Who: Hoekstra for Senate, Michigan Republican Party
What: TV ads
Truth Squad calls: Flagrant foul on Hoekstra, Technical foul on Michigan GOP
Questionable statement: “What's the most watched sport around here? It's the debate about Debbie Stabenow being the worst senator ever. All of the taxes she voted for and her dismal record on jobs. It can get pretty heated.”
This ad takes place in a bar and mimics the old “Tastes Great, Less Filling” Miller beer commercials. It’s another in a series of ads in which Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra labels Democrat Stabenow as the “worst senator ever” without comparing her record to that of any other Michigan senator.
Questionable statement: “How many more Michigan people are out of a job since Stabenow took office? Drum roll please. In your face!”
One bar patron holds up a sign that says “196,587 more Michiganders unemployed.” The number is correct, as measured by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics series.
Questionable statement: ““Try this! These are just some of the times Stabenow voted to raise taxes on hard-working families. If you're married, have kids, run a small business, Stabenow has socked you big. Stabenow has even voted for the dreaded death tax!”
Another bar patron holds up a sign that says, "Debbie Stabenow voted to raise taxes 150 times. Against reducing the marriage tax. Against doubling the per child tax credit. To raise taxes on Michigan small business."
Viewers aren’t provided with sources for any of these statements. They are instead directed to a website, worstsenator.com, which also provides no background material for any of the claims made in the ad. The Hoekstra campaign did respond to an inquiry from the Truth Squad with a list of votes they used to get to the 150 total.
A note at the top of the list includes a variety of caveats in the calculation:
“The votes in this tally are votes against tax cuts as well as votes to raise taxes, votes in favor of reducing proposed tax cuts, votes for non-binding resolutions supporting taxes, votes to eliminate particular tax cut provisions while retaining others, etc. Because of this, the language must be votes “in favor of higher taxes” to be accurate. Be aware that in certain instances in the votes below, a majority of Republicans voted the way Stabenow did. Please also be aware that these votes cannot be characterized in a way that implies that each one would have resulted in a tax increase; this would be inaccurate.”
Stabenow, with most other Senate Democrats and two Republicans, did vote against the 2001 tax cuts, known as the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. The act included a cut in the capital gains tax, a credit for married couples filing joint income tax returns, an increase in the child tax credit and a phase-out of the estate tax, which Republicans like to call the “death tax.”
But in 2012, she voted to extend the Bush-era 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for households with incomes of under $250,000.
Questionable statement: Referee: “After further review, the ruling on the field is, you're both wrong! The reason why Stabenow is the worst ever is because of her wasteful spending!” Bartender: “He's a replacement ref.”
No examples of wasteful spending are cited in the ad. The bartender casts doubt on the call, pointing out that the official is just a replacement ref.
Overall impression: This ad has some accurate claims. For example, there are nearly 200,000 moreMichiganresidents counted as unemployed than there were at the start of Stabenow’s Senate tenure in 2001.
But, in another instance, the ad clearly contradicts the source material on which it is based – and ignores warnings about accurate use of the source material. The on-screen claim that Stabenow “voted to raise taxes 150 times” is, “inaccurate,” according to the Hoekstra campaign’s own source material, which urges, “Please also be aware that these votes cannot be characterized in a way that implies that each one would have resulted in a tax increase.”
And it’s a stretch to place the blame solely on the shoulders of a U.S.senator, as Hoekstra tries to do. Many others played a role. A Republican president led the country for eight of the nearly 12 years Stabenow has been in the Senate. AndMichigan’s decade-long economic decline started in the final two years of Republican Gov. John Engler’s tenure in office.
Stabenow voted against the 2001 tax cuts. She voted earlier this year to extend those tax cuts for “middle-class” taxpayers.
Hoekstra’s claim that Stabenow is the worst Michigan senator ever is just meaningless name-calling.
Foul or no foul: Flagrant foul.“Worst senator?” “Wasteful spending?” If you are going to use hyperbolic claims, you had better offer data to support the case. The Hoekstra camp with this ad is asking the viewer/voter to take the assertions at face value. Hoekstra also fails to explain how a single U.S. senator is personally responsible for the economic results of an entire state over an entire decade. Most seriously, the “voted to raise taxes 150 times” claim ignores and contradicts the very source material on which the claim is based.
Michigan Republican Party ads
Questionable statement: “Senator Debbie Stabenow is addicted to spending. Citizens Against Government Waste named her the ‘Porker of the Month’ for blatantly wasting taxpayer dollars.”
Stabenow was tagged with the dubious award in March for sponsoring a failed amendment that would have extended federal subsidies for green energy.
Citizens Against Government Waste was founded in 1984 by industrialist J. Peter Grace and journalist Jack Anderson as an effort to eliminate “waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in government.”
Questionable statement: “So it’s no wonder that Stabenow loaded her farm bill full of pork. While families and farmers are cutting their budgets, Stabenow pushed through a $969 billion bill that spends $25 million to study the health benefits of peas … $91 million for subsidies for popcorn … and $1.5 million to establish a grant program to improve the U.S. sheep industry.”
Stabenow is the sponsor of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, known as the farm bill. It’s a reauthorization of the 2008 farm bill that expired at the end of September. The Senate passed the bill, but the House has yet to vote on it. The particular numbers mentioned in the ad are correct.
The 1,010-page bill, which would spend $969 billion over 10 years on agriculture-related programs, has been criticized by some lawmakers for what they call pork barrel spending to benefit certain segment of the agriculture industry, such as crop and sheep farmers, and popcorn producers.
Others say the programs are needed as part of a research and marketing effort to help U.S. agriculture industry compete with other countries.
Questionable statement: “And creates a new authority to herd geese at JFK Airport.”
The farm bill would require the Department of Agriculture to remove geese from a wildlife preserve near John F. Kennedy International Airport. The provision was added by Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who said geese removal is needed to reduce bird strikes of airplanes flying in and out of the airport.
Questionable statement: “Can Debbie Stabenow explain the pork in her $969 billion Farm Bill? Say, $15 million for sheep?”
A second Michigan GOP ad shows Stabenow being asked at an event why it was necessary to include money for a sheep production and marketing program in the farm bill. The ad incorrectly states that the program will cost $15 million. It’s $1.5 million.
Stabenow says she can’t recall which of her colleagues pushed for the sheep program provision. An aide tells her it was Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana.
Overall impression: Providing government payments and other assistance to farmers has long been controversial. Stabenow is at the forefront of that controversy as the sponsor of a farm bill that would spend nearly $1 billion over 10 years.
The two ads produced by the Michigan GOP highlight relatively minor parts of the voluminous bill. And the “Sheepish” ad incorrectly states the cost of the sheep program as $15 million.
That ad also criticizes Stabenow for not being able to remember why the sheep program is important. It might be asking too much of an elected official to instantly recall every part of a 1,010-page bill, but the ad does raise a legitimate issue: Is there too much spending in the farm bill?
Stabenow has repeatedly pointed out that the bill cuts $23.6 billion in spending from the previous bill, a point that even farm bill critic Sen. John McCain of Arizona concedes.
The “Addicted to Spending” ad, in stating that Stabenow is pushing the farm bill at a time when “families and farmers are cutting their budgets,” seems to suggest that farmers oppose the bill.
However, the Michigan Farm Bureau has endorsed Stabenow for re-election. The Farm Bureau represents more than 200,000 farm family members in the state.
Foul or no foul: Technical foul. The state party got a bit sloppy with its $1.5 million vs. $15 million claim on the sheep, but since the party had it right in one ad, this does not appear to be part of a strategy to mislead. The ads are right on Stabenow’s “award” and on the farm bill numbers and on the video in which she doesn’t immediately recall the particulars of a program within the bill. But the ads don’t detail what constitutes “pork.” Michigan may not care about bird strikes at JFK, but New Yorkers may have a keen interest in preventing them – even to the point of using federal dollars. That’s the nature of writing big funding bills in Washington – the value of the spending varies from observer to observer.
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