, when I’m in the district, I’m not hearing about January 6, I’m hearing about inflation. I’m hearing about crime. I’m hearing about the southern border. I’m hearing about education of our schools, but I’m not hearing about January 6.” — Carter, Oct. 19, 2022
“That night, without any basis in fact or law, he violated his oath of office. And he said subsequently, after time for reflection, that he’d do it 100 times over again.” — Herring, Oct. 19, 2022
Carter denounces the violence in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but skips over his role in the challenges to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election that helped foment it, as well as those that came after it.
But his version leaves out important facts.
At around 1 p.m., almost the same time an initial wave of protesters stormed the outer police barrier around of the capitol, Carter released a statement saying he planned to object to the certification of Georgia’s electoral votes.
After the Capitol was secured and the House reconvened at 9 p.m. to officially certify the results of the election, he stood on the floor with a delegation of Georgia lawmakers who announced they were objecting to the election results on the grounds they were faulty and fraudulent.
Later, in two separate votes, he joined with 137 other Republican members of the House of Representatives in voting to decertify the election results in Pennsylvania and with 120 other House members to decertify the results in Arizona.
The previous month, Carter signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He alleged these states had “unconstitutionally bypassed their state legislatures to change how presidential electors are chosen,” a claim that was thrown out by the Supreme Court.
Carter said at the time that he only signed on to the brief to get clarity on whether the Georgia legislature had to make election changes, though prior to the election, in October 2020, he assured Georgia voters that they could trust the state’s voting system. “Our state has done a good job in running elections,” he told The Current.
Whether Herring is correct in saying that Carter’s actions violated his oath to defend U.S. Constitution is a matter for legal experts, the courts, and voters to decide.
Carter hasn’t changed his mind about those events. He told HBO months after the attack, as Herring correctly asserts, that “If I had to do it over 100 times again, I’d do it the same way,” he said. “We were winning the moral wars until that point.”