Foul on Bishop for accusing opponent of tripling staff

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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:Mike Bishop for Congress
What:30-second video, “Fighting for Our Families”
The call:Regular Foul

Relevant text of the ad:

“Mike Bishop is the right choice. He protected our children by sponsoring Michigan’s Amber Alert law, passed laws requiring criminal background checks on school employees, and prohibited convicted sex offenders from working in our schools. Eric Schertzing lobbied for property tax increases, while tripling his office staff and taking pay hikes totaling 26 percent. Eric Schertzing is looking out for himself. Mike Bishop is fighting for our families.”

Statements under review:

“Mike Bishop Sponsored Michigan’s Amber Alert law. Mike Bishop Passed Mandatory Background Checks. Mike Bishop Helped Keep Sex Offenders Out of Our Schools.” (text shown on-screen)

The fight for the Congressional seat that includes Lansing and moneyed Oakland County has moved to the next round – a bout of short, public jabs. In a 30-second video that swings at the Democratic candidate, Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, a Republican, says he is fighting for families, while Schertzing is “looking out for himself.”

The candidates are vying for the 8th Congressional seat that includes Ingham County, which leans Democratic, and Livingston and Oakland counties, which tilt more toward Republicans. The seat opened after the announced retirement of the GOP’s Mike Rogers.

Schertzing won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Bishop, who was elected to the state House in 1998 and served a two-year term before serving eight years in the state Senate. Bishop served as Senate Majority Leader from January 2007 through December 2010.

The “Fighting for Our Families” video posted on YouTube and on the Bishop campaign website starts by touting Bishop’s legislative support for issues that resonate with parents – the Amber Alert system and sex offenders in schools – and moves on to quickly cast Schertzing as favoring hikes in taxes and his own pay.

Statements under review:

“(Bishop) protected our children by sponsoring Michigan’s Amber Alert law, passed laws requiring criminal background checks on school employees, and prohibited convicted sex offenders from working in our schools.”

Truth Squad previously called a foul on the Schertzing campaign for its video that suggested Bishop was solely responsible for shutting down the government twice while he was Senate Majority Leader battling then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm over the state budget.

Conversely, this video by Bishop’s campaign probably gives Bishop too much credit for positive legislative actions – sponsoring the Amber Alert law, criminal background checks on school employees and bans on convicted sex offenders working in schools.

Bishop was actually one of 15 sponsors and 39 co-sponsors for the Michigan Amber Alert Act of 2002. He also voted in favor of the 2005 School Safety law that required schools to conduct criminal background checks on employees and prohibited persons convicted of certain sex offenses or other serious felonies from being allowed to work in schools. The ad fails to note that so did every other member of the Legislature. (Apparently, there wasn’t a lot of debate over the relative merits of keeping sexual predators out of schools). So while the ad says Bishop was “fighting” for families on these measures, the reality is that this was a fight that lacked an opponent; he merely voted in lockstep with every other lawmaker in Lansing.

“Eric Schertzing lobbied for property tax increases.”

In 2008, Ingham County voters opposed a ballot measure to raise and cap property taxes. Instead of an expected reduction of $3 per $100,000 in taxable value (under the Headlee rollback), the proposal would have raised property taxes by $23 per $100,000 of taxable value to stave off an expected dip in revenues. The proposal would have set a combined 8-mill tax limit for the county, townships and intermediate school district. Schertzing told the Lansing State Journal that the change would’ve resulted in the county paying lower interest rates and that the county could later roll back the tax. (Schertzing told Bridge his comments did not amount to supporting this ballot measure. He said he did not take a position.)

Bishop’s campaign contends that Schertzing supported another ballot measure that called for a 4-mill tax. In a 2011 article about a Lansing ballot measure that ultimately failed, Schertzing told the Lansing City Pulse that a 4-mill tax to provide $8.5 million to address an expected $15 million budget shortfall in Lansing would “make sense.” Schertzing said the increase would not have been felt on many tax bills, and would’ve been offset by the 10% drop in local property values. Since property values in Lansing had decreased, three-fourths of city residents would’ve seen a decrease in their taxes despite the 4-mill tax increase, the Lansing city assessor said at the time. Voters rejected the 4-mill increase. While most taxpayers would not have seen higher taxes, some could have.

To further support the claim that Schertzing lobbied for tax increases, the video flashes “Lansing State Journal 2/19/12” in small letters across the screen under a photo of Schertzing as the narrator says, “Eric Schertzing lobbied for property tax increases.” The citation is actually a letter to the editor that Schertzing wrote in support of a 2012 ballot proposal that sought to extend a bond proposal for school construction. The question for Truth Squad then becomes: Is seeking the extension of a bond proposal (in other words, maintaining the status quo) the same as lobbying for a tax increase? Truth Squad would conclude that it is not.

"...while (Schertzing was) tripling his staff and taking pay hikes totaling 26 percent."

The Bishop campaign points out that Schertzing’s staff grew from three staffers in 2001 to 10 staffers in 2013. Actually, the staff grew to 12 workers in 2010, but was cut to 10 employees in 2011 due to countywide employee budget cuts, the 2013 Ingham county budget shows. In his defense, Schertzing noted that six of the new positions were approved and budgeted before he took office, with the others added only after his office took on additional responsibilities. The budgeting for his staff was ultimately approved by the county commission.

As for his pay increases, Schertzing does not dispute that his pay increased from $75,324 to $95,448 as Ingham county treasurer. But this ad fails to note that this pay increase spanned a 12-year period, from 2001 to 2013. Schertzing’s campaign manager, Abby Clark, points out that this increase was “less than the rate of inflation over that time period.” And while the ad says Schertzing was “taking” pay hikes, it’s worth that he didn’t give raises to himself. He accepted a pay raise that the county commission approved in the budget.

The call:Regular Foul

If Truth Squad could create the category, “incredibly extreme warning,” it would do so for nearly every statement in this video. This ad almost brilliantly straddles the line between eye-rolling warning and slam-dunk foul.

Bishop’s portrayal of himself as a fierce fighter for protecting children and families is based on votes that nearly the entire legislature had a hand in, and few if any opposed. Of course, if puffery were a crime, there would be steel bars encircling the capitol.

This video lapses into more specious arguments in its accusations that Schertzing lobbied for property tax increases. As noted in the three examples above, all cited by Bishop’s campaign, there is not a single instance showing Schertzing itching to raise taxes. To the contrary, the measures he spoke of would ultimately lower taxes for most people affected. Still, there is no question that one of the measures called for a 4-mill tax, enough to defend the wording.

The attack on Schertzing’s salary increases is factually true, though lacking context given the number of years involved. Where Bishop draws the foul is for accusing Schertzing of tripling his staff when the majority of those positions were budgeted before he took office.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Chuck Fellows
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:01am
Context is everyhting, after all. Think of all the campaign ads that conveniently omit the context. If they included it there would be no ad, no sound bite!
Thomas Morgan
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:09am
It's worth noting that the Lansing millage proposal mentioned in this article did not "ultimately" fail -- it failed in May 2011, then passed in November 2011. Not really an error, but more a clarification.
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:44pm
This article appears to require that a foul be called on Truth Squad. You indicate that Mr. Schertzing supported extending a bond proposal (that it, extending a millage burden for additional years); doing so means increasing taxes from what they would otherwise have been for those additional years. You indicate that Mr. Schertzing supported a proposal to increase the tax rate by 4 mills; doing so means increasing taxes, even if it would only (immediately) affect 1/4 of property owners due to a downturn in assessed and taxable values. You indicate that Mr. Schertzing may have supported "a measure to raise and cap property taxes"; doing so means raising taxes, even if "the county could later roll back the tax." Yet, after describing three instances of proposals to raise (def: to increase the amount or level of), you conclude that "there is not a single instance showing Schertzing itching to raise taxes."
david zeman
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 5:00pm
David, You will note that we did not call a foul on the claim that Schertzing sought to raise property taxes, for many of the reasons you allude to. What we were trying to point out is that the circumstances and the nuance on each of those issues was a lot more complicated than the ad would have viewers believe. Of course, that's not unusual in political ads, but at the same time we did not call a foul on this claim. David Zeman Bridge Editor