Claim Check: In Senate Race, One-Two Punch from the Democrats

by Categorized: Claim Check, Employment, Finance, Media, Politics Date:

Chris Murphy’s drastically out-financed bid for U.S. Senate is enjoying fresh reinforcements from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has committed $320,000 in advertising aimed at Murphy’s opponent, Linda McMahon.

What does this mean for voters? Well, this morning it meant not one, but two new attack ads on the airwaves. One is from the national committee; the other directly from Murphy. Both take on past targets, criticizing McMahon’s record as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment as well as the details of her income tax plan. And both repeat statements likely to confuse viewers.

The ads open by attempting to chip away at McMahon’s public persona. “The image CEO Linda McMahon is selling isn’t real,” the DSCC ad proclaims. Says Murphy’s ad: “Meet the real Linda McMahon.”

And from there, the spots collectively make a variety of claims we’ve heard before about McMahon’s tenure at the top of WWE: That she laid off workers while receiving millions in tax credits, that workers at the company were denied retirement and health benefits, and, in Murphy’s ad, that McMahon “took home $46 million a year.”

Those are generally accurate statements. In 2009, WWE announced it would cut its global workforce by 10 percent. That same year, the company received $9.8 million in Connecticut tax credits under a program designed to attract film productions to the state.

WWE also treats its wrestling performers as independent contractors who do not receive long-term health or retirement benefits through the company. That decision is the subject of legitimate debate, with the company claiming its performers are well-compensated and can afford their own insurance, and detractors saying the company exhibits sufficient control over the work performed by the wrestlers that they are legally entitled to the benefits and protections of full-time employees. While the DSCC ad makes a reference to “wrestlers,” Murphy’s ad is vague, indicating that benefits are denied to “workers,” without being more specific. According to SEC records, WWE does provide health and retirement benefits for all of its on-staff full-time employees. But while the term “workers” is overly broad, most viewers are by now likely aware that the dispute over benefits is related solely to WWE’s wrestlers.

Lastly, the $46 million figure is  (as we wrote when this issue came up two years ago) a fair figure to cite for 2009 – with an asterisk. That number does not represent McMahon’s salary that year, but rather the approximate value of dividends WWE paid in 2009 to holders of “Class B” shares – all of which are owned or controlled by members of the McMahon family. In addition, not all of that dividend money flowed directly to McMahon. But counting just shares controlled by McMahon or her husband, the number was probably still more than $40 million. (That number has since fallen, to  $29.6 million in 2010, and $23.3 million last year, according to the McMahons’ tax returns.)

Where the ads get into trouble is in their description of the impact of McMahon’s proposal for federal income-tax rates. Repeating a confusing approach that the McMahon campaign has employed as well, these ads assert that McMahon’s plan would give her a sizable “tax cut” without explaining that the figure is not based on how much McMahon’s taxes would drop compared to what she is currently paying. Instead, as we’ve written multiple times before, the campaigns are comparing McMahon’s plan to the taxes that would be due if the Bush-era tax cuts are permitted to expire and tax rates jump. Calling that a tax “cut” – particularly without explaining the basis for the calculation – is misleading.

In the absence of an explanation, most viewers are likely to understand a tax cut to refer to a reduction in a taxpayer’s current liability. Under that definition, McMahon’s plan would cut her taxes by perhaps $10,000 to $15,000 – a far cry from $7 million. (The gap is so large because nearly all of the McMahons’ income is from dividends, which are currently taxed at 15 percent. If the tax cuts were to expire, dividends would be taxed at a maximum rate of 39.6 percent.)

Murphy’s ad goes on to declare that McMahon would be in line for a huge tax cut under her plan, “while the middle class pays more.”

The logical inference is that middle-class taxpayers will pay more under McMahon’s tax plan, but that is not the case. The Murphy campaign says that language was not intended to imply that middle-class taxes would rise under McMahon’s plan, but rather that under her overall budget and tax proposal, services important to the middle class would likely be cut, leading to higher expenses for the middle earners. But the ad includes a frame that reads: “McMahon’s Tax Plan” and “Middle class pays more.” That juxtaposition, combined with the narrator’s declaration that “McMahon’s tax plan gives her a $7 million tax cut, while Connecticut’s middle class pays more,” naturally leaves the impression that middle-class taxes would increase under McMahon’s plan.

The Democrats’ criticism related to the WWE has a reasonable foundation. But the ads’ treatment of McMahon’s tax plan is off-base – even if part of it is no more off-base than their opponent’s treatment of the plan. So overall, we rate these ads “Somewhat Misleading.”

Watch both ads below. And click here for more Claim Check columns, and here for information on how we analyze political ads.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s ad

Murphy’s ad

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24 thoughts on “Claim Check: In Senate Race, One-Two Punch from the Democrats

  1. iamjh

    Since McMahon favors extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire unless the Congress takes action, it is absolutely legitimate to say McMahon’s tax plan (which includes this extension) would give her $7 million she would not have if her proposals, including the extension, were not implemented. That’s not confusing or misleading. It’s what McMahon advocates, and is clearly different than what Murphy advocates. Your analysis is rated “VERY MISLEADING.”


      Only if ( and judging by your stance you agree) that money you earn belongs to the Government and they get to say how much you get to keep.
      Kind of counter to what this country used to stand for, but I guess that’s history now.

    2. jj


      Since those tax rates apply to the middle class as well. them Murphy’s assertion that there is nothing for the middle class is incorrect. The HC’s position is that both sides are incorrect, which at least is balanced. Murphy’s ad is either wrong about the $7 mil. or the middle class tax cuts you choose.


    There are two things, tax rates and tax cuts. the Bush Era rates have been in effect for 10 years…and they lowered taxes on every income range. So if you are advocating to let them expire, then be preparred to raise the rates on the poor… but don’t just assume it only effects the top rates… you are just engaging in further distortions and class warfare so YOUR guy can win.

  3. Cromwell Dem

    Right on the line and judged “Somewhat Misleading” when McMahan’s lie about Murphy missing committee votes is considered factual. This paper’s opinion is biased to say the least.

    Fact is, McMahan favors the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts as well as the further tax cuts for her income bracket advocated by Romney/Ryans plan.

    Fact is, Murphy did miss Sub-Committee votes but sent an aid. The same as nearly every other member of Congress.

    These are FACTs, something this paper can’t comprehend.

    1. jj

      The facts are Murphy did not defend against Linda’s assertion, he attempted to spin the conversation to his voting record. Since membership in congressional commitees is considered to be a measure of a congressman’s influence and power, one might think it is important to show up for the job. If not say so, he didn’t/hasn’t to date therefore he must consider it part of his job description. Maybe this is one of the reasons Congress is not functioning as it should. They vote on bills they don’t read or have not been written yet and you are willing to let them avoid yet another part of their job attending committee hearings. Perhaps Murphy’s aides should get his pay since they are doing his work.

      As far as the Bush tax rate reductions, please read the latest article in HC regarding the all for Linda, none for the middle class assertions in Murphy’s ads. Both sides are using the fact of the expiring Bush tax cuts as tax increase but both sides want some form of them to continue. Linda wants them for everyone, including the wealthy. Murphy wants them only for those families earning less than $250k or thereabouts. We can argue about fair shares and over %40 not paying any federal income tax but Linda was critized the same way as Murphy was by the HC which is balanced. Your guy seems to lack the courage to stand up and defend himself. He spins the conversation from committees to voting and implies Linda is lying. When confronted about his failure to pay rent and then later his mortgage, he admits he is not perfect, blaming his failure to talk with his girlfriend (later his wife) while he was ignoring past due notices. Please hit me with the facts how Webster bank can justify giving him the best rate on an increased home equity line during his default. Maybe the fact he sits on committees that oversee Webster’s banking and mortgage businesses? Maybe if he attending the committee meetings personally instead of relying on a synopsis from an aide he would know what he was doing something wrong. His ultimate defense was Linda did it first! Very mature of him don’t you think? She is open about it (you may not like it), he hid it. This is very telling about his character or lack thereof. Mr. Murphy has moved around CT always to improve his political asperations, he is a career politican and not a reformer. He will not fix things, it’s not in his self-interest.

      1. Mike Robinson

        Murphy received the normal rate on his mortgage. In my mind McMahon is lying by calling it a “great” rate in her TV ad. See:

        This is a CT bank based in Waterbury. They have a right to expect their Representative to look after their interests in Congress. The bank provides 3400 JOBS in CT.

        The bank also has a right to make contributions. A tiny donation, Publicly disclosed, no secret conspiracy, to the guy representing their district.

    2. Cari

      We didn’t pay Chris Murphy to send in an aide (that we also pay the salary of) to do the job we elected and paid him to do. Just because others in Congress do the same doesn’t make it right. If I only performed 50% of my job responsibilities I would be fired. CT needs to fire Chris Murphy not promote him. He is part of the problem in Washington not the solution. We need someone that give the job 150% and that is not Murphy. My vote is for McMahon.

      1. Mike Robinson

        I’m not going to micro-manage how the guy does his job. He knows a lot more about it than I do. Maybe he had conflicting meetings. Maybe he thought his time better spent elsewhere. McMahon also accuses him of being so effective that he was able to manipulate this very same committee.

        1. jj

          So Mike,

          You won’t examine whether or not he is effective in his job performance, how nice of you. Effectiveness is not a requirement of trading votes to get what you want. Murphy could be a complete screw up but is able to trade his vote for another. Pork barrel politics does not require that he be good at his job, only sleezy. There are many people in CT who would like to relieve Murphy of the rest of his responsibilities in D.C. Think of how much more he can do with the extra time on his hands. But I can understand your position, you don’t want to look too closely at what Murphy is doing in D.C., if I was a supporter of him I wouldn’t either.

  4. Jack

    Cromwell, the fact that many members of Congress do the exact same thing doesn’t make it right. What would your boss say if the vast majority of the time you sent someone else in to do your work? Chris Murphy was elected to the job, not his aide(s). Also, apparently you and I read a different paper, because I’ve never heard someone accuse the Courant of being bias toward Republicans.

  5. Lee

    If the Bush tax cuts were so bad why do they keep extending them? Now that they are ready to expire again, it is called a “financial cliff.” Come on Democrats, study some real history for a change instead of Obama talking points and BS.

  6. Marcus

    This is “Investigative Reporting?” How many companies in the tri-state area laid off employees during a time that your own paper has deemed “worse than the Great Depression”? The term “workers” isn’t “overly broad” as you suggest, it’s a blatant lie. That’s a blatant lie, WWE employs (as employees) upwards of 700 folks right here in CT– all receive benefits. I havent found any facts to suggest that any of these “wrestlers” even live in CT, nor is there any solid argument to suggest that it’s unfair to ask these contractors to pay for their own insurance (as all Hollywood actors are required to do as well). It’s not unusual. In fact, it’s common practice.

  7. Sharpshooter

    While the DSCC ad makes a reference to “wrestlers,” Murphy’s ad is vague, indicating that benefits are denied to “workers,” without being more specific.

    Well….Chris can’t get too specific…after all he’s hoping that Linda will return the favor and keep from exposing his dreadful performance as a Nancy Pelosi lap dog….

  8. Disgusted

    Ms. McMahon already pays far less than her fair share in taxes, yet she wants to lower them even more. This is brazenly immoral greed, typical of her general immorality.

    I find it amazing that there are any Republicans who are defending Ms. McMahon at all, here or elsewhere. Her main claim to fame is that her company put simulated sex with the dead on nationwide TV while she was CEO. (By the way, the “superstar” who appeared in that performance is now her son in law.)

    The Republicans love to talk about “family values” and “values voters,” yet they allowed someone like Linda McMahon to buy their CT Senate nomination twice in a row. The hypocrisy is amazing.

    Now, she will yammer on about getting herself and her rich donors more unearned tax cuts. She’ll do anything to distract attention from her company’s involvement in simulated necrophilia.


      Right, “The Republicans love to talk about “family values” and “values voters,” yet they allowed someone like Linda McMahon to buy their CT Senate nomination twice in a row. The hypocrisy is amazing.”

      Go talk to Muti-millionare Jimmy Himes and get back to us…oh and Mutli-millionare Dick Blumenthal.
      Face it you don’t hate Filthy Rich People, only RIch Republicans, get you honest with yourself.

      1. jj

        The WWE also supports Make a Wish and has for some time. They have granted a large number of wishes. But I guess you don’t want to hear that either because it doesn’t fit your agenda. Just one of the wrestler’s granted over 300 wishes.

  9. Lee

    It is interesting how the Courant is providing so much ink on the Senate race and so little on the War On Terror and the economy. Rome is burning down folks while the media is in a frenzy to get Democrats elected.

  10. Jack Gilead

    Shouldn’t they be called the “Obama Tax Cuts” since he renewed them after the actual “Bush Tax Cuts” expired as planned?

  11. Debra E Dickey

    I disagree with The C0urant’s assessment of McMahon’s ad on Murphy’s attendance.The ad is a distorted version of the truth.

    McMahon is attacking Murphy for missing hearings in October of 2008, when Congress was adjourned. Murphy was in Connecticut, meeting with small businesses and the people hit hardest by the crisis.
    When you’re assigned to five or six committees, as members of Congress are, it’s virtually impossible to personally attend ALL the meetings of the committees he/she is on, attend legislative sessions, and meet with constituents. How many of us have had meetings with conflicting times? That’s why meetings have minutes, and why government pays for Congressmen to have aides. McMahon might understand that if she had any prior elective experience. To quote former Representative Rob Simmons, a Republican “Mrs. McMahon has never served in public office in any capacity. Therefore she has no idea how legislatures—local, state, or federal, how they work.”

    I’m surprised the Courant staff didn’t figure this out.

    1. jj


      You are incorrect. The ad is factual and truthful. You may or may not be correct that he missed hearings because he was in CT. Perhaps Mr. Murphy should have used that as a defense for his record, instead of promoting his voting record as a refutation of his hearing attendence record. Now since you “uncovered” this information, exactly how many hearing did he miss and how does that affect his attendence record percentage wise?

      Anyways your guy’s first instinct is to spin the truth not defend himself by explaining his absentism.

      Everyone who serves in Congress was a first timer at some point, lack of experience would mean Murphy should have been defeated the first time he ran as well. Maybe an “outsider” is a recommendation as opposed to a liability.

      I am glad you found a reason why he missed some hearings, now find a “good” reason why he missed paying his rent and then his mortgage. Not talking to his significant other is not a valid excuse.

  12. mike shganahan

    The questions sounded good. The answers sounded more like campaign retoric. Is there an official count on, how many times they mentioned their opponent’s name?
    Chris Murphy, although he was very guilty of this,
    out-did Linda McMahon. I actually questioned how I’d vote, before the debate. Now, I know, Murphy 1, McMahon 0!!!!


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