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Fact Squad | Meijer goes low, misleads with ad tying Scholten to ‘extremists’

Republican Peter Meijer is firing first — and going negative — in his campaign against Hillary Scholten for the 3rd Congressional District, claiming she’s backed by “extremists” and riot sympathizers.

In a TV ad that debuted this week, Meijer contrasts his work in the military and cleaning up Grand Rapids after unrest this summer with Scholten, a Democrat he claims is associated with radicals.

The ad concocts a eyebrow-raising conclusion from thin facts. It’s misleading and plays on emotion and fear when the contrast between the candidates is stark enough without hyperbole.

The Claims

The 30-second ad, “On Our Side,” contrasts black-and-white images of Scholten, a Democrat and civil rights attorney, with inspirational video of Meijer, a U.S. Army veteran whose family founded the Meijer retail chain.

Meijer is seen doing good deeds, volunteering during the pandemic and helping veterans. As for Scholten?

“You are the company you keep. So who’s on Democrat Hillary Scholten’s side?” the ad says. “Scholten worked with activists who aided violent rioters and is funded by Hollywood liberals trying to defund the police. Hillary Scholten is backed by extremists.”

The two are vying to succeed Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican-turned-independent who is not seeking re-election, to represent the west Michigan district. 

The Facts

The ad includes no details about the backers of Scholten. When asked by Bridge Michigan for clarification, a spokesperson for the Meijer campaign said the “activists who aided violent rioters” refers to the American Civil Liberties Union, the “Hollywood liberals” are actress and activist Alyssa Milano, and the “extremists” are NARAL-Pro Choice America, Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List.

The three connections:

While they are all based on some truth, the arguments together add up to a conclusion that is shaky at best.

The ACLU is a 100-year-old legal defense group that describes itself as nonpartisan. And while the group has its share of critics and has objected to some criminal charges filed against protesters, there is no evidence it has directly “aided violent rioters.” 

Milano, whom Scholten referred to as her “childhood TV idol” and “phenomenal” women’s rights activist, is singular Hollywood liberal, not the multiple ones as the ad states. 

The three groups that have endorsed Scholten are united in their advocacy for abortion access. No doubt, that is divisive, but extreme? A Gallup poll this May indicates 79 percent believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances and 48 percent of Americans identify as “pro choice.”

“It’s disappointing that Peter Meijer decided to go negative right out of the gate with scare tactics and Washington Republican talking points,” Scholten campaign manager Wellesley Daniels told Bridge.

Asked for comment, Meijer spokesperson Noah Sadler repeated the claims about Milano and called her an “extremist.”

“Ms. Scholten, who herself has labeled my boss a ‘far-right extremist,’ is not the target of our ad, but the questionable company she keeps,” Sadler said.

The Conclusion

The ad uses provocative and vague language to demonize Scholten, which is a disservice to voters because the facts speak for themselves.

Scholten is a progressive, who spent her career fighting for traditionally liberal causes such as housing equity and LBGTQ and immigration rights. 

Meijer is a conservative — describing himself on his campaign website as “100 percent pro life” who favors a strong military and reduced regulations. 

Voters would be better served with ads that highlight that contrast, rather than demagoguery.

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