Truth Squad: Koch brothers group attacks Gretchen Whitmer’s tax votes

August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor

Americans For Prosperity, a national conservative advocacy group founded by  the Koch brothers, has bought an online-only ad targeting Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan gubernatorial campaign, claiming she has supported tax increases that hurt the state.

Turns out, Whitmer, a leading Democratic candidate, doesn’t seem to mind.

Gretchen Whitmer was quick to turn an attack ad into a fundraising opportunity, using the Americans for Prosperity’s well-known benefactors, David and Charles Koch, as a reason to support her campaign

For AFP and Charles and David Koch, Whitmer’s candidacy offers up a juicy pro-tax pinata to take a swing at: She voted for key increases – including a 2007 income tax hike – during her time in the legislature that links her to the administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Both are Democrats, and during Granholm’s tenure the state lost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Yet for Whitmer, AFP’s attention is its own prize: The Koch brothers, who have made their fortune heading a corporation that makes everything from disposable cups to toilet paper to jet fuel, have bankrolled conservative candidates and causes for years, making them a near unanimous enemy of Democratic voters.

Related: Truth Squad rating categories

Americans for Prosperity, hugely influential in shaping the national conservative agenda, including its antipathy toward higher taxes and the science of climate change, is expected to spend up to $400 million nationally on midterm elections. But, as progressives will note, it also backed the agenda of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, whose “experiment” with tax and spending cuts created so much budget turmoil in Kansas that its GOP legislature decided to override a Brownback veto and approve higher taxes.

So it’s no surprise AFP would spend money on a Michigan ad that rips Whitmer. And perhaps it’s no surprise Whitmer would use those ads to seek donations from her own supporters.

Truth Squad finds that the ad accurately summarizes Whitmer’s tax votes, but  then makes the unsupported inference that they explain Michigan’s harsh recession and job losses during the 2000s. We rate the ad half-accurate.

The claim:

The ad opens with a woman trying to start a car, as a narrator says, “For 14 years, Gretchen Whitmer’s policies failed to jumpstart Michigan’s economy.” It points out several Whitmer votes in the Michigan Senate to raise taxes and ends with: “Gretchen Whitmer’s policies drove Michigan’s economic engine into the ground. Why would we put her back at the wheel?”

The facts:

The stated facts in the ad check out: Whitmer did support a 2007 income tax increase, which raised the rate from 3.9 percent to 4.35 percent. She supported levying a sales taxes on a broader array of services, from landscaping to massages in 200. She supported addition of a surcharge to the Michigan Business Tax (which repealed the broadening of the sales tax). And she supported raising the gas tax in 2014.

The ad notes this happened during a decade when Michigan lost some 574,000 jobs and state unemployment hit 14.6 percent (Again, both true. Unemployment hit 14.6 in June 2009. And from August 2005 through December 2009, the state lost that many jobs). Granholm was governor and Whitmer was a state senator during that period.

Gretchen Whitmer
Tax votes hurt Michigan’s economy
The Call
Half Accurate

It’s not the job of political ads to tell both sides of a story. They are designed to sway the reader or viewer. But before voters get to the ballot box, context is necessary and it will be Whitmer’s job on the campaign trail – and at debates – to provide that context and explain her tax votes.

Whitmer’s camp clearly anticipated the attack linking Whitmer to Granholm. Within a few hours of being asked about the ad, it supplied Truth Squad with detailed explanations of Whitmer’s votes – and evidence that she also voted against Granholm on a number of occasions.

As Whitmer’s team notes, here’s what Michigan faced in 2007: The state had the nation’s highest unemployment rate, home foreclosures were rising, home building was plummeting – all of which put huge pressure on the state budget. The government shut down for four hours preceding the income tax vote.

The tax increase erased a $1.75 billion deficit and the legislative package included $440 million in cuts, including no inflationary increases for higher education. The vote passed in the Democratic-heavy House and passed 19-19 in the Senate, with Lt. Gov. John Cherry breaking the tie in favor of the tax hike. Twelve Democrats, including Whitmer, and four Republicans supported the measure; two Democrats and 17 Republicans voted against it.

As for the claim she supported a tax increase on “everyday services,” it is true. But as the Whitmer campaign notes (and the ad doesn’t), the increase was soon repealed – and Whitmer supported the repeal.

Still, Whitmer’s explanations for her votes are almost beside the point for Truth Squad. The ad notes Whitmer’s votes for tax increases and it states those votes accurately. But after stating those facts, the ad turns misleading: It leaves viewers with the impression those tax hikes were to blame for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, saying her policies “drove Michigan’s economic engine into the ground.”

The ad does not mention, so we will, that Michigan was hemorrhaging jobs before Granholm took office (330,000 jobs lost from its peak in March 2000, when Republican Gov. John Engler was in office, to January 2003.)

More critically, it does not acknowledge the impact of the Great Recession, which hit Michigan before it had recovered from its own “one-state recession.”  The recession hurt all sectors, like housing and retail, but it crushed the auto industry, upon which Metro Detroit and Michigan rely heavily. Output fell 20 percent and employment 15 percent in 2008-2009 and the state’s deepest job losses occurred then.

AFP would have voters believe Michigan’s economic plummet was largely the result of Democratic policies.

AFP’s ad is likely just the first to tell Michigan voters that the state’s uniquely steep decline was “self-inflicted,” by Democratic policies. None of the claims about Whitmer’s voting record are in dispute, but it reaches an overly simplistic conclusion that ignores seismic financial forces that crippled an already reeling state economy.

Faced with a tough call, Truth Squad finds the ad half-accurate. Still, it will be Whitmer’s task, should she win the Democratic nomination, to broaden and flesh out the “she-voted-for-tax-increases” portrait AFP has painted her with.

She should get her brushes ready.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 05/31/2018 - 7:29am

"Truth Squad finds the ad half-accurate." That conclusion is wrong. Bridge focussed on individual parts of the Koch Brothers' message, when their message is what should be evaluated. It's like saying a poison isn't entirely toxic because its elements, by themselves, are harmless. So yes, some of the facts in the ad are accurate. But its message should have been the Truth Squad's focus. And the message - that Whitmer is responsible for Michigan's job losses and economic problems - is entirely incorrect.

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 9:00am

Anyone the Koch bros are against, I'm for. All I have to do is look at Kansas and Wisconsin both subsidiaries of the Koch Bros.

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 10:11am


Sat, 08/04/2018 - 10:34pm

Stay angry Mary, Speak out, and VOTE!

Charles Buck
Thu, 05/31/2018 - 9:58am

Americans For Potholes is more like. Why would anyone support a group of billionaires who have retarded education achievement so badly in our state white 3rd graders are now last in national reading test scores and we've had to institute mandatory hold backs at 3rd grade? Americans For Pinheads has choked out Michigan's workforce to such an extent employers cannot find in-state labor while we are still a quarter million jobs short of peak pre-recession employment level leaving the governor scrambling to put prisoners to work and dumping Medicaid recipients out of their wheelchairs onto factory floors. All while putting a stupid measure on the ballot to cut construction wages further and chase scarce building labor out of the state.

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 12:49pm

AKA, 'Americans for Making the Koch Brothers Richer' is pretty much the best way to describe the Kochsters. And TRUMP.

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 10:21am

Buckle up Citizens of Michigan - The Kock er Koch Monster bending fiction into less than half truths is coming to your homes and businesses. Koch equates money spent to malign the opposition to votes acquired maliciously but then who cares. Their motto is "Any means to their end". Their concern is every Republican who loses equates to loss of their control on the future. Their end game is to win at all costs no matter how much money they have to spend to malign their opposition. So what do we voters of Michigan do? Dig into the 1/2 and untruths of the Koch's - understand why they are doing wrongful things to affect your vote then vote your conscience to properly help insurer a better future for Michigan. One thing for sure is if you don't get out and vote the bad guys win again.

Thu, 05/31/2018 - 12:48pm

'and during Granholm’s tenure the state lost hundreds of thousands of jobs.'

'during the Great Recession, sponsored by the Republican Party, states all across the United States lost millions of jobs'.

The Koch Brothers policies aided and abetted the Great Recession.

Kathi Geukes
Fri, 06/01/2018 - 12:24pm

Amen!! And now they try to target Dems who had to do the right thing to get the economy moving again!! Isn't that always the way it goes??

Kevin Grand
Thu, 05/31/2018 - 2:03pm

I agree with your finding, but not because of Mr. Wilkinson's failure to grasp basic economics.

The AFP conveniently ignored the fact that Michigan republicans drank the kool aid Granholm doled out in order to get them to sign onto those tax hikes as well. Without the help of the republican controlled Michigan Senate to bring it up for a vote (along with fast-tracking it into passage), it NEVER would have seen the light of day.

"Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop reportedly proposes an income tax hike from 3.9 percent to 4.3 percent, raising approximately $650 million, accompanied by $1 billion in budget cuts. Gov. Granholm reportedly turns him down flat, saying that "perhaps" $300 million is possible."

This was the same Mike Bishop who is running for re-election to Congress in the 8th District.

While they're at it, they might as well take aim at the Michigan republicans who fought to keep a higher income tax rate as well. As part of the agreement back in '07 for the income tax hike, the individual rate was to have been reduced to 3.9%.

Gov Snyder and Michigan republicans reneged on that promise.

And along with the 'Dirty Dozen" , told Michigan Taxpayers where to go later on.

What's good for the goose...

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:37am

Republicans blame Soros
Dems blame the Koch Brothers ...

neither side ever sees the irony