Three attack ads on Schauer are foul free; but the fourth is a doozy

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:Republican Governors Association
What:Four television ads, “The Schauer is Over,” “Foreign,” “Agua” and “Nurse.”
The call:Warning on “The Schauer is Over”
The call:No foul on “Foreign”
The call:No foul on “Agua”
The call:Flagrant foul on “Nurse.”

The RGA ads criticize Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer for supporting the “failed” federal stimulus program and a cap-and-trade energy proposal while serving in Congress, voting to raise taxes while serving in the state Legislature, introducing a bill to tax bottled water and supporting a fee on nursing home beds.

Each commercial is punctuated with the refrain, “Wrong. Expensive. Choices.”

The ads begin with grim, black-and-white video of rain showering down on abandoned buildings, meant to signify Michigan’s gloomy economy prior to Gov. Rick Snyder’s election in 2010. The ads end with this tagline: “The Schauer is over.” Get it?

Statements under review:

“In Congress, he voted for the failed stimulus and a massive energy tax. In Lansing, he supported taxes 40 times.”

As a member of Congress, Schauer did vote for the economic stimulus, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It resulted in $832 billion in government spending intended to ease the effects of the Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The stimulus program financed a variety of jobs programs, including infrastructure and renewable energy investments, and pumped billions of dollars into the depleted coffers of state governments.

Michigan, which struggled with the near collapse of the auto industry, received more than $17 billion in stimulus money, according to ProPublica.

Was the stimulus a “failed” program as the ad claims? The question has been much debated by supporters and critics. Republicans, who generally prefer tax cuts over government spending to stimulate the economy, say it largely failed because it didn’t create enough jobs. Democrats say the stimulus program succeeded because it headed off a full-blown economic depression. If anything, they say, it wasn’t big enough to counter the full impact of the banking crisis and the recession.

The nonpartisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office has issued periodic reports on the effectiveness of the stimulus program. In general, the CBO said the stimulus boosted economic output and employment above what would have occurred had it not been implemented. The CBO estimated the stimulus was responsible for between 700,000 and 3.3 million jobs, and gross domestic product growth of between 0.7 percent and 4.1 percent in 2010, though the CBO has also said the impact of the stimulus diminished in later years.

Schauer also voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The bill had a cap-and-trade provision designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent between 2005 and 2050. In a cap-and-trade system, the government caps greenhouse gas emissions at a certain level. Affected companies are allowed to buy and sell permits to emit these gases.

The bill passed in the House, but failed in the Senate and therefore did not become law.

The RGA ad also says that Schauer voted 40 times to raise taxes while serving in the state Legislature. But it does not provide a source for that claim.

The call:Warning

Schauer did vote for the federal stimulus package and another bill that would have implemented a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases. Certainly, the claim that the stimulus “failed” is problematic given the findings of the nonpartisan CBO. But the word “failed” is so subjective, depending on one’s political perspective, to be categorically labeled as true or false.

Statement under review in “Foreign”:

“In Congress, he voted for the stimulus, which sent our tax dollars to foreign companies.”

The ad’s text says Schauer voted to send “tax dollars to foreign companies for wind energy.” This refers to a provision in the 2009 stimulus package that provided $21 billion in incentives for the development of renewable energy, including solar and wind.

Republicans have long claimed that much of the money to develop wind energy went to foreign manufacturers. The assertion is based on 2009 and 2010 reporting by Russ Choma of American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Choma reported that foreign companies manufactured 1,219 of the 1,807 wind turbines built using federal stimulus funds.

But later, he wrote that the manufacturing sourcing issue is “complicated.”

“Some of those foreign-owned turbine manufacturers have factories in the United States and some American-owned turbine manufacturers have factories overseas. We simply don't know where all of the parts were made,” Choma wrote.

In 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed the stimulus program sent money to foreign wind turbine and solar companies, resulting in the “outsourcing of American jobs.”

Politifact, the fact-checking service of the Tampa Times, rated the claim “half true.”

Politifact said stimulus dollars did go to foreign companies, but it was because of a lack of American companies building key components to produce wind and solar power.

The call:No Foul

Stimulus funds to expand wind energy did go to foreign companies that built turbines for U.S. wind farms. While the ad failed to state that it was because of a shortage of U.S.-made components, political ads are not required to acknowledge all sides of an issue. That would be known as a “poor” political ad.

Statements under review:

“As a state legislator, he [Schauer] pushed for a 20-cent-per-gallon tax on bottled water. Water!”

In 2007, Schauer introduced Senate Bill 544, which would have enacted a 20-cent-per-gallon excise tax on companies “engaged in the business of bottling water in this state.” It would not have been a retail sales tax levied on consumers, although one could get that impression from the ad.

The bill would have required that $20 million a year from the tax to go to the state’s clean water and water quality protection funds. Any money collected above that amount would have gone to the state’s general fund. Schauer’s bill was sent to the Senate finance committee and was never put up for a vote.

“Who taxes water?” a woman in the ad asks.

The city of Chicago, for one. Though technically – and crucially – it is a tax on the bottling of water, not water itself. Chicago enacted a five-cent a bottle retail sales tax on bottled water in 2008. That tax, and efforts around the country to ban or discourage the use of plastic water bottles, are meant to address environmental concerns.

The debate in Michigan has centered more on whether bottled water companies should pay taxes or royalties for the right to bottle and sell the state’s water resources.

Former Lt. Gov. John Cherry proposed a 10-cent-per-gallon tax on bottled water companies during a short-lived bid to become governor in 2010.

The call:No Foul

Schauer did introduce the bottled water tax bill, as the ad states. It arguably could have been more specific in explaining that the tax was proposed on businesses that bottle Michigan water, and was not a direct tax to consumers. But it was a tax, which is what the ad claims.

Statements under review:

“Mark Schauer is a politician who has made wrong, expensive choices. Some defy reason. In the state Legislature, Schauer supported a new fee on nursing home beds.”

In 2002, Schauer voted for the Medicaid Quality Assurance Assessment Program. It enacted a nursing home bed fee, which the state used to leverage additional federal Medicaid money and increase Medicaid reimbursements to nursing homes. Money from this federal “matching fund” program went back to nursing homes that took part in Michigan’s Medicaid program. The program was supported by then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, and won bipartisan support in the Legislature.

“Michigan’s coming back without more fees on nursing home beds.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, Schauer’s Republican opponent (who this attack ad is intended to benefit) extended the nursing home fees to Oct. 1, 2015. In supporting the extension, Snyder’s office boasted at the time that the nursing fee would return more federal dollars to nursing homes than the homes would pay out in fees.

Snyder’s support for the same fee attacked in this TV ad was not lost on Schauer’s team. The ad hits "a new low by attacking Mark Schauer for a bill that was signed and extended by Rick Snyder," Schauer spokesman Zack Pohl told MLive. "This is the height of hypocrisy, and Rick Snyder should be ashamed."

The call:Flagrant Foul

Schauer’s vote to enact a nursing home bed fee did not “defy reason,” as the ad states. It benefited nursing homes by allowing the state to obtain additional federal Medicaid dollars to increase Medicaid reimbursements to those same nursing homes. Put simply, the tax would eventually return more money to nursing homes than was taken away.

Given that Snyder not only supported, but extended, the same fee, the ad’s failure to acknowledge this support is disingenuous. All of which makes the criticisms leveled again Schauer here cynical in the extreme.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 05/15/2014 - 8:48am
"Agua" is a technical foul, since the proposed tax does not tax water as the ad suggests.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 8:50am
Thanks for your easy to understand explanation. I really appreciate your effort to bring an element of truth to all these political criticisms. It is about time that someone took on this important responsibility!
david zeman
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 9:38am
Thanks for your note, Kathy. We try our best to cut to the core of political messaging and, without partisanship, measure the words used against the facts available. Best, David Zeman Editor Bridge Magazine
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 3:14pm
It's all misleading. If you don't tell the whole truth its a lie.
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 8:50am
Political campaigns are just so nasty these days and it is a major turnoff to have to be subjected to the barrage of character assassination coming from both sides. I vote out of a sense of obligation but with no real faith in the political institutions themselves in helping to make our lives better in some way.
John C
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 11:23am
I find these interesting - thanks for doing this. This is a valuable service, and hopefully it will keep all the parties and PACs on their toes. But I'm wondering, David - which members of the Bridge staff comprise the "Truth Squad," and what are the personal political leanings of those members? I know that you'll say this is impartial and nonpartisan, and that you're able to put aside your personal political leanings, but I think we're entitled to know how many Democrats and how many Republicans are on the Truth Squad.
david zeman
Fri, 05/16/2014 - 8:13am
Hi John, Thanks for your note and your inquiry. The answer to your question is, I don't know. I've never asked the political leanings of the staffers and veteran freelancers who help us with Truth Squads or any other articles that appear in Bridge. I wouldn't ask it for TS, I wouldn't ask it for any political story. I don't expect our writers to lack a political perspective; what I ask is that they put it aside to write research and fact-based journalism that is transparent so that readers can decide for themselves whether the final product is fair and worth reading. I think that's all you can ask of any journalist. And ensuring we're hearing the best from both sides of an issue or argument is part of our deliberative editing process. Our reputation as a nonpartisan organization devoted to improving Michigan's future depends on it. With TS, we are not evaluating the strength or the appeal of the political arguments and/or attacks in these ads. What we are analyzing are the underlying facts projected in the ads. In some cases it's easier and more direct than in others. But we do our best, and try to explain as plainly as possible how we render our judgment,and allow the work to speak for itself. People don't always agree with our overall conclusion, but at least they know how we got there. And it is "We," which is another reason why we don't assign a byline, this is a more collaborative approach than most other stories. Whichever writer is assigned takes a first shot at an analysis, and than at least one or two colleagues pick it apart, suggest changes or tweaks, we often debate the final call before reaching a decision. So we speak with an institutional voice because it's generally an institutional decision. I hope this helps. David Zeman Bridge editor
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 12:55pm
Great analysis. THANK YOU for giving a careful and thoughtful watch.
Mike R
Thu, 05/15/2014 - 6:00pm
John C: I disagree that we are "entitled to know" the political proclivities of the Truth Squad members. The only thing that matters is whether their conclusions are based on facts that are adequately explained and sourced, and analysis that is transparent. I believe they do that. Furthermore, I believe it would be an invasion of the individuals' privacy to ask their voting records (which is, after all, the only real measure of whether a person could be considered a Republican or Democrat). In the end, their writing should be judged on its own merits, not on the politics of the writers.
John C
Fri, 05/16/2014 - 9:07am
Appreciate your thoughts, Mike, but in the same way that reporters always let us know whether a poll we're reading is from a Democratic or Republican polling firm, it's insightful to know the political leanings of those who are analyzing partisan political ads. If I hear an analysis of an ad by Rachel Maddow, and an analysis of the same ad by Sean Hannity, I know that they're coming at their analyses from different places. You're right - I shouldn't have said that we're "entitled to know." I should have said it would be helpful. As far as I know, Phil Power (who ran for Senate and held office as a UM Regent as a Democrat) is the only one from Bridge who has publicly expressed his political leanings.
Mike R
Fri, 05/16/2014 - 1:09pm
John: I agree that it's sometimes helpful to know the orientation of commentators, but using your example of Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity: if you'd never heard of them before, you'd still be able to judge their political orientation from what they say. It doesn't add anything to a critical analysis of their comments to know their leanings; in fact, if Maddow claimed to be a Republican or Hannity assured us he was a Democrat, you wouldn't believe it anyway. I don't view the Truth Squad's articles as commentary, I view them as reporting. I agree with David Zeman's thesis: if you can independently verify the facts and can understand the analysis, the only issue is whether you agree with the conclusions. With the TS, you're not being asked to accept the conclusions on faith, you can check the facts. If you believe you see a pattern of the conclusions or analysis leaning more toward one end of the political spectrum than the other, you have the answer to your question in a way that knowing the politics of the individuals can't provide.
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 6:56pm
The Grand Rapids Press doesn't think it's an invasion of your privacy to dig out the votes of candidates for different offices. I ran for an elected office and every single vote I had ever made was published. They did it to all of the candidates in the race as well. So the invasion of privacy is a moot point. There IS no privacy in politics. You enter the arena KNOWING your private life is going to be dissected down to it's most minute parts.
Keith Warnick
Fri, 05/16/2014 - 6:02pm
I was once told you can say anything you want to say during a political campaign; you can also 'not' say everything! We just have to figure out which side of the mouth it comes out of.
Sat, 05/17/2014 - 10:01am
I don't see how you can call the "water" ad a No Foul, since it clearly was meant to suggest that Schauer voted to tax individual bottled water drinkers. Any kind of misleading is a foul, and every one of those ads was designed to be misleading. What I see in this analysis is a lot of nitpicking in order to be "fair". It's not fair when you overlook intent, twist the meaning, and then call them "facts". You admit that the wind turbine components aren't all made in foreign countries but you still give a No Foul to the ad that suggests they are. A lie is a lie is a lie. Even in political ads..
Robert Tinker
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 9:01am
I agree totally with Romona. All of the political ads twisted facts to promote an untruth. They are engineered lies and should be called out as so. Giving them a pass only encourages further untruths.
Fri, 06/20/2014 - 2:24pm
If you just read the headlines, like lot of folks do, it is mis-leading. Your headline reads "Three attack ads on Schauer are foul free; but the fourth is a doozy." WHAT? Two are misleading, that are given "No Fouls", one has been rated a "flagrant foul", and one has been labeled as a warning. I agree with Romona dnd Robert. All four of them are fouls. There's your answer. IMO, the "truth squad" leans to the right.