Claim Check: Tom Foley, Sprague and The Bibb Co.

by Categorized: Business, Claim Check, Employment, Politics Date:

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No matter what twists and turns the gubernatorial race takes in the next 11 weeks, one thing seems abundantly clear: Democrats will never tire of airing video of Republican Tom Foley sparring with workers at a struggling paper factory in Sprague.

With Foley’s victory in last week’s Republican primary for governor, incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy wasted no time putting out a TV ad replaying the awkward confrontation – and tying it to Foley’s past control of a defunct textile plant that featured prominently in anti-Foley ads four years ago.

It’s an irresistible play. But is it accurate?

As we did four years ago during the first match between Malloy and Foley, the Courant is reviving Claim Check, our political ad fact-checking feature that evaluates the truthfulness of the candidates’ claims. You can read an explanation of the process here.

So how does the Malloy ad rate? The spot has two parts: characterizing Foley’s exchange at the Sprague plant and exploring his ownership in the 1980s and ‘90s of the Bibb Co., a Georgia textile manufacturer. In both sections, the ad makes reasonable representations, and in particular, this ad’s treatment of the Bibb Co. avoids problems that cropped up in ads four years ago.

The ad opens with video – ominously cast in a blue filter – of Foley’s July 29 encounter with workers and the Sprague first selectwoman at the Fusion Paperboard plant, which has been targeted for closure by its out-of-state owners. In the clip, Foley chides a worker for wanting to “blame” and “malign” the plant’s corporate owners, and declares: “Listen, you have failed because you have lost these jobs.”

The 10 seconds of video is obviously a small excerpt of the entire exchange, but the ad does not unfairly edit Foley’s remarks nor present them out of context. After the clip, the narrator asserts that Foley is “attacking” the workers; that’s strong language, but generally a matter of interpretation not subject to fact-checking.

The Bibb history is more complicated, and while the ad confuses the company’s timeline, it sticks to defensible claims about Foley’s connection to the Georgia plant.

The ad asserts that Foley “bankrupted the Bibb Co., costing hundreds their jobs” and that “Foley and his company made $20 million.”

Here’s the history: Foley’s investment firm took over the troubled Bibb Co. in 1985, and Foley had taken personal charge of the company by 1996, when the decision was made to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s rough language to say that Foley “bankrupted” the business, and Foley has argued that it was the changing economics of the textile industry that made bankruptcy unavoidable. But it’s not inaccurate to attribute the bankruptcy to Foley.

The ad continues with the line, “costing hundreds of jobs,” which gives the impression that the bankruptcy action led to those job losses. But the ad’s support for the claim is an article in a home-furnishing’s trade newspaper that came out a year before the bankruptcy filing. That publication notes that after Foley stepped in as CEO of the Bibb Co. in 1994, he embarked on a cost-cutting plan that included eliminating about 500 of the company’s 6,000 employees. But that occurred pre-bankruptcy.

As a result, the ad gets it’s timing wrong, but the key element of the claim – that Foley made decisions that led to a reduction in the company’s workforce – is supported (and in fact defended by Foley, who has said he was trying to save the failing plant). In addition, there is evidence that workers – possibly hundreds – lost their jobs in a post-bankruptcy spinoff.

Lastly, the ad asserts that “Foley and his company” made $20 million from Bibb. Foley’s management company did in fact collect as much as $4 million a year from Bibb, and Foley has not disputed the $20 million figure, although he has said he personally received only about 20 percent of that money and that the fees supported a large number of employees who provided management services.

But the ad’s main assertion — that Foley and his company received the money — is fair, and doesn’t repeat false assertions made in ads four years ago that Foley personally pocketed $20 million.

This commercial from Malloy has a lack of clarity about the timing of job losses at the Bibb Co. two decades ago. But in matters of substance, the spot overall is fair in its presentation of contemporary events in Sprague and past events in Georgia. As such, we rate this ad Generally Accurate.

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