There is something of a hierarchy in political ad nastiness.
The tamest ads – and yes, this is entirely relative – typically come from the candidates themselves, who have at least a modest disinclination to appear overly vicious.
Ads from political parties push the envelope a little farther, taking on topics or themes the candidates may be reluctant to directly address.
And then there are the PACs, which work independently of the candidates – at least officially – and which show little hesitation to get in the mud and start slinging it around.
That’s what we see in a new ad from a pair of PACs opposing Linda McMahon’s candidacy for U.S. Senate. The 30-second spot takes a line McMahon said during a candidate’s forum last April, and twists it to create a narrative that doesn’t exist in support of a political charge that has no base.
The ad, from Majority PAC and Connecticut’s Future PAC, opens with a reminder of McMahon’s colossal wealth, noting that she’s worth $238 million and owns five “luxury homes.” The house count is accurate, based on assessors’ records in Greenwich, Stamford, Las Vegas and Boca Raton, Fla., although the Las Vegas property – a one-bedroom condominium currently worth less than $60,000 – might not qualify for the adjective “luxury.” Pinpointing McMahon’s worth is more difficult. The $238 million is a midpoint among many assets listed on her personal disclosure form, but all that is known for sure is that her investments are worth somewhere between $90 million and $350 million.
But the heart of the ad is a claim that McMahon has a proposal to eliminate Social Security – an allegation that does not survive scrutiny.
“Linda McMahon wants to sunset Social Security. Sunset – that means letting it expire,” a narrator announces. The ad then shows a brief clip of McMahon responding to a question on Social Security at a Tea Party-sponsored candidate’s forum in Waterford.
“I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation,” McMahon says. And from there, the ad invents a McMahon campaign platform with a dire outcome.
“McMahon’s sunset proposal would end Social Security,” the narrator declares.
But there is no McMahon sunset proposal.What McMahon said was that at the time Social Security was enacted – in 1935 – there should have been a mechanism to revisit the law and see if it was financially sustainable. Voters are free to disagree with that sentiment and hold the position that Social Security, once enacted, was rightly protected from subsequent review. But McMahon’s comment does not indicate support for imposing a sunset provision right now on the 77-year-old program, and it is an even more-absurd stretch to proclaim that McMahon has a plan that would “end Social Security.”
Here’s the complete transcript of the question and answer on Social Security:
QUESTION: Do you believe that Social Security and Medicare are in financial trouble, and if so, what would you do to strengthen them?
McMAHON: Well, they clearly are in trouble. We know that they’re not sustainable at their current rate. There are a lot of ways that we could look at strengthening Social Security. I do think we’re going to have to do it in a bipartisan way. You know, there are suggestions on the table, you know, that range from raising, you know, the retirement age, you know, to other methods, to means testing, to other things. And I think that we’re going to have to do that in a bipartisan fashion in Congress. We cannot continue, you know, doing things the way we are doing with Social Security. We’re just simply going to be bankrupt. And I do believe that there are ways to look at … You know, what were we trying to do when we put Social Security in place? We didn’t go back and review it. In other words, I believe in sunset provisions when we pass this kind of legislation, so that you take a look at it 10, 15 years down the road to make sure that it’s still going to fund itself. Social Security will run out of money if we continue to do what we’re doing, if we rob the trust fund. If we think there’s any money there, there’s not.
There may be legitimate political fodder in there. McMahon’s critics, for example, could have seized on her apparent willingness to consider raising the eligibility age for benefits or imposing a means test on recipients – ideas that some voters would likely oppose. But that’s not where the PACs went.
Majority PAC is “fighting to protect the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate” and Connecticut’s Future PAC is “committed to helping elect Chris Murphy to the US Senate.” That may have made it seem irresistible to take McMahon’s mention of sunsetting legislation and turn it into an incendiary accusation.
But the accusation is baseless. As such, we rate this ad “False.”