In the crowded Republican primary field for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, candidate Mike Gibbons charges in a TV ad that his cohorts have taken his words on taxes “out of context” — but his ad leaves out context and stretches the facts on their positions, too.
We’ll provide the facts on what Gibbons, as well as fellow candidates JD Vance and Jane Timken, said or did regarding taxes. They are among seven candidates in the Republican primary, which is on May 3, to secure the party’s nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Rob Portman.
What Gibbons Said
The spat on taxes began with Gibbons, a businessman, who made comments about the top income-earners paying the vast majority of federal income taxes, while “45 to 50% don’t pay any income tax.” He made the remarks in a Sept. 24 podcast interview with Crain’s Cleveland Business, but they recently came to light in an April 8 Associated Press article.
He said the Democrats’ narrative that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share is “absolutely false,” adding that the sizable portion not paying federal income taxes shows “the middle class is not really paying any kind of a fair share depending how you wanted to define it.”
Here is the relevant part of his remarks in talking about taxes and business owners (see the 10:55 mark of the video):
Gibbons, Sept. 24: [Democratic Sen.] Elizabeth Warren’s obsession with not being a wealthy person is, is hurting our country. And, and, you know, if somebody takes that kind of risk, they should be rewarded. Now I’m not talking about about cutting taxes for the people that make it. I don’t have a problem with a progressive income tax structure. You know, I think a flat tax would even be better. We’d have much higher growth, but I’m not, I can live with a progressive tax structure. The problem is, is the narrative on the part of the Democrats is absolutely false. The top 20% of earners in the United States pay 82% of federal income tax. We only have, and if you do the math, and 45 to 50% don’t pay any income tax. You can see the middle class is not really paying any kind of a fair share depending on how you wanted to define it. The problem is you need the middle class to win an election. So the narrative is the middle class is getting screwed and the wealthy, the elite are getting, are cheating everybody and getting by unfairly. How much of the total tax bill can a very small percentage of the nation pay and still be a democracy? You can’t have 10 or 20% of the population carrying the whole bill. It just it doesn’t work long run. You know it’s a very dangerous situation. Everybody should share at least to some degree in the tax bill.
A TV ad from the Club for Growth Action attacking Gibbons takes some of those comments and juxtaposes them with clips of President Joe Biden saying in late October that the wealthy and large corporations should “pay your fair share.” The Club for Growth PAC has endorsed Josh Mandel, another candidate in the race.
At the end of the ad, the narrator says: “The difference between Biden and Mike Gibbons on taxes?” followed by the sound of crickets. On screen are the words: “Tax Hike Mike Just Like Joe.” But their positions are not “just like” one another. Biden supports raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations, while Gibbons was arguing that the wealthy pay more than a fair share.
Vance, the author of the book “Hillbilly Elegy,” who has been endorsed in the race by former President Donald Trump, also criticized Gibbons over his remarks. He said this month on “The Charlie Kirk Show” and Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast that Gibbons “proposed raising taxes on middle-class Americans.”
Timken, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, who has been endorsed by Portman, similarly said in an April 8 Facebook post, sharing the news of Gibbons’ comments: “Raising taxes on the middle class is NOT the answer. … While Gibbons just thinks he ‘needs the middle class to win an election,’ I actually want to help hardworking Ohio families live their American Dream. I will work to CUT taxes, not raise them.”
For his part, Gibbons has said, despite the comments about the middle class not paying “a fair share,” that he doesn’t support raising taxes. In an April 9 tweet, Gibbons said, “I’ll never support any tax increase, period.” In an accompanying two-minute video, he said: “I’m blunt and I tell it like it is. … President Trump’s tax cuts for families were a great first start. But we need to continue this fight for lower taxes and a simpler, fairer, flatter tax code. … I’ll cut taxes on everyone.”
That’s also what Gibbons’ campaign website has said since Oct. 1. On “job creation,” the site says he will “[r]educe taxes and have a simpler, flatter tax code,” and “[c]reate a tax credit for every job that a business adds.”
Gibbons was merely responding to questions in the September interview, but his comments remind us of Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s formal policy plan, released earlier this year, that says: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.” As we wrote, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that 57.1%, of all tax units — meaning individuals or married couples — would have zero or negative income tax liability in 2021. TPC expects that percentage to return to pre-pandemic levels if the economic recovery continues. From 2011 to 2019, the estimated percentage of tax units owning no income tax varied between 42% and 45%.
These tax units usually earn too little to owe anything, or they qualify for deductions and refundable tax credits that cancel out any income tax they would have owed, the TPC says.
Despite his policy saying “all Americans should pay some income tax,” Scott claimed he wasn’t suggesting raising taxes on half the country. His office told us he was referring to only able-bodied, nonretirees who receive government benefits but don’t work and don’t pay federal income taxes or payroll taxes.
We reached out by phone and email to Gibbons’ spokesperson to ask what he meant by saying, “Everybody should share at least to some degree in the tax bill.” We haven’t received a response.
Vance’s Policy to Raise Certain Companies’ Taxes
Gibbons then went on the offensive with a TV spot that claims, “JD Vance called for higher taxes.”
Vance has called for higher taxes for some companies that, in his view, “use their money to fund anti-American radical movements.” The TV ad points to an April 2021 tweet by Vance that began: “Raise their taxes.” That’s about all viewers can make out on screen. But the ad doesn’t explain what taxes Vance called for raising.
The tweet was a criticism of news that about 100 corporate leaders had met to talk about how to respond to changes in state voting laws. Less than a month prior, Coca-Cola and Delta Airways had issued statements criticizing a new law in the companies’ home state of Georgia for potentially restricting voting.
Vance said in the tweet: “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing.” And then in another tweet: “At this very moment there are companies (big and small) paying good wages to American workers, investing in their communities, and making it easier for American families. Cut their taxes. No more subsidies to the anti-American business class.”
Vance hasn’t backed down from that position, stating on his campaign website, “Now more than ever, our economy favors foreign companies that vocally oppose American values. Why do Apple and Coca Cola feel the need to threaten states that pass election integrity measures? And why does our economic policy reward them more than local businesses?”
He goes on to say that he wants to “raise taxes” on some companies.
“My fellow Republicans love to talk about tax cuts. By all means, let’s cut the taxes of the companies that invest in our country. But we’re going to raise taxes on companies that ship jobs overseas and use their money to fund anti-American radical movements. If these companies are going to wage war on America, it’s time America wages war on them,” he said.
It’s possible some voters would agree with such a stance, as evidenced by Republican state lawmakers in Florida passing a law this month to take away tax advantages for Walt Disney World after the company opposed a state law restricting education about sexual orientation in grade schools.
Timken’s Party, Not Timken, Voted for Gas Tax Hike
The Gibbons ad then tries to tie Timken to higher taxes, saying, “And Jane Timken bankrolled tax-raising politicians.” The citation is for a bipartisan Ohio transportation budget bill, enacted in 2019, that increased the state gasoline tax by 10.5 cents per gallon for motor fuel and 19 cents for diesel. It was signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
Timken was not, and has never been, a member of the Ohio Legislature. She was chair of the Ohio Republican Party, which spends money to support state Republicans. That’s why the ad attempts to link her only tangentially to the tax increase and “tax-raising politicians.”
Timken’s spokesperson, Mandi Merritt, told us the ad was “a poor cleanup attempt” by Gibbons after his comments on the “middle class” not paying “a fair share.” Merritt said Timken “will fight to ensure taxes are cut, not raised.”
On her campaign website, Timken says she “signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a commitment sponsored by the group Americans for Tax Reform “to oppose any and all tax increases.” Four other candidates in the race also have signed it — Gibbons, Vance, Mandel and Dolan.
The TV spot claims that Vance and Timken took Gibbons’ words “out of context,” but then doesn’t provide needed context on its attack on other candidates. The ad ends by saying, “Mike Gibbons never voted for a single tax increase and never will.” But neither Gibbons, Vance nor Timken have held political office in which they could have voted for or against any tax increase.
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