A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

You’ve Got False Mail


If you live in Connecticut and are a registered Republican, you may have received a mailer or two from former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon attacking her opponent in the state’s GOP Senate primary, former U.S. Rep. Robert Simmons. But some of the mailers’ claims are false.

In one mailer, McMahon claims Simmons cosponsored cap-and-trade legislation that will “cost the average American family more than $1,700 a year.”

Excerpt from Linda McMahon mailer attacking Robert Simmons on cap and trade.

First, Simmons did not, as the mailer implies, cosponsor the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced in May 2009, and which passed the House a month later. That bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by capping regulated industries’ emissions. Simmons was voted out of Congress in 2006 and couldn’t possibly have cosponsored the bill. According to the McMahon campaign, the mailer actually refers to a four-year-old piece of legislation, the Safe Climate Act of 2006, which Waxman also introduced, and Simmons — along with 112 other representatives — cosponsored. But that bill went nowhere.

Second, the “$1,700 a year” cost figure for households is dubious. That figure, according to the McMahon campaign, came from an Oct. 4, 2009, article in the New York Post that reported that previously unreleased Treasury Department documents revealed that to be the true cost of a cap-and-trade program to households:

New York Post, Oct. 4, 2009:The Treasury analysis puts the actual nationwide cost of cap-and-trade at some $200 billion a year — or $1,761 per household.

But that problematic figure, as we’ve said before, didn’t come from the Treasury at all. It came from CBS News blogger Declan McCullagh. McCullagh came up with that estimate using figures from the Treasury memos, which contained projections for the potential revenue that the government could make from implementing a cap-and-trade program. McCullagh divided the high-end estimate from the memos by the number of U.S. households to get the $1,700 figure. But calculating the potential cost to households is more complicated than that.

Furthermore, the Treasury estimates, which were actually written during the presidential transition, were based on President Obama’s stated intentions for how a cap-and-trade system would operate, not the Waxman-Markey House-passed bill, which proposed a different system from what the president envisioned. Plus, McCullagh’s calculation didn’t take into consideration financial assistance that Democrats have proposed giving to families to offset higher energy costs. Alan B. Krueger, Treasury assistant secretary for economic policy, called McCullagh’s estimate “flat out wrong.”

We’ve noted before that it’s difficult to say exactly what the cost to households will be. And cost estimates from partisan sources cover a wide range. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, actually analyzed the bill that passed the House last year, and estimated that “the average per-household loss in purchasing power would be $90 in 2012 and $925 in 2050 and would average about $455 per U.S. household per year over the 2012–2050 period.”

Excerpt from second Linda McMahon mailer attacking Robert Simmons on ACORN.

A separate McMahon mailer portrays Simmons as a supporter of the controversial community activist group ACORN.

The mailer claims that in his last term in office, Simmons voted with ACORN “more often than Senator Chris Dodd.” But that’s false. ACORN’s legislative scorecard for the 109th Congress in 2006, based on House and Senate members’ votes on ACORN’s key legislative issues, shows, as the mailer notes, that Simmons earned a 56 percent “pro-ACORN” rating. Dodd, however, received a perfect 100 percent “pro-ACORN” rating.

After we brought the mistake to the campaign’s attention, Ed Patru, the McMahon campaign communications director, issued a correction through the campaign Web site on March 1:

Patru Correction: Last week, the Linda McMahon for Senate 2010 campaign sent a mail piece to Connecticut Republicans highlighting former Congressman Rob Simmons’ congressional record of voting with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). In that mail piece, a mistake was made that should not have been made.

The mail piece states incorrectly that Rob Simmons, as a Member of Congress, voted with ACORN “more often than Chris Dodd.” That is incorrect. The reality is that Sen. Chris Dodd voted with ACORN 100% of the time. Rob Simmons voted with ACORN more than 50% of the time.

The mailer is an attempt to link Simmons with the embattled activist group whose employees have been accused of voter fraud among other things. Simmons wasn’t in Congress at the time the allegations of voter fraud surfaced in 2008, though. His campaign says he opposes ACORN, and would vote against funding for the group if he is elected.