During the budget battles in Washington in the spring of 2011, a liberal group produced an ad featuring an elderly woman in a wheelchair being pushed through a park by a man in a suit and tie, while America the Beautiful plays in the background and words on the screen tout the Medicare program. But the placid scene takes a decidedly sinister turn, as the on-screen narration states that “Republicans now want to privatize Medicare.” Suddenly, the man in the suit veers off the path, wheels the distressed woman toward a rocky overlook, and dumps her off a cliff.
OK, so perhaps nothing in Connecticut this political season went that completely over the edge. But in the bruising Senate race between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon, there were certainly moments when honesty and accuracy went on holiday as the candidates scraped for every vote. With the election a few days away, here’s a recap of some of the claims made during the race.
Linda McMahon has a plan to sunset Social Security. We rated this claim the biggest whopper of the campaign. It came from a pair of liberal PACs, not directly from the Murphy campaign, although Murphy repeated the assertion. The ad was based on a statement by McMahon that programs like Social Security should include sunset provisions when they are first passed, so Congress after 10 or 15 years can assess whether the program is sustainable. The PACs transformed that into a claim that “McMahon’s sunset proposal would end Social Security.” With all sides courting older voters, it may have been an irresistible attack. But it was baseless, and we rated the claim as “false.”
Chris Murphy received a sweetheart mortgage deal from Webster Bank. Sixteen months after Murphy was taken to court for missing payments on his mortgage, Webster Bank approved a 4.99 percent home equity loan for Murphy and his wife. Murphy declined to provide paperwork on the loan approval process, and the McMahon campaign naturally pounced. But while it was acceptable to raise questions about the propriety of the loan, the McMahon campaign made serious allegations it could not back up.” Based on the available facts, we rated this ad “significantly misleading.”
Linda McMahon’s tax plan save the average Connecticut family $500 a month. This may be the most persistent claim of the campaign, but repetition does not equal credibility. The McMahon campaign got it’s math wrong, using an inflated income figure for the “average” Connecticut family, and failing to disclose that the purported savings was really a comparison to what families would pay next year if the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire and tax rates soared. The real tax savings for the average Connecticut family: about $82 a month. Our rating: “significantly misleading.”
Linda McMahon’s tax plan would give her a $7 million tax cut. The McMahon campaign wasn’t the only side manipulating tax calculations for maximum political benefit. As with McMahon’s claim on middle-class taxes, this ad from Murphy failed to explain that the “cut” wasn’t a cut at all. Our analysis determined that McMahon and her husband might see their taxes drop $10,000 to $15,000 under her plan. The tax claim was part of a broader pair of ads we rated as “somewhat misleading,” but taken individually, the tax claims would have received a harsher rating.
Chris Murphy missed nearly 80 percent of committee hearings. In a classic example of “opposition research,” the McMahon campaign dug into transcripts of Congressional hearings and discovered that Murphy was frequently absent from committee hearings. We rated the original ad “generally accurate,” (our analysis found Murphy missed 76 percent of hearings) although a follow-up ad – claiming newspapers declared Murphy “skipped 80 percent of his job” – was deemed “somewhat misleading.” That ad mischaracterized newspaper coverage of the issue.
Linda McMahon will deny employee health coverage for mammograms. McMahon and Murphy have been in a tough tug-of-war for female voters, which prompted a Murphy ad claiming McMahon supported a proposal that would deny women insurance coverage for contraception and mammograms. The basis was a statement by McMahon that she would have “reluctantly supported” an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would have allowed employers to opt out of covering procedures they found morally or religiously objectionable. The broadly worded amendment had long since died, and it’s real target was contraception, not mammograms. We rated the ad “somewhat misleading.”