A new TV ad running in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District claims that 90% of state Sen. Tom Barrett’s donors are special interest groups.
That claim, while it contains an element of truth, is mostly false. It is also presented in a way that could confuse voters into believing that Barrett, R-Charlotte, has received the bulk of his campaign financing for his current U.S. House run from special interest groups, which is also false.
Ad begins with a confusing claim
The ad was aired by the House Majority PAC, which works to elect Democrats to Congress. Barrett is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, in what is expected to be one of the closest congressional elections of the year in Michigan.
The ad begins with a confusing claim. First there is what is a mock “For Sale” sign with Barrett’s picture on it, that reads, “90% of my state campaign donors are from special interests.” Beneath that, it says, “Tom Barrett for Congress.” At the same time, a narrator says 90% of Barrett’s donors “were” — not “are” — from “special interests, including corporate PACs.”
Those claims aren’t literally true, either for his congressional fundraising or the fundraising he has done as a state representative and senator since first running in 2014. Federal Election Commission records show in this year’s race, he has some 3,000 individual donors, more than 500 of whom live in Michigan, who have given more than $200 each (donations of less than that amount aren’t itemized with names) compared with about 65 donations from political action committees, trade organizations and partisan political groups nationwide.
Also, as of mid-July, the time of the most recent campaign report, $1.3 million of the $1.4 million he had raised was from individual donors, not groups.
To understand fundraising he has done as a state legislator, however, more explanation is needed.
Most of Barrett’s funding as a state legislator has come from groups
A look at all of the fundraising Barrett has done for himself and for his leadership committee since 2014 shows that in terms of the number of donors, the claim is untrue: Controlling for multiple donations by the same people, about 695 individuals have given to his committees, compared with about 235 groups.
But House Majority PAC says its ad refers to the amount of donations Barrett has received, not the number of donors — even though the ad says “90% … of donors.”
And on that point, it is correct, at least with a little rounding: Barrett’s committees raised 87% of their funding, about $1.8 million out of just over $2 million, from outside groups, not individuals.
Although it’s true that nearly 90% of Barrett’s campaign funding as a state legislator has come from outside groups, the ad never makes that clear to the viewer, confusing the idea of the sum of the donations with the donors themselves.
It also says both that Barrett’s donors “are” and “were” special interests, directly noting his congressional campaign in an image — but not explaining what it means by “state campaign donors.” Although House Majority PAC contends that phrase clearly indicates donations to his campaigns as a Michigan legislator, the ad never mentions that he is a state legislator, though it does, later in the ad, mention that he “sponsored a bill” and contains an image of the state Capitol in Lansing.
Even so, it could just as easily seem to a viewer that the ad is referring to donations to his congressional campaign from inside Michigan, since that is the only campaign noted in the ad.
House Majority PAC’s ad also obscures that a majority of Barrett’s donors and donations to his current congressional committee are individuals, not special interest groups..
We rate this claim as mostly false.