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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Mississippi Mud

A super PAC backing Sen. Thad Cochran in the Mississippi GOP primary falsely claims state Sen. Chris McDaniel has “the worst attendance record in the state Senate,” and exaggerates the importance of votes he missed:

  • The claim about McDaniel’s “attendance record” is based on one year, 2010, when he missed three voting sessions (out of 58) and did not cast 103 votes. But three senators missed more days than McDaniel that year and four others missed as many days as he did. One senator, Johnnie Walls, missed 11 days and 178 votes — both highs for 2010.
  • The ad says McDaniel “skipped an important pro-life vote” that caused the measure to fail by one vote. But the importance of that missed vote is undermined by the very article that the super PAC cites for support: a Daily Caller report that “a purported pro-life amendment” failed after the sponsor of the bill called it unnecessary and voted against it.
  • It also says McDaniel missed “votes on taxes, debt and spending,” citing a Senate vote June 29, 2009, on a bill that increased the state’s cigarette tax. McDaniel did not vote on that bill, but he was present that day and voted on more than 50 appropriations bills.

The ad, titled “Life,” is the latest from the Mississippi Conservatives PAC — a super PAC that was formed by the nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and funded with the help of the former governor. It first aired May 28 — less than a week before the June 3 primary. Barbour and his nephew, Henry, a Mississippi lobbyist, are leading the charge for the state’s Republican establishment as it seeks to fend off Cochran’s tea party-backed challenger.

‘Worst Attendance Record’?

The ad calls into question McDaniel’s legislative work habits. It says, “A state senator who doesn’t show up for work. Chris McDaniel has the worst attendance record in the state Senate. Absent 118 times.”

The TV ad doesn’t explain what it means when it says McDaniel was “absent 118 times,” and viewers may falsely assume that it means he missed 118 days of work since the ad speaks of his “attendance record” and his alleged inability to “show up for work.” It also doesn’t explain when — over what time period — he was “absent 118 times.”

The only help a reader gets is a source note on the screen that says “MississippiVotes.org.” We went to that website and found that it keeps track of “missed votes” for all members of the state Legislature for a two-year period, 2010 and 2011. McDaniel has been in office for six years, so it covers only a third of his time in the Legislature.

The website shows that McDaniel, during this two-year period, did not vote 118 times. But there were three senators who missed more votes than McDaniel during those two years: Jack Gordon, who missed 454 votes, mostly in 2011, because he was suffering from cancer and would die from it in May 2011; Bennie Turner, who missed 267 votes, also mostly in 2011, and died in 2012 after an extended illness; and Johnnie Walls, who missed 178 votes and would leave the Legislature in January 2011 to become a circuit court judge.

As it turns out, the PAC is talking about one year — 2010 — when McDaniel missed 103 votes. We know this because the super PAC’s website says: “According to MississippiVotes.org he has missed more votes as a state Senator than any other sitting Senator. He missed 103 votes just in 2010.”

Note that the website refers to a “sitting senator” when making the claim about McDaniel missing the most votes. That’s because Walls missed 178 votes — all in 2010 — before leaving the Legislature for the court. But the ad doesn’t provide any caveats. It simply and wrongly states that “Chris McDaniel has the worst attendance record in the state Senate.”

Certainly missing 103 votes in one year is a lot. But virtually all of those votes occurred over three straight days. We found that he was absent from the daily roll call on March 25, 26 and 27, and, according to MississippiVotes.org’s database, McDaniel missed a total of 99 votes on those days. The other missed votes came on three days when McDaniel was present for the voting session and voted on other bills, but didn’t for whatever reason cast votes on four bills.

We also went through the “Daily Action Reports” for all days when the Legislature was in session in 2010 and found that there were 58 voting days — so McDaniel missed three of 58 days. Walls missed 11 voting sessions that year, by far the most. One senator missed six days, another missed five days and four others missed as many days as McDaniel with three.

So, by no measure, did McDaniel have the “worst attendance record” in 2010.

As for 2011, McDaniel did not vote 15 times that year, including five times on Feb. 11, according to MississippiVotes.org. We found in reviewing the Daily Action Reports that McDaniel cast no votes that day, so he was likely not at work on Feb. 11, 2011. But that was the only day that year when he missed all votes. He cast votes on 52 of 53 voting sessions.

The 15 missed votes ranked McDaniel 12th out of 52 senators for the most missed votes, based on our review of the Daily Action Reports. The median was 4.5 missed votes.

We asked the McDaniel campaign why the senator missed so many votes in 2010, but we did not get a response. If we do, we will update this article.

‘Important’ Missed Votes?

The ad goes on to say that McDaniel missed votes on taxes, debt and spending. “McDaniel even skipped an important pro-life vote to campaign in Washington. Causing the amendment to fail by one vote.”

The ad cites a March 5, 2014, Daily Caller article to support its claim about the “important pro-life vote.” But the article actually undermines the ad’s claim. The article says it was a vote on a “purported pro-life amendment” to a bill intended to address teen pregnancy. The amendment would have banned any mention of abortion during pregnancy prevention programs. The bill — SB 2563 — passed, but the amendment failed 23-22 when 10 Republicans, including the bill’s sponsor, voted against it, according to Daily Caller. The website quotes Sen. Sally Doty, the bill sponsor, as saying the amendment was unnecessary.

Daily Caller, March 5: However, the amendment was not a clear-cut anti-abortion measure as even the full bill’s main sponsor voted against it. GOP Sen. Sally Doty insisted that the amendment was unnecessary because her bill is about prevention and not post pregnancy options. Nine of her Republican colleagues agreed.

The ad also cites two other votes as evidence that McDaniel missed key votes on “taxes, debt and spending.” It says, correctly, that he did not vote on SB 2001 on June 29, 2009, and SB 3181 on March 26, 2010. SB 2001 passed 34-13 with five members not voting, including McDaniel, during a special budget session. The bill imposed a 25-cent per pack tax on companies that did not participate in the state’s 1997 settlement with tobacco manufacturers, and Barbour signed it. But McDaniel was present for the special session that day and voted on more than 50 appropriations bills.

SB 3181 was a transportation bond bill, and the conference report was approved in the Senate on March 26, 2010, by a 49-0 vote, according to the bill’s legislative history. McDaniel was absent that day, missing 53 votes, as we noted earlier. But he was present on Feb. 24, 2010, and voted on SB 3181 that day, when it passed 50-0.

Again, the group is cherry picking — and not doing a very good job of it, because the bill passed unanimously with and without him. His missing vote would have only padded the large and unanimous vote.

— Eugene Kiely