A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the Michigan Senate Race


The Michigan Senate race pits Democratic Rep. Gary Peters against Republican Terri Lynn Land, a former Michigan secretary of state, to replace the retiring Sen. Carl Levin. The two candidates have faced plenty of attacks from outside spending groups, who have poured enough money into the race to make it the seventh highest in terms of outside dollars.

In fact, those groups — not the candidates themselves — have so far been the focus of our fact-checking efforts. False and misleading claims have centered on taxes, equal pay for women, health care, outsourcing jobs, Medicare and energy.

The latest polls show the race tilting in Peters’ favor.

 

Claim: On Peters’ watch “Michigan gas taxes [were] siphoned off by Washington instead of staying [in Michigan] and being spent on Michigan’s crumbling roads.”

Facts: Despite what a Land campaign ad says, Michigan has received slightly more than $1 worth of highway funding for every $1 collected of federal gasoline taxes earmarked for highways.

The Land ad makes it seem like Michigan is getting back less in highway funding than its residents pay in gasoline taxes. But the Federal Highway Administration reported that, in 2012, Michigan received $1.03 in highway funding for every senatebattle$1 in federal highway gasoline taxes collected in the state. Michigan’s return on investment was even better in 2010 and 2011, according to the FHA, when the state received $1.30 and $1.20 in highway funding for every $1, respectively.

It turns out Land’s point isn’t just about return on investment, but also increasing local control of highway spending. She advocates a plan to gradually reduce the federal gas tax and replace it with a state tax, giving states more control over the money.

The federal government currently collects a tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon of diesel fuel and puts it into the Highway Trust Fund. Out of every 18.4 cents, 15.44 cents are allocated to state departments of transportation to “design, construct, improve and preserve” major roads. The money can’t be used for routine maintenance, such as repairing potholes, which are shown in Land’s ad.

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29

 

Claim: Land “said guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Facts: The DSCC ad making this claim takes Land’s words out of context.

The ad cites an April 12 article from the Wall Street Journal, which made it clear that Land’s “not a good idea” comment was referring to the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill, not to the idea of equal pay. The article even noted Land’s stated support for “the principle of equal pay for women.”

As the Journal explains, the bill “which was blocked by Senate Republicans, would have allowed employees to discuss their pay without potential retaliation and required employers to show that salary differences aren’t based on gender bias.” Land said she opposed the bill because “that would require that businesses have to post the pay of each individual so it was public. … I don’t think you should have to have everyone know what your pay is.”

People may disagree with her — or object to her ill-informed belief that the bill would have required employers to post employees’ pay — but Land never said “guaranteeing equal pay for women who do the same work as men is not a good idea.”

Full story: “Trading Jabs in Michigan,” Aug. 29

 

Claim: Peters, who opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, is backed by environmental activist Tom Steyer, who “stands to profit by blocking Keystone.”

Facts: The claim that Steyer would profit from the Keystone pipeline is based on outdated information.

Steyer does oppose the Keystone XL pipeline for environmental reasons, and Peters voted against the project in May 2013. It’s also true that Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action group backs Peters, and had spent $3.6 million against Land as of Oct. 20. Until 2012, Steyer owned Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund that invested in Kinder Morgan, an energy company that owns a pipeline that runs from Canadian tar sands to Pacific ports. This pipeline would be an alternative if the Keystone project fizzled. So, in the not-too-distant past, Steyer might have profited if the Keystone pipeline project had been blocked.

But when he left Farallon, Steyer instructed the company to divest his personal holdings of money in tar sands, coal, oil and natural gas. In 2013 he pledged to donate profits he had received from the Kinder Morgan investment to environmental disaster relief, and in 2014 he announced that he and his wife would put $2 million in a new Climate Disaster Relief Fund to help victims of extreme weather including wildfires. And Farallon no longer has any holdings in Kinder Morgan.

Full story: “Special Interest Battle in Midwest Races,” Sept. 23

 

Claim: Health insurance premiums are up “by nearly 40 percent” in Michigan.

Facts: Americans for Prosperity uses this figure, which comes with several caveats, from an unscientific survey. This wouldn’t be the first time that the conservative group founded by businessman David Koch misused the survey.

The ad attacks Peters for his support of the Affordable Care Act and suggests health insurance premiums are going up by nearly 40 percent for everyone in Michigan. That’s simply not the case. Premiums for employer-sponsored plans, where most Americans (and Michiganders) get their coverage, have gone up an average of 5.9 percent per year since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, while they went up 4.8 percent on average per year in the five years before the law. AFP’s claim concerns the no more than 5 percent of Michiganders in the individual market.

Small print in the ad cites an April 7 story in Forbes, which is about a survey of 148 insurance brokers taken by Morgan Stanley to help guide investor decisions about stock purchases. A state-by-state chart suggests a 35.6 percent increase in rates in the individual market in Michigan in 2014, according to responses from just six insurance brokers in the state.

Robert Santos, senior methodologist at the Urban Institute and past president of the executive council at the American Association for Public Opinion Research, told us that the survey has no scientific validity with regard to the aggregated nationwide results. He also said that “anyone would be on very tenuous ground in trying to make a state-specific inference” from the survey. A small notation below the state chart uses technical jargon to warn the same thing.

And even if the figure were accurate, it doesn’t account for improved coverage or government subsidies, which 80 percent of those in the new individual market exchanges are expected to receive.

Full story: “AFP Misuses Survey Again,” May 30.

 

Claim: A Michigan family’s “new plan is not affordable at all” under the ACA.

Facts: Another Americans for Prosperity ad features a Michigan mom, Shannon Wendt, who says her family’s “new plan is not affordable at all.” Her case is actually an example of how middle-class families can benefit from the health care law — if they choose to do so.

The ad leaves the false impression that the Wendt family obtained its costly new insurance plan through the federal exchange set up by the ACA. Rather, the family’s “new plan” is a temporary plan that does not meet the ACA requirements. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offered the plan to customers who had their old policies canceled but did not want to purchase insurance on the exchange. It turns out that Wendt found a cheaper, subsidized plan on the exchange, but declined to accept it because she did not want her children on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, even though they were eligible. HealthCare.gov explains that a family cannot receive subsidies to help buy insurance on the exchange if the children in the family are CHIP-eligible and they do not sign up.

We found that a Michigan family of seven similar to the Wendts could get a “silver” plan with the same coinsurance as the Wendts’ current plan, a monthly premium that would be roughly the same and an annual deductible far below their current $10,000 deductible. Plus, such a family would be eligible for subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket expenses to around $3,000 — which could represent a significant savings since Shannon Wendt told MLive.com, a Michigan news website, that her family paid $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses last year.

Full story: “Misleading Anti-Obamacare Ad in Michigan,” March 31

 

Claim: Land “supports a plan that would end the Medicare guarantee.”

Facts: A DSCC ad misrepresents Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan to make this false claim about Land. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t end the guarantee of Medicare benefits, nor would it take away any particular benefits that are currently “guaranteed.”

Instead, Ryan’s plan, which he first included in his 2011 House budget, called for a transition to a premium-support system in which people currently under 55, once eligible for Medicare, would get government subsidies for a selection of insurance plans on a Medicare exchange. The private plans offered would have to include minimum benefits equivalent to those covered by traditional Medicare. The 2011 version of Ryan’s plan didn’t include traditional Medicare as an option on that exchange, but his plan the subsequent year, and every year since, has. His proposals also have grown increasingly more generous in terms of how that premium-support subsidy increases over time.

Land expressed support for the 2012 Republican Platform, which among other things called for a premium-support system like Ryan’s plan.

Democrats have made similar claims against Republicans in many congressional races.

Full story: “Midterm Medicare Mudslinging,” Oct. 3

 

Claim: Peters, who was the state lottery commissioner from 2003 to 2007, “outsourced millions in contracts out of state, and even to China.”

Facts: Ending Spending Action Fund made this distorted claim, wrongly implying that the outsourcing cost Michigan jobs, and blaming Peters for an out-of-state contract in place before he became lottery commissioner.

The ad cites a 2005 article from the Detroit News about the state purchasing 6 million pencils for the lottery from a Chinese manufacturer for $210,000. According to the state’s purchasing director, Sean Carlson, no Michigan jobs were lost because no state-based company bid on the contract or even made such pencils at the time. The contract actually saved taxpayers $90,000.

The ad also cites a Feb. 12, 2007, article in the Coldwater Daily Reporter that discussed the Michigan Lottery’s contracts with GTECH, a Rhode Island lottery operating company that Bloomberg News described as “the world’s biggest supplier of lottery systems.” GTECH has been the state’s lottery operator since 1988, so the company already held the contract when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Peters commissioner on April 9, 2003. In June 2003, after Peters was appointed commissioner, the Michigan Lottery exercised an option to extend GTECH’s contract through 2009. No Michigan jobs were at stake because no Michigan companies competed for this highly specialized work.

Full story: “Jackpot Ad Is a Loser,” Sept. 25

 

Claim: Peters backed “carbon taxes” that would have “killed up to 96,000 Michigan jobs.”

Facts: Peters didn’t support a carbon tax. Rather, he supported cap-and-trade legislation that independent analyses said would cause a small reduction in employment.

The Land ad cites Peters’ vote for H.R. 2454, also known as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which would have required polluters to have allowances, or permits, in order to emit carbon dioxide. The bill passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate. A carbon tax, while having a similar goal to cap-and-trade (reducing emissions), would instead be a direct tax on the carbon content of oil, gas and coal. Such a tax is politically unpopular, and legislation that would institute it hasn’t moved out of committee.

The 96,000-jobs figure used by the Land campaign comes from a 2013 National Association of Manufacturers analysis of two hypothetical carbon tax proposals, not Waxman-Markey. We looked at Waxman-Markey back in 2009 and determined that the bill would have caused a loss of jobs, but opponents — including the NAM— were exaggerating the likely impact. Independent experts and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the cap-and-trade legislation could have led to a small loss of jobs.

Full story: “Peters’ ‘War’ on Michigan Jobs?” May 30

— The Staff of FactCheck.org