How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||The National Republican Congressional Committee|
|What:||“South Michigan Update” attacking Pam Byrnes|
|The Call:||Flagrant Foul|
Democrat Pam Byrnes is challenging Republican incumbent Tim Walberg in the 7th Congressional District, which covers much of the area between Lansing and the southern border of Michigan. The district runs from Coldwater on its western edge, to Monroe on its eastern edge.
The National Republican Congressional Committee created a website called “South Michigan Update” that resembles a news website, complete with what appears to be a news article and a byline.
The NRCC set up numerous websites across the country that attack Democratic candidates. Here’s one called the “Central Valley Update,” attacking a Democratic candidate Amanda Renteria in the 21st Congressional District in California.
Interestingly, the byline on the article in the “Central Valley Update” is the same as the byline on the “South Michigan Update.” Apparently “Geoff” logs a lot of miles between Michigan and California.
On both sites, the “most viewed” entry on the right side of the page is a campaign ad for the Republican candidate running in the race.
Dated Aug. 1 under the headline, “Byrnes struggles to escape her record,” the page is a fairly standard political attack – mining Byrne’s voting record in the Michigan Legislature for instances in which she supported higher taxes to make the case that she is too liberal. According to the fake news article on the website, “Byrnes voted for countless taxes – a 6 percent sales tax on services, an 11.5 percent income tax increase, and a 22percent business tax surcharge.”
The income tax and sales tax increases were part of a budget deal in 2007 that ended a brief government shutdown.
The website does not mention that both those tax increases could not have passed without Republican votes, because Republicans were the majority party in the Michigan Senate.
The claim Byrnes voted for a 22 percent business tax surcharge is a reference to the Single Business Tax being replaced in 2007 by the Michigan Business Tax.
Byrnes did vote to replace the SBT with the MBT, but the website fails to provide the context that some Republicans in the House also voted for the change, and that a majority of the votes in support of the replacement in the Senate came from Republicans.
At the bottom of the page, in tiny print, is a notice that the website is “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidates’ committee.”
The websites have received national attention, and general condemnation because of their deceptive tactics.
Walberg campaign manager Stephen Rajzer referred Truth Squad to the NRCC for comment.
NRCC spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato told Michigan Radio that the site does not pose any ethical problems because no one would believe the anti-Byrnes website or other similar websites are actual news sites.
“These aren’t news sites. They are – and they’re not fake; they’re real attack websites. They’re real political attack websites. They’re not meant to be news websites and they’re not news sites,” Scarpinato told Michigan Radio.
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
This is one of the easier Michigan Truth Squad calls of the political season. Creating a website meant to fool voters into believing it is a news site, and publishing a fake news story attacking a candidate, is the height of deception and a disservice to the public. It’s not the charges made in the “story,” (that’s pretty standard fare in political campaigns), it’s the clear effort to deceive the electorate that earns the foul.