UPDATE, 9/12/2012: In the blog post below, we weigh in on a Spanish-language ad in which the McMahon campaign claims her tax plan will save “many Connecticut families” $500 a month. The savings figure requires more disclosure than the ad provides, but we did deem the phrase “many Connecticut families” less problematic than an earlier ad, which claimed that the $500 savings would be achieved by “the average Connecticut family.” That assertion is not supported by Census figures on average family income.
But this morning, the McMahon campaign aired an English-language version of portions of the Spanish ad, and “muchas familias” has morphed back to “an average Connecticut family.” For the reasons explained in our Claim Check of the original McMahon campaign ad, it is misleading, however the numbers are calculated, to assert that under McMahon’s tax plan, the savings for an average Connecticut family would be $500.
All signs suggest we’re in for two months of withering on-air feuding in the race for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat, with Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Chris Murphy trading jabs at a blurring pace. That can make it tough to remember which claims are legitimate and which are on shaky grounds. So to help you keep up with the whirlwind of boasts and accusations, we’re going to combine two fact-checks into one here, looking briefly at ads containing assertions that each camp has made before. One relates to McMahon’s tax plan; the other to Murphy’s defense of his committee work. Neither gets high marks for accuracy.
First: McMahon’s tax plan. In a Spanish-language ad, McMahon says she has a plan to get the economy moving forward, including a cut in tax rates for the middle class that would lead to nearly $500 in tax savings for “many families in Connecticut.”
That language is not as objectionable as the first spot touting the tax cut, which claimed that that savings would be achieved by the “average Connecticut family.” (In fact, the income figure used by the campaign in its calculation exceeds the earnings of 77 percent of the state’s families.)
But the new ad is still misleading, because it never discloses that the purported tax cut does not represent a reduction from what families are paying now. Instead, the savings represent the difference between what families would pay under McMahon’s plan and what they would pay in the future if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire and tax rates shoot up.
The McMahon campaign insists that’s the only legitimate comparison to make because she would not take office until 2013 and the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of this year if Congress doesn’t act. But if that’s the case, the campaign has an obligation to make that clear. If you tell people you’re going to lower their taxes, they will naturally assume you’re promising a tax plan that will take less of their money than they’re currently paying. Failing to disclose the basis for the claimed tax savings is as misleading in Spanish as it was in English.
Now to the Murphy campaign, and the second ad in which the three-term U.S. representative defends his job performance. As anyone with a television knows, McMahon a few weeks ago took aim at Murphy’s sparse attendance at Congressional committee hearings, in ad we rated “generally accurate.” (The ad claimed Murphy missed 80 percent of committee hearings; our analysis put the figure at 76 percent.)
Murphy, in turn, came out with an ad noting that his voting record was 97 percent, a claim we verified and also deemed “generally accurate.”
That ad began with some harsh words, stating “Linda McMahon will do and say anything to get ahead. Like running false, negative ads.” Claim Check treated that line as a generic attack beyond the scope of fact-checking. But a similar line opens Murphy’s latest ad defending his record, along with a specific reference to his “attendance,” and it now seems more evident that the assertion is intended as a refutation of McMahon’s claims on his attendance record.
“Linda McMahon’s ads are just plain wrong. Murphy’s voting attendance is 97 percent,” says the narrator at the beginning of the new ad, as a newspaper citation flashes on the screen with the headline: “McMahon Running Erroneous TV Spot.”)
In this context, the obvious inference is that McMahon’s specific attendance claims have been undercut. But that’s not the case.
The newspaper story cited in Murphy’s ad is a Danbury News-Times column from Aug. 8 – before Murphy’s attendance record at hearings was an issue – and the “erroneous” spot identified in the newspaper column is McMahon’s original tax-cut ad, which Claim Check did indeed deem “significantly misleading.”
The Murphy ad further muddies the water with some creative word choices, declaring his “voting attendance” is 97 percent. That boosts the incorrect impression that the 97 percent figure refutes McMahon’s numbers on Murphy’s attendance at hearings.
Bottom line: Both original claims on Murphy’s record are generally true, and neither refutes the other. Murphy did miss close to 80 percent of the hearings held by the committees and subcommittees on which he serves. And Murphy did take part in more than 97 percent of all votes that came before him. It will now be up to voters to decide which, if either, of those facts is important in evaluating the candidate.