A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

‘Dump Dennis?’

That ad is dubious.


Summary

Former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is now fighting to hold onto his House seat in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s the target of a tough attack ad that says he "gives a lot of speeches" but "doesn’t get much done." But the ad is a textbook example of deceptive political advertising – it uses dramatic-sounding numbers that, put into context, aren’t such a big deal after all:

  • The ad, by challenger Joe Cimperman, says that under Kucinich’s watch, "we’ve lost 38,000 jobs." That’s the decline in employment figures for an Ohio county, part of which Kucinich serves. But we’re sure that one congressman doesn’t bear the sole responsibility for such job losses. 
  • The ad says Kucinich "passed only one bill" in Congress, a claim based on the fact that he was the lead sponsor on only one bill that was signed into law. But such a statistic is an inadequate measure of a lawmaker’s effectiveness. A legislative tracking site found his record on legislation to be in line with those of other House members.
  • It says Kucinich "brings home less money, 33% percent less." But less than what? And what is the money for? The ad doesn’t say, but the Cimperman campaign is using a selective measurement.

Analysis

While Democratic presidential candidates were trading barbs and boasts in their latest debate in Cleveland, the Ohio city was witnessing another political brawl. Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman has been running ads aimed at beating incumbent U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich in Ohio’s 10th congressional district. The state’s primary is March 4. Cimperman’s most recent TV ad, which first aired last week, says "Dennis Kucinich gives a lot of speeches … he just doesn’t get much done" and goes on to paint Kucinich as an ineffective congressman. But it uses misleading statistics to do so.

 [TET ]

Cimperman for Congress Ad: "Speeches"

Announcer: "Dennis Kucinich gives a lot of speeches… he just doesn’t get much done. On his watch we’ve lost 38,000 jobs. He’s passed only one bill in 11 years in Washington. And, brings home less money, 33 percent less, for local projects. It’s time for a change. Joe Cimperman, a record of real results. Creating 5,000 new jobs, opening new health clinics, cracking down on predatory lenders.
Joe Cimperman: "I’m Joe Cimperman, and I approve this message." [/TET]

Who Lost What Jobs?
 

The ad implies that Kucinich is responsible for the loss of jobs in his district, saying, "On his watch, we’ve lost 38,000 jobs." Cimperman spokesman Khalid Saledhi says that the 38,000 figure was tabulated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data for Cuyahoga County (which includes Kucinich’s district as well as pieces of three other districts). The campaign looked at employment figures for Jan. 1997, Kucinich’s first month in office, and Jan. 2007, calculating a net loss of 38,261 jobs. But pinning the county’s job loss to Kucinich is just plain silly.

The fact that Kucinich was in office during this time does not make him any more responsible for the job loss than other Ohio public officials, such as mayors, the governor, state representatives, other U.S. Congress members who represent Cuyahoga County and even Cimperman himself, who has been in office as a Cleveland city councilman for nine of those 10 years. We’re not sure any politician can be held responsible for the area’s economic downturn in the past decade, which is largely the product of a global economic upheaval beyond the control of federal, state or local governments.

The ad goes on to boast that Cimperman, over almost the same time period, actually created "5,000 new jobs." But it’s not any more clear that he can take sole responsibility for that than it is that Kucinich should be blamed for the net loss of jobs in the county. The Cimperman campaign is relying on a tally by Cleveland’s Department of Economic Development, which says the city has added 6,405 jobs since 1999, with the help of city legislation. But there are 21 other city council members and a mayoral administration that just might have played a role as well. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out that the numbers are a bit hollow. At least 1,500 of those jobs were temporary positions in 2002 and no longer exist.

Mr. Kucinich Was in Washington
 

The ad goes on to say that Kucinich "passed only one bill in 11 years in Washington." What the ad fails to mention is that for the first 10 of those years the House was under Republican control, not a good time for Kucinich or any other Democrat to get laws passed. The Cimperman campaign bases the claim on the fact that only one bill with Kucinich’s name as sole sponsor was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. (We note that only the full House or Senate can "pass" a bill.) Kucinich’s legislation was a 1998 measure to allow a Ukrainian museum to show a special television program. But Kucinich’s record on sponsoring legislation is actually in line with other House members.

Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur is the only other Ohio Democratic member to serve from 1997 to the present, and she also has seen only one sponsored bill become law. And Kucinich has cosponsored many bills that became law: We counted 22 in the 109th congressional session (2005-2006) alone. He also has sponsored and cosponsored scores of others that have died along the way in committee or on the House floor. In fact, the nonpartisan legislative tracking site Govtrack calculated Kucinich’s legislative output in sponsored bills to be "average" relative to his peers. The site also determined that he cosponsored "very many" bills relative to his peers – 3,138 of them while in office to be exact.
 

Less Than What?
 

Cimperman’s ad also claims that Kucinich "brings home less money, 33 percent less for local projects." There is a major red flag here, and we call it a dangling comparative. That’s when a statistical comparison is made to an unknown quantity. The ad raises the question, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer astutely noted, "less money" than what?

The Cimperman campaign says it compared earmark totals for Kucinich for fiscal year 2007 with those of nearby congressional members. Earmarks are allocations of revenue in a bill that go to a specific project in a legislator’s district, and they’re often slipped into legislation without normal congressional review. We looked at the earmark totals of Kucinich’s two closest congressional neighbors, Stephanie Tubb-Jones (who garnered $10.4 million) and Betty Sutton ($16.3 million), according to data compiled by the anti-earmark group Taxpayers for Common Sense for the more recent fiscal year 2008. In fact, Kucinich’s earmark bounty, $8.1 million, is 22 percent less than Tubbs Jones’, and it’s half of the total accumulated by Sutton. But Cimperman’s ad is misleading since it doesn’t count any funding that Kucinich’s district may have received from legislation that went through the standard congressional review – or money that wasn’t considered an earmark.

And by the way, isn’t "earmark" a dirty word these days?

Despite dubious attacks like these, Kucinich appears to be safe in the March 4 primary. A recent poll found him leading Cimperman 55 percent to 29 percent.

– by Justin Bank

Sources

Kavanaugh, Molly. "10th District Debate a Two Man Fight." Cleveland Plain Dealer, 19 Feb. 2008.

"Ad Watch: Joe Cimperman." Cleveland Plain Dealer, 20 Feb. 2008.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Database.

"Kucinich Safe for Reelection." Public Policy Polling, 27 Feb. 2008.