San Diego’s high-profile candidates for mayor debated nonprofit issues at a forum last week, and Congressman Bob Filner joined the discussion by phone while his three rivals attended in person.

When Filner introduced himself over the loudspeakers to hundreds in the audience, he described why he was in Washington, D.C. and not at the event in San Diego.

“Thank you for allowing me to participate by phone,” Filner said. “I was voting today to make sure there were — to keep tax deductions for charitable organizations.”

A few people snickered at first, but then the audience filled with applause and cheers. We wrote the statement down in our notebooks for a possible Fact Check.

Filner’s statement portrayed him fighting for the audience’s interests in Congress. But his description was not true. Congress didn’t address any legislation about tax deductions for charitable organizations on March 26, so Filner couldn’t have voted on what he said he did.

Congressional records show Filner voted against two bills that day. Both amended Wall Street regulations and had nothing to do with charitable organizations. He acknowledged that in an interview.

“There is no bill,” he said. “It was a joke.”

Filner said everyone at the event knew what nonprofit-related proposals were before Congress and therefore knew that he was joking. The statement was meant to be more symbolic of his support for nonprofits than a reflection of his actual activities, he said.

But if it was a joke, it didn’t land. We surveyed seven people who said they attended the forum. Most work for nonprofits. One thought Filner might’ve been joking but wasn’t sure. Six said they thought Filner was seriously explaining his absence.

Though Filner’s description was clearly inaccurate, we decided against writing a Fact Check about his statement because we couldn’t gather enough information about the surrounding context. It’s unclear whether he was actually joking or deliberately misleading the audience.

Still, our survey showed at least some audience members thought Filner was describing actual legislation, so we wanted to set the record straight for them and others. If you attended the forum, we’d love to hear what you think about Filner’s statement. Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below or by sending me an email.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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