Truth Squad foul on ad saying Barrett is beholden to Koch group

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Flagrant foul

A false statement about a candidate’s position or a fact involving policy. It’s one thing to point out differences between records. It’s another for a candidate or third-party group to present false information or inaccurately portray a candidate’s political record.

Regular foul

A statement that distorts a candidate’s record or a fact involving policy, or which omits a fact that is essential to understanding a candidate’s position.

Warning

A statement that may be generally truthful, but lacks context and could easily mislead or be misconstrued.

No foul

A statement, however strident, that is based on accurate facts.

tombarrett

Who: Michigan Democratic Party
What: 71st state House campaign flyer
The call: Regular Foul

One-term Democratic incumbent Theresa Abed seeks a second term in the competitive 71st state House district west of Lansing. The former social worker is opposed by Republican Tom Barrett, a U.S. Army veteran and member of the Michigan Army National Guard who is on leave from his job as a state Treasury Department liaison. The campaign has often been a fair exchange of ideas. But jousting over the role of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative 501(c)4 group launched by billionaires Charles and David Koch pushes it into more combustible territory. AFP is not required to disclose its donors. The flyer features an elderly couple looking at an AFP flyer for Barrett on one page, a pile of cash on the other.

Relevant text of the ad:

“When you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a politician, you want something in return. You may have received flyers in the mail from Tom Barrett's out-of-state backers. What do they want?

…The out-of-state billionaires spending money on Tom Barrett want to cut Social Security benefits in order to put more money in the pockets of corporate special interests.

Barrett's Lansing crew created the new tax on retirees. Barrett is propped up by the same Lansing politicians who taxed retirement income and raised property taxes for seniors and working people.

Barrett defended $333,000 political salaries – on the taxpayers’ dime. When Barrett's cronies at the Treasury Department received raises to as high as $333,000, Barrett said: 'I don't think that is an outrageous salary to support.'

With Tom Barrett, Lansing insiders and out-of-state interests come first.”

Statements under review:

“When you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a politician, you want something in return. You may have received flyers in the mail from Tom Barrett's out-of-state backers. What do they want?”

In April, according to Lansing-based news service Gongwer, Americans for Prosperity-Michigan announced it was sending out mailers calling Abed a “key Obamacare collaborator” for her vote to expand Medicaid in Michigan and for supporting a federal health exchange under the law. The Michigan Democratic Party provided Bridge Magazine images of another AFP flyer supporting Barrett for his stance on fixing Michigan roads.

AFP was founded in 2004 by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch to further their belief in free-market and conservative government principles. It is fair game to ask what AFP wants in return. As to the exact amount it spent on these flyers, that information is not directly available; flyers for a state House race typically cost several thousand dollars. AFP is not required to report spending on campaign material that is “educational” and does not specifically say vote for or against a certain candidate. Scott Hagerstrom, state director for AFP-Michigan, declined to say how much AFP had spent on flyers in this race. Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Pugh said he is confident AFP had spent “tens of thousands” of dollars on flyers on behalf of Barrett based on the typical cost of such mailings.

“The out-of-state billionaires spending money on Tom Barrett want to cut Social Security benefits in order to put more money in the pockets of corporate special interests.”

In 1980, David Koch ran for vice president of the Libertarian Party. It has been widely reported that the party platform called for a dismantling of Social Security and making it instead a voluntary contribution program. In 2012, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a sister organization of AFP, issued a policy statement calling for a privatization option for Social Security. Under its proposal, workers could opt to stay with traditional Social Security or invest their payroll tax contributions through a personal savings account. “Instead of seeing their hard-earned dollars funneled through Washington to pay for current retirees’ benefits, workers would truly own and control the accumulated funds and could invest them with a wide variety of investment funds offering different mixes of stocks and bonds and different levels of risk and reward,” the foundation stated.

There is disagreement whether an optional private investment plan to Social Security would be beneficial to participants. Depending on the market, investments could do better than the rates guaranteed by Social Security - or they could do worse. Opponents of a private option say it could benefit those who own stocks by boosting the amount of money in the market.

“Barrett's Lansing crew created the new tax on retirees. Barrett is propped up by the same Lansing politicians who taxed retirement benefits and raised property taxes for seniors and working people.”

“Barrett's Lansing crew” is an apparent reference to legislation pushed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and passed in 2011 by a Republican majority to raise income taxes by $1.4 billion, including a a $343 million hike in taxes on pensions, a $261 million tax hike on low-income individuals and $270 million in taxes on homeowners. Barrett’s campaign statements do show contributions from a number of GOP political action committees, including those of House Majority Leader Jase Bolger and state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons of Kent County. But it is also true that Barrett opposes the pension tax, a position he outlined in the Michigan Voters Guide: “I do not support the pension tax that was passed in the last legislature.”

Barrett defended $333,000 political salaries – on the taxpayers’ dime. When Barrett's cronies at the Treasury Department received raises to as high as $333,000, Barrett said: 'I don't think that is an outrageous salary to support.'

In 2013, Michigan's chief investment officer, Jon Braeutigam received a 90 percent pay hike from $175,000 to $333,000. Other investment officials in the Treasury Department got pay hikes of 80 percent or more. Snyder pushed for the hikes and said they were needed to keep qualified people, while stating they are tasked with managing $70 billion in public funds. It’s worth noting that the officials labeled as “cronies” of Barrett are actually civil servants and that the pay hikes had to be approved by the bipartisan state Civil Service Commission.

In support of the flyer, Pugh, the Dem spokesman, furnished Bridge a recording of Barrett talking about the salary increases. In the recording, Barrett says: “I certainly see the reason why it's important to maintain that talent in Michigan and to have good people doing those jobs, so I think at the end of the day you've got to pay people a salary at a rate at which they're going to perform well and is going to retain them...He's making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. I don't think that is extravagant.”

In the recording, which Barrett does not dispute contains his voice, he acknowledges the raises given to state treasury officials, says he knows them, and, referring to one official making “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” says, “I don’t think that is extravagant.” Contacted by Bridge, Barrett said: “I was secretly recorded by an individual at an event at a private residence...Shockingly, the man who secretly recorded me did not include the context of my remarks.” In a follow-up email, Barrett writes: “They cut off my quote to suit their interests. I never said I support someone making $330,000 a year. It may not matter much but I told the man I thought that he was making about $200,000 a year."

“With Tom Barrett, Lansing insiders and out-of-state interests come first.”

This is the gist of this flyer’s attack, and the most problematic. And it reprises a classic campaign ad formula: Name an unpopular figure or issue. Then try to attach the scary (to some) figure or issue to target candidate B. AFP-Michigan did send out flyers backing Barrett and attacking Abed for her stand on Obamacare. The Democratic flyer was within the realm of fair debate in laying out AFP’s policy priorities and wondering what the organization wanted in return for its support of Barrett. This attack makes up the bulk of the flyer and, so far as it goes, accurately references AFP’s positions.

But nowhere does the flyer establish that Barrett puts Lansing insiders or out-of-state interests “first.” Even if Truth Squad were to accept that AFP expects a quid pro quo for its support, the Dems must support the claim that Barrett is putting his financial backers’ first. They fail to do so. For his part, Barrett says, “I do not know the Koch brothers and have never met them. I don't speak for them and they don't speak for me.” Whether or not Barrett is “propped up” by Lansing politicians is perhaps a matter of semantics. But if “Lansing insiders” come first, it is curious that Barrett staked out a position opposing the pension tax passed by Republicans.

The call: Regular Foul

There is no doubt AFP wants lots of things – lower taxes, less government, fewer unions, a private option for Social Security. And maybe it “wants something in return” from Barrett. That’s a fair question to raise. But the flyer and supporting material offered by the Michigan Democratic Party fail to establish that the interests of AFP or state Republican leaders actually “come first” for Barrett.

The Dems’ flyer also implied that Barrett specifically defended the $333,000 salary that one treasury official has received. The recording was not that specific, but it clearly indicated that Barrett was familiar with the controversy and generally supported the pay increases.

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Comments

Doug
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:00am
I have not seen any literature come from his own campaign. Everything that has come in the mail on he behalf has been from American's for Prosperity or the state GOP. What does he stand for? No one knows. If this is how he will operate if in office then maybe the they are correct and he will do as they say. Since he seems to be doing that in his campaign.
Doug
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:53am
WHAT does Abed stand for other than lies, pandering and misrepresentation? Everything YOU approve of?
Doug
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:46am
Please explain you statements. Lies? Pandering? Misrepresentation? I never said that I supported her. I just don't like the current law allowing money from other than the candidate's campaign or party to control the outcome of an election.
Big D
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:51am
"REGULAR" foul on the democrat party. ...says it all. Actually, there's too much negative campaigning period. Makes me ill. Maybe that's why they promoted Obamacare.
Carol Waltman
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:53am
Here's another thought. Tom Steyer's billions have paid for EPA regulations that now threaten the economy of the entire UP. Cost issues related to still more EPA regulations and the Presque Isle power plant are set to kick off a truly massive electric rate increase for residential, commercial and industrial users alike in January 2015.
Rich
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:05am
Aren't the Koch brothers number 6 on the big spenders list? I think the top 5 are all democrats. Maybe it's time to rethink the SCOTUS ruling that corporations are people, and even go so far as to limit or prohibit these outside investors in political campaigns.
PR
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:31am
"I think the top 5 are all democrats." The "I think" caveat is a clever way to give cover for posting a falsehood. Why don't you research it and post the top 5 names and respective parties along with a link? Nobody should believe you just on the basis of "you think" something.
Chuck Jordan
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:57am
If these big money spenders (both parties) didn't expect something in return, would they be wasting all that money? To say that money does not affect the decisions politicians make in office is naive. If corporations are people, why can't you marry one?
Barry Visel
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:25am
I may be wrong, but I believe the so-called new pension tax was actually the elimination of a tax exemption, not a new tax. If I'm correct, Bridge should call a foul on itself for perpetuating the "new tax" myth. I struggle with corporate campaign spending. Corporations can't vote, but they sure are regulated by government, and therefore should have some ability to have a say in elections. Seems to me a reasonable limit on what they can give, along with full transparency of all political contributions (including PAC's and similar groups) would be helpful.
Glenn Roehrig
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:58pm
For six years my pension was not taxed, now it is taxed. It's a new tax on my pension. Just because the Republicans characterize it as something else doesn't make it so. Also, don't come back with fairness argument. There is nothing fair about changing the terms after the fact. Just ask Snyder why he doesn't reveal the contributors to his Nerd Fund that he has said was a mistake. His response is that it's not fair to change the terms after the fact.
Barry Visel
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 8:53am
Fairness is exactly the issue Glenn. Our state government now picks winners and losers through our tax code to the tune of $30 Billion a year...that's what's not fair. I get to deduct mortgage interest, renters don't...that's not fair. My pension was always going to get taxed, your's wasn't...that's not fair. Our tax rates would be much lower if we didn't give away $30 Billion in tax credits, deductions and exemptions.
Glenn
Sun, 10/26/2014 - 4:24pm
You missed my point entirely. I'm talking about the unfairness of taxing a pension six years after the fact that I had been told for 40 prior years would not be taxed. If you knew that your pension would be taxed, you've got no complaint. The rules weren't changed for you after the fact. You knew it and you could have taken a lower paying job in the public sector if you wanted a pension exempt from income tax. That was the trade off. My claim that Snyder is a hypocrite in determining what's fair and what isn't to suit his own situation stands.
Charles Richards
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 2:19pm
The Truth Squad says, "AFP was founded in 2004 by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch to further their belief in free-market and conservative government principles. It is fair game to ask what AFP wants in return." Why would it be necessary for them to want anything in return? Isn't it possible that they believe that free-market, conservative principles will best promote the general welfare? Certainly, it is legitimate to disagree with their judgment about the wisdom of those principles, but what reason does anyone have to impugn their motives? This is another case of people demonizing those they disagree with. Our ancestors attributed their troubles to the "evil eye" or the "river gods;" we attribute ours to the dark conspiracies of evil "special interests." We do have large, severe problems, but they are attributable in large measure to the devaluation of the skills of a lot of people by automation. That automation will, in the long run, significantly improve the general welfare, but there will be severe dislocations in the short run. Our political debates should be about dealing with that transition. Instead, we are consumed about who gets what rather than discussing how to best solve our problems.
Charles Richards
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 2:53pm
None of the above should be construed as denying that "special interests" do not seek economic rents.