August 2018 update: Bill Schuette wins Republican nod for Michigan governor
If they were ever on, the gloves are now off in the GOP campaign for governor.
In one of the harshest attacks in the primary race, Attorney General Bill Schuette comes under fire in a cartoonish 30-second ad that gives him a nickname: “Shady Bill Schuette.”
In case you miss it the first time, the inaccurate ad repeats it twice more. It is paid for by Calley Continues Comeback, a super PAC that was formed in late March with a Grand Rapids mailing address.
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To ominous background music, a sinister-looking Schuette is depicted in grainy black and white still shots, with dark sunglasses, clutching fistfuls of cash as bills rain down all around. He comes under scrutiny for allegedly backing legislative pay raises and for collecting “fat” government pensions.
“Blind ambition must blind the truth. Shady Bill Schuette attacks Brian Calley, but it’s Shady Bill Schuette who supported the massive legislative pay raises. It’s Shady Bill Schuette who collects two fat government pensions with two more on the way. Shady Bill Schuette’s 35 years in politics must end. Brian Calley and Rick Snyder are driving the Michigan comeback. They brought us the largest tax cut in decades.”
Schuette was in the state Senate when legislators’ salaries increased 35.8 percent to $77,400, but he didn’t vote to raise the pay. He didn’t have to.
The raises were approved by the State Officers Compensation Commission (and included pay boosts for judges and other elected officials) and went into effect after the state Senate failed to vote on them.
In January 2001, the Ludington Daily News reported that Schuette told the Midland Daily News he supported the increases but “disagreed with the process” and had not decided how he would vote.
The ad cites a 2013 article in the Lansing City Pulse, which reported that Schuette, now 64, was then collecting a $39,237 legislative pension for his eight years as a state senator.
Schuette also served six years in Congress until 1991, but isn't eligible for a pension because he didn't pay into the system, according to correspondence from congressional benefits coordinators that Schuette's campaign shared with Truth Squad on Wednesday.
Schuette only colllects one pension from his time in the state Senate, said his campaign spokesman John Sellek.
“Bill Schuette receives no congressional pension,” Sellek said.
The ad’s claims about other pensions also don’t add up.
Schuette’s was a Court of Appeals judge from 2003 to 2009 and would qualify for 401(k) benefits for that stint as well as his eight years as attorney general, according to guidelines from the state Office of Retirement Services.
He also served as director of the Department of Agriculture from 1991 to 1994, which is short of the five years required to be vested for a pension.
No doubt, Schuette has been in politics a long time, but his total tenure in elected political office adds up to 21 years (excluding his time as a judge), well short of the 35 years claimed in the ad.
And finally, the ad’s claim that Calley and term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder gave Michigan its “largest tax cut in decades” omits key details.
In 2011, Snyder signed a $1.7 billion tax cut for business that replaced the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate tax. Calley cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.
But the measure also raised taxes on individuals by about $1.4 billion, including a tax on pensions and reduction in homestead property tax credits.
While the ad is funded by a political action committee and not Calley’s campaign, Truth Squad reached out to the lieutenant governor for comment about the tone and factual statements in the spot. The campaign didn’t respond.
This is an easy call. There’s nothing in the ad that is totally accurate.
Schuette didn’t vote for legislative pay raises. He appears to be eligible for two public pensions (not four) as well as 401(k) benefits. Those retirement benefits are presumably the same as any elected official with a comparable record. There’s nothing “shady” about that.
And the ad incorrectly calculates Schuette’s years in office, and neglects to mention that the “largest tax cut in decades” raised taxes on individuals by almost as much as it cut them for businesses.
Editor's note: This article was updated Wednesday morning after new information came to light explaining why Schuette does not receive a congressional pension. The update did not change the material facts or finding of the Truth Squad.