Anti-Walberg ad receives flagrant foul for evidence-free claim about flights

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

Who:Pam Byrnes for Congress
What:30-second video “Real Talk”
The Call:Flagrant Foul

Relevant text of the ad:

“Congressman Walberg makes what - $174,000 a year? Plus $60,000 from the state? That’s a lot more than most of us.”

Tim Walberg is the Republican incumbent serving the 7th Congressional District, which encompasses a large swath of Southeast Michigan, from Lansing and Coldwater on the western border, to Monroe on the east. He is being challenged by former state Rep. Pam Byrnes.

In the 30-second ad, voters ranging from a mom strapping a child into a car seat to an angry senior citizen voice various complaints about Walberg.

Walberg does indeed earn $174,000 a year as a congressman, as do most members of the House of Representatives (House leaders earn a little more). Walberg also gets $60,000 in pension from the state for the 16 years he served in the Michigan House of Representatives from 1983 to 1998. Pam Byrnes was a member of the House from 2004 to 2010 but does not receive a pension, because pensions were replaced by 401(k) savings programs for legislators elected after 1998.

It’s unclear whether the person in the ad believes Walberg should be paid less than other congressmen, or if he should have rejected the pension that was given to all state legislators who served when he served.

Relevant text:

“Congress gets first-class trips and private gyms, and we get higher prices and bigger headaches.”

The issue of banning members of Congress from flying first class on the taxpayer’s dime has been a regular campaign issue. Congress members receive a travel allowance based on the distance from their home states to Washington, D.C.

The Byrnes campaign did not respond to Truth Squad’s request for citations of Walberg taking advantage of his travel allowance to fly first class. “If Pam Byrnes were on the flights from Michigan to DC and DC to Michigan,” said Walberg campaign manager Stephen Rajzer, “which Tim takes every week, she would see him in coach.”

The Senate and House both have private gyms. If elected, Byrnes would have the same access to the gym, raising the question of whether the mother in the ad would then be angry at Byrnes.

Her campaign also made no effort to substantiate a link between the congressional perks cited and whatever it was referencing in terms of “higher prices.”

Relevant text:

“Walberg kept his big salary after voting for the government shutdown? If my business is shut down, I don’t get paid.”

During the federal government shutdown in the fall of 2013, many members of Congress said they would not accept their salary while other federal workers were furloughed.

Walberg did not request that his salary be waived. But the ad doesn’t mention that Congress members who requested their pay be withheld during the shutdown received their back pay when the shutdown ended (furloughed federal workers also were paid). Some Congress members, though, said they were donating their salaries earned during the shutdown to charity.

The call:Flagrant Foul

This is perhaps the most cynical ad of the election season, playing on grievances (such as congressional salaries and travel allowances) that have nothing to do with Walberg’s voting record, and which individual members have little power to change.

The ad accurately lists Walberg’s salary, pension, and the fact that members of Congress have access to private gyms. But those are complaints voters could make about almost any member of Congress (and would apply equally to Byrnes if she were elected). It’s true that Walberg didn’t offer to waive his salary during the 2103 government shutdown, but it’s also fair to note that members who waived their salaries later got their back pay.

The ad portrays a public angry at Washington fat cats, and clearly wants viewers to believe, without proof, that Walberg is feeding at the taxpayer trough of first-class cabin service.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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