How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Ending Spending Action Fund|
|What:||One-minute TV ad “The Company”|
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
If there were any gloves left in Michigan's noxious U.S. Senate campaign, they came off and were incinerated in this ad. Sponsored by Ending Spending, a conservative 501(c)4 Super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder and former CEO Joe Ricketts, the ad features a gloomy voice-over, black-and-white images, a chart that evokes a Mafia crime family (with Peters’ mug at the top, natch) and sinister music as it tries to link Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters to three criminals. Among them are a restaurateur who donated to Peters’ campaign and was arrested for loansharking and the former chief of staff to disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, sentenced to prison in 2013 for mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering. Peters is running against the former Michigan Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.
Relevant text of the ad:
“The company you keep says a lot about you. Take Gary Peters. Peters has so many ties to convicted felons, it's hard to remember them all. There's Tomo Duhanaj, an illegal immigrant and convicted felon. He preyed on Michiganders illegally loaning money at super high interest rates and using threats of violence to collect. He was convicted, sentenced to 41 months in prison and deportation. Peters' campaigns took this criminal's money six times over two years and also from his wife and brother, arrested on federal weapons violations. Don't forget about Xhafer Laho, another convicted criminal. Peters' campaigns took Laho's money nine times over four years. Given all this, is it any surprise Peters hired Kwame Kilpatrick's chief of staff to work for his congressional office, a man who was convicted of bribery in his last government job? Gary Peters. Can we really trust him?”
Statements under review:
“Peters has so many ties to convicted felons, it's hard to remember them all. There's Tomo Duhanaj, an illegal immigrant and convicted felon. He preyed on Michiganders illegally loaning money at super high interest rates and using threats of violence to collect. He was convicted, sentenced to 41 months in prison and deportation. Peters' campaigns took this criminal's money six times over two years and also from his wife and brother, arrested on federal weapons violations.”
Duhanaj, owner of several restaurants in suburban Detroit and Oakland County, was arrested in August 2012 and charged with loan sharking. He was accused of floating loans at exorbitant interest rates to members of the Albanian community and threatening clients who did not pay. He was sentenced in March 2014 to 41 months in prison and ordered deported after finishing his sentence. The ad flashes a still photo of Peters at the side of Duhanaj at the 2011 ribbon-cutting of a restaurant in Rochester.
Fun fact: According to the Lansing-based Gongwer news service, that restaurant photo blurs out the images of two Republican mayors - Rochester Hills' Bryan Barnett and Rochester's Jeffrey Cuthbertson – who were also at the ceremony.
Gongwer also reported that Democrats retaliated against this ad “by noting that Ms. Land received $250 from Gary Rolls – a former Kent County commissioner - to her secretary of state campaign between 2003 and 2008. In May, Rolls pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct stemming from charges he molested a girl.”
But back to this crime ad. Federal campaign records show that Peters received six campaign contributions from Duhanaj totaling $7,400 in 2010 and 2011 – all before his arrest. Duhanaj gave to other campaigns, including the presidential campaign of Democrat Wesley Clark and U.S. Rep. Sander Levin. Federal records show the contributions to Peters were returned at the time of his arrest, on Aug. 3, 2012.
“Don't forget about Xhafer Laho, another convicted criminal. Peters' campaigns took Laho's money nine times over four years.”
Campaign finance records show that Laho gave nine donations totaling $6,100 to Peters from 2010 to 2014, both to his congressional and U.S. Senate campaigns. That included five $250 contributions in 2013 and 2014. Those were after Laho was charged in connection with the loan shark scheme in September 2012. He was just sentenced on Oct. 1 to four years in prison for making false statements and other violations. Peters’ campaign spokesperson Haley Morris said all his contributions were either returned or donated to charity prior to any campaign ad attacking Peters for his contributions. She noted that Peters has more than 20,000 individual contributors to his Senate campaign.
“Given all this, is it any surprise Peters hired Kwame Kilpatrick's chief of staff to work for his congressional office, a man who was convicted of bribery in his last government job?”
Peters hired Kandia Milton in late 2012 as a congressional liaison after Milton served as a volunteer on his campaign. Milton served as Kilpatrick's chief of staff after Kilpatrick's previous chief of staff, Christine Beatty, resigned following the revelation that she and Mr. Kilpatrick had lied under oath. Milton was sentenced to 14 months in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to illegally receiving $19,000 in the sale of Camp Brighton to the Chaldean Catholic Church in 2007. Peters spokesman Jared Smith said at the time: “Congressman Peters believes that individuals who acknowledge their mistakes, pay their debt to society and make a real commitment to doing the right thing going forward deserve a second chance.”
Milton left the congressional liaison job job in 2013. Peters campaign spokesperson Morris furnished Bridge a statement from U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen at Milton's sentencing hearing, saying that Milton's “cooperation has been robust and fulsome, and that is the reason that I say in your case I think your cooperation has been a major reflection of your contrition, remorse and the fact that you're on the path to redemption.”
Morris added: “Ending Spending has finally found a candidate in Terri Lynn Land who is so desperate she's willing to stomach these kind of out-of-bounds attacks.”
“The company you keep says a lot about you....Gary Peters. Can we really trust him?”
This is the crux of the ad. The connect-the-dots assertion: Peters took contributions from criminals and hired another criminal to serve as a congressional liaison, and therefore cannot be trusted. The statement “ the company you keep says a lot about you” implies an active relationship between Peters and all three figures cited. But loan shark Tomo Duhanaj made his contributions before his arrest. The ad presents no evidence of deeper ties between Peters and Duhanaj beyond Peters and other politicians posing for a meet-and-greet at the opening of one of his restaurants. (Truth Squad is reminded of other unfortunate photographic couplings between political figures and ne’er do wells here, here and here
This ad offers no evidence Peters knew of the alleged criminal activities of Xhafer Laho – even if he was charged in 2012 - at the time the campaign accepted his contributions. Neither contributor was a felon at the time they donated, and Peters’ campaign says the donations were returned or donated to charity. Tarring Peters for these contributions has about the same validity as attacking Land for accepting money from a person later convicted of a sex crime. There are likely few candidates in major races – with thousands of individual contributions – who would be immune from this tactic.
Peters’ hiring of Kandia Milton is another matter. Voters can judge for themselves whether the hire is proof of poor judgment or a compassionate second chance given to a contrite former official.
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
The ad is nominally accurate in that two men, who have criminal convictions, had given money to Peters' campaign. But the ad falsely implies that the men, Duhanaj and Laho, were both felons at the time of their donations (i.e., “...took this criminal’s money six times…”) and that Peters knew of their criminal backgrounds and accepted their money anyway, a portrait underscored with little subtlety by the Mafia-like organizational chart. (The Milton hire is fair game, since he had served time for bribery when he was hired by Peters’ campaign).
Given that high-profile campaigns like those for U.S. Senate seats draw thousands of donations from folks pristine and less so, attacking a candidate’s character for accepting money from donors before their criminal ways are exposed is dishonest and misleading. This over-the-top smear receives a Flagrant Foul.