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By Julie Kliegman April 30, 2014

Senate Majority PAC says Scott Brown voted to give oil companies tax breaks

The Senate Majority PAC, which employs several former aides to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has again struck former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who’s now running in New Hampshire to oust Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

The April 27, 2014, ad, titled "Baggage," focuses on Brown’s connection to "big oil."

"Scott Brown’s carrying some big oil baggage," the narrator says. "In Massachusetts, he voted to give oil companies big tax breaks. They make record profits. He collects over $400,000 in campaign contributions."

In this fact-check, we’ll focus on Brown’s votes. We’ll tackle his campaign contributions separately.

The Senate Majority PAC cited Brown’s votes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 against measures that would have kept the "big five" oil companies (Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips) from taking advantage of existing tax breaks. Sponsors of the measures sought to apply the roughly $24 billion in additional tax revenue toward energy efficiency and conservation.

Specifically, the measures would have prevented those five oil companies from using these existing tax breaks:

• Deductions on taxes paid to foreign governments

• Deductions on domestic manufacturing costs

• Deductions for intangible drilling costs

• Percentage depletion allowance for oil and gas wells

• Deductions for qualified tertiary injectant expenses

Three of these breaks applied specifically to the oil industry. The other two -- the ones about manufacturing costs and taxes paid to foreign governments -- can be claimed by businesses other than oil companies. If passed, these five provisions would still have applied to companies beyond the "big five" oil firms.

In each of these three years, the measures failed -- by margins of 35-61 in 2010, 52-48 in 2011 and 51-47 in 2012. Majorities weren’t enough in the final two years, since those measures required 60 votes in order to cut off debate and take a final vote.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the 2012 bill. In 2011, she voted the same way, along with fellow Maine Republican Susan Collins. In 2010, no Republican supported the measure.

Brown joined most Republicans and a few Democrats from oil states in voting against the measure each time it hit the floor. Ironically, the Senate Majority PAC supports this year’s re-election bids of two other Democratic senators who voted the same way on these measures as Brown did -- Mark Begich of Alaska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

The bill’s opponents sometimes cited a March 2012 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that concluded that withholding subsidies from companies could increase prices at the pump.

In general, then, the ad is correct that Brown sided with the position of "big oil" on these votes. However, the ad’s claim is phrased slightly misleadingly. Rather than voting "to give oil companies big tax breaks," Brown voted not to take away the tax breaks that oil companies were already using. Also, it’s worth noting that two out of the five tax breaks in question were not targeted only at oil companies but were tax breaks that non-oil companies could benefit from, as well.

Our ruling

A Senate Majority PAC ad said Brown "voted to give oil companies big tax breaks." For three years in a row, Brown did indeed vote against measures that would’ve barred the biggest five oil companies from taking advantage of tax breaks they already enjoyed. That’s slightly different than what the ad says -- rather than voting to give the companies a new break, as the ad implies, Brown voted to support the status quo. Still, the ad is correct to suggest that Brown was voting in concert with the biggest oil companies on that legislation.

We rate the ad’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources, S.940 - Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, May 10, 2011

Congressional Research Service, "Oil and natural gas industry tax issues in the FY2013 budget," March 2, 2012

Email interview with Colin Reed, Scott Brown campaign spokesman, April 29, 2014

Email interview with Ty Matsdorf, Senate Majority PAC spokesman, April 29, 2014

The Hill, "Senate defeats Democrats’ measure to kill off ‘Big Oil’ tax breaks, 51-47," March 29, 2012

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 63, March 29, 2012

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 72, May 17, 2011

U.S. Senate, roll call vote 187, June 15, 2010

Washington Post, "Obama calls on Congress to repeal federal subsidies for oil industry," March 1, 2012

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More by Julie Kliegman

Senate Majority PAC says Scott Brown voted to give oil companies tax breaks

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