Mysterious outside group earns foul in Genesee Co. primary from Truth Squad

Who: Michigan Liberty Project, 48th House District Democratic primary
What: Mailings of “How Much Cash Is Too Much?”  and "What Do You Call Politicians That Promote Public Schools for Your Children But Private Schools for Theirs?"
Truth Squad call: Foul

The ads take aim at Pam Faris, a candidate for the 48th House District seat in Genesee County outside of Flint. Faris is opposed by Patrick "Shorty" Gleason in the Democratic primary. It is unclear who produced the mailings. The return address labels say Michigan Liberty Project, with an address in Grandville, on the other side of the state from the 48th District. The mailings do not include a disclaimer saying who paid for them.

A search of the state’s corporation listings found nothing on Michigan Liberty Project. Similarly, a search of the state’s campaign finance database found nothing for “Michigan Liberty Project.”

"It's very important for voters to know who is paying for campaign messages, so they are able to evaluate those messages completely," said Rich Robinson of the watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "There is a fundamental right to free speech, but there is not a fundamental right to launder money to have your say. People who want to buy the outcome of an election have to be held accountable for their actions."

The Faris campaign has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office. However, because the mailings do not directly urge voters to cast ballots for or against a candidate, they may not fall under the Campaign Finance Act disclosure requirements, according to Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Questionable statement: “The Faris-Cherry Family Has Taken Over $3 Million from Taxpayers. And Now They Want more.”

Questionable statement: "For over 30 years, the Faris-Cherry family has lived high on the hog because of taxpayers. We've given them over $3 million since 1983."

The statements are at best vague and misleading. Through use of terms such as “taken” and “high on the hog,” they suggest money was gained in a less than legitimate fashion.  It is unclear how the $3 million figure is tabulated, although much of it presumably comes from the salary of John Cherry, husband of House candidate Pam Faris.

Cherry served eight years as lieutenant governor and 20 years in the Michigan House and Senate, including eight years as a Senate Democratic leader. It may include the salary of Cherry's sister, who also served in the Legislature. It may also include Faris' salary when she worked in the Genesee County Prosecutor's Office and as jury coordinator.

Regardless, the fact is that Cherry earned a salary in high-level political positions, ones he held because voters elected him and Democratic senators selected him for leadership.  There is no stated relevance to how such service relates to Faris’ candidacy this year.

Questionable statement: “Health Care for Life. And Now They Want More. Pam will get $79,000 a year, full benefits, plus a 401K pension package if she is elected.”

John Cherry, like other lawmakers from his era, benefitted from a generous retiree health-care benefit. The big criticism was they could get lifetime benefits after just six years in office. However, Cherry served 28 years in the House, Senate and lieutenant governor's office. More to the point: If Faris is elected, she will be eligible for the same salary and compensation package as other state representatives.

Questionable statement: “$3 Million Should Be Enough for Pam Faris and John Cherry. But Now They Want More.”

The statement repeats the insinuation that Faris is in the race just for the money. There is no evidence that that is more true for her than any other candidate.

Questionable statement: “Public Schools Are Good Enough for Your Children, But Not Good Enough for Her Children. Pam Faris Sent Her Children to An Exclusive Private School.”

Faris and Cherry's now-adult children attended private school. While their children were growing up, Cherry was a legislator working in Lansing, and Faris was working for the county.  She said she sent her children to a private school that had more convenient child care and was closer to work.

Overall impression: The ads apparently take advantage of shortcomings in state law that allow political mailings to be sent without disclosing who is paying for them. They seek to build off anti-politician. There is no discussion of differences between candidates or issues like taxes, roads or school reform -- mostly the suggestion that voters should defeat Faris because they elected her husband in the past.  

Truth Squad call: Foul.

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Tue, 08/07/2012 - 12:31pm
Will we ever see true campaign finance reform with full disclosure of donors?