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Truth Squad rules "flagrant foul" on teachers' union ad, warns Snyder campaign

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The Truth Squad at Bridge magazine has had a busy summer looking at ads in the race for governor. The close race between Republican Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer has meant many ads on TV and online. Some are just not true. Others are slightly misleading. We went over a couple of them with the Truth Squad’s editor.

The Michigan Education Association is the state’s largest teachers’ union. It put a video on the Web that uses slapstick scenes and satire. In it, kids in band uniforms go door-to-door to raise money, but an actor dressed up as fat-cat CEO turns them down. That’s followed by more outrageous-looking rich guys riding in a limo, puffing cigars, drinking champagne, and laughing as kids try to raise money for schools. While that’s playing out on screen, a narrator has a more serious tone.

“By now, we’ve all heard the facts. Rich CEOs and corporate special interests got a $1.8 billion tax break, paid for by cuts to local schools. Gov. Rick Snyder and Republicans in Lansing gave a huge tax break to big banks, insurance companies, oil companies; rewarding CEOS with big bonuses.”

The Truth Squad says no one is disputing that Snyder cut taxes for business and cut funding for schools in his first year in office. What the ad does not say is that Snyder and the Legislature increased school funding in subsequent years. Although a lot of that money has gone to shore up the underfunded teachers’ pension fund. In the classroom, the per-student spending has been stagnant. Some schools have lost a lot of funding due to falling enrollment.  

David Zeman is the Truth Squad editor. He says that omission is one thing ...

“But more troublesome is the statement that Snyder’s tax changes rewarded CEOs with big bonuses. This is pure fabrication.”

You could make the argument that paying less in taxes could mean companies might pay CEOs bonuses. But Zeman say that’s not what it says. It claims the legislation itself rewarded CEOs with big bonuses.

The Truth Squad ruled that ad was a "Flagrant Foul."

Another ad the Truth Squad reviewed was a warm and fuzzy TV commercial put out by the Gov. Snyder’s campaign. In it, Snyder outlines his accomplishments to persuade voters he’s a better choice.

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Screen capture from Snyder campaign TV ad.

But, the Truth Squad had some issues with statements from the governor, such as this:

“We’ve eliminated a billion-and-a-half-dollar budget deficit.”

The Truth Squad’s David Zeman says that statement is not exactly right.

“In Michigan, the state government is banned by the Constitution from carrying a deficit from one year to the next. What he did is he faced a deficit projected at nearly one-and-a-half billion dollars, the same as previous governors have to do on a year-to-year basis.”

In another part of the ad, Snyder talks about the state’s economic recovery.

“Our unemployment rate is the lowest in six years with nearly 300,000 new private sector jobs.”

It’s true that Michigan’s unemployment rate at 7.4% is the lowest in six years. It’s also true that that puts Michigan among the top five states with the highest unemployment rates.

Regardless, David Zeman says the Truth Squad thinks the claim needs some context.

“The comeback in jobs was mainly fueled by the auto industry’s resurgence and that was something that had very little to do with (the) governor’s economic policies. But, this is something incumbents do all the time when the numbers go up and that candidates do to them all the time when the numbers go down. One way or another they’re the person in charge and they get the credit or the blame.”

The bottom line for the ad, the Truth Squad gives it a "Warning."

A little clarity and a little context were needed if the intent was to inform voters. But, that might be a bit much to ask from any political campaign ad.

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