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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Should Murray Worry?

An attack ad from a Republican-leaning group accuses Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of abusing "families" and "children" — but provides no support for those claims. The group’s website even criticizes Murray for casting a vote in favor of expanding health insurance to millions of children — a vote also cast by the group’s own CEO, former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

The ad by the American Action Network began airing July 13 in Washington state with an initial buy of more than $750,000. It says of Murray (who described herself as "a mom in tennis shoes" in past campaigns): "You wore your tennis shoes out on our backs; Small business, families, children." It says she pushed for record spending, "raised taxes on small businesses" and "cost us jobs."

The group, which emerged in February of this year, is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit political organization, and does not disclose who is funding it. Legally, under a recent Supreme Court decision, the group could serve as a vehicle for business corporations to fund campaign ads like this one. According to one report, AAN expects to spend $25 million on political ads this year.

None of the ad’s claims are supported by the ad itself, which provides no specifics or citations. Our calls to AAN went unreturned, as did our calls to Coleman and others at the organization. The ad refers viewers to a website: www.makemurrayworry.com, which lists 17 of Murray’s supposedly "anti-small business votes," but nothing to support the ad’s claims that Murray’s votes hurt families or children. (In fact, the liberal Children’s Defense Fund gave Murray a 100 percent rating in 2007, and listed her among the "Best Senators for Children.")

Small-Business Record

As for Murray’s votes affecting small business, it’s fair to say she has a mixed record. The National Federation of Independent Businesses — the nation’s largest small-business advocacy group — gave Murray a 44 percent rating on nine key votes in the current Congress. In the previous Congress, NFIB awarded Murray a 58 percent positive rating, while the smaller National Small Business Association gave her a 100 percent positive rating.

The 17 votes listed by the ad’s sponsor do include some that were opposed by small-business advocates. For example, she voted against permanent repeal of the federal estate tax, and for the new health care law — both votes opposed by the NFIB. But one of Murray’s supposedly anti-business votes — to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program (then called the State Children’s Health Insurance Program) in 2007 — was actually supported by the NFIB. And it was also supported by AAN’s chief executive officer.

Norm, Patty & CHIP

CHIP provides aid to states to help insure low-income children who do not have private health insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid. In reauthorizing the program in 2009, Congress provided coverage to an estimated 3.8 million children who "would otherwise have been uninsured," according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The NFIB joined with the Service Employees International Union, AARP and the Business Roundtable in an effort to pass to bill.

Coleman, the chief executive officer of the group behind this ad, voted for the 2007 expansion of CHIP (which was later vetoed by President George W. Bush.) Coleman also voted with Murray on another item the group lists as supposedly anti-small-business: a failed amendment that would have increased the federal minimum wage by $2.10 over two years.

Did Murray ‘Cost Us Jobs’?

The narrator ties up the ad by saying of Murray: "You pushed the largest increase in federal spending ever, raised taxes on small businesses, you cost us jobs."

Neither the ad nor the website say what the narrator means by the "largest increase in federal spending." Murray did vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus bill, which was one of the largest spending bills in history. And that bill actually helped save jobs during the current recession, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In a May 2010 report, the CBO said the stimulus bill "increased the number of people employed by between 1.2 million and 2.8 million," and "lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points."

— Joshua Goldman