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Fact Squad | Truth blurred in John James ad claiming Peters is ‘invisible’

John James Peters ad

LANSING — A new TV ad from Republican challenger John James calls Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters the “invisible man” and accuses him of “doing nothing” in Washington D.C. except double his own personal wealth. 

The commercial uses verifiable facts but omits relevant context and makes broad generalizations to reach conclusions that are subjective at best.

The 30-second ad, which the James campaign began airing last week in Detroit, is the latest in a string of Republican attacks against Peters, the first-term incumbent from Bloomfield Hills who served six years in the U.S. House before winning election to the Senate in 2014.

The Claims

 

As Peters fades from a series of shots, leaving only his outline, a narrator says the senator has been “invisible for Michigan,” doing “nothing to prepare us for COVID… nothing for our economy" and "nothing to protect workers.” 

The commercial claims Peters "does not show up for work." He skipped 84 percent of small business hearings and 89 percent of hearings on China, the ad claims.

"But Peters has done one thing: get rich in public office," the narrator says as an apparent running tally of his net worth flashes across the screen . "Doubled his wealth.”

The Facts

While it’s fair to ask whether Peters did enough to prepare the United States for COVID-19, improve the national economy or protect workers, the claims that he did “nothing” are obvious exaggerations. 

As Bridge has reported, this year Peters voted for a $2 trillion economic relief package, for instance. And as the top Democrat on the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he teamed with Chairman Ron Johnson on a January letter asking the Trump administration to explain its preparedness for COVID-19.

The ad makes two claims about committee attendance to bolster its argument that Peters is a do-nothing. Both are presented without citation or context. 

The first assertion, according to the James campaign, is based on attendance records from before Peters was elected to the Senate and missed 84 percent of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business in 2011 and 2012. The hearings covered broadband access, environmental regulations, the death tax and capital access for small firms .

Once in the Senate, Peters was appointed to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which does not set policy but was created by Congress to monitor human rights and the rule of law in the communist country. 

When he was appointed to the panel, Peters said it would help him “work to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices and currency manipulation, so that American companies and American workers can compete on a level playing field.” 

Records show he was present at two of 18 hearings between 2015 and 2019.

The Peters campaign notes he has strong attendance records on the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services committees that also help oversee federal China policy. And he’s missed 13 floor votes since joining the Senate in 2015, according to Gov Track, which is less than 1 percent of the 1,686 roll call votes.

Likewise, it’s true that Peters has doubled his wealth since taking office, according to personal financial disclosure reports filed as a candidate, congressman and senator.  

While those forms only list a range of possible values, it’s reasonable to estimate the stocks, mutual funds, bonds and other assets that Peters and his wife reported in October 2008 were likely worth about $1.8 million. By 2019, his assets were worth an average of $4.5 million. 

The wealth claim is factual but again lacks context. Peters’ investments generally kept pace with the stock market, which dropped precipitously in the fall of 2008 during the Great Recession but has grown considerably over the past decade. The Dow Jones Industrial Average roughly tripled between October 2008 and the end of 2019.

The Conclusion

Missed committee hearings are fair game in elections, and the public deserves to know whether elected officials show up for assignments they boast about. 

But ads should also be honest about their ammunition. 

Criticizing Peters for missing hearings in an ongoing commission he bragged would help American workers is valid. Dredging up attendance on a committee that was nearly a decade and another job in the past is less so.

Overall, the ad blends some facts with hyperbole and skips context that would allow voters to decide Peters’ effectiveness as a senator.

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