Tom Ganley's success in selling cars helped make him Ohio's largest dealer. It made him rich enough to put more than $3.4 million into financing his Republican congressional campaign against Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton in the 13th Congressional District.
Sutton has less than a quarter of his war chest. She and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are countering by challenging the practices that Ganley used to build his wealth and automotive empire.
Sutton’s TV ad "Buyer," posted on YouTube Sept. 21, uses the theme "buyer beware" and says:
- Ganley has been "sued over 400 times, for fraud, discrimination and more."
- A judge called Tom Ganley's business practices "deceptive" and "unconscionable."
Sutton makes the claim that Ganley is a "dishonest car salesman." That’s a statement of opinion that PolitiFact Ohio can’t rate. But we can check her numbers and try to put them in perspective.
We did find that Ganley was named in well over 400 suits in Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit counties, dating back to 1979. That number, though, when weighted for volume and time in operation, appeared to be comparable with the record of four other large auto groups we examined.
A Plain Dealer story before last spring’s primary election reported that Ganley dealerships face suits from employees for age, racial and sex discrimination. Ganley’s campaign characterized them as disgruntled employees.
Many of the dozens of lawsuits from customers were filed under the Ohio Lemon Law. Lemon Law cases involve manufacturing and repair problems and do not necessarily reflect on the way a dealer does business. But most Lemon Law cases are filed against dealers, in addition to manufacturers, though the law does not require it.
Ganley dealerships have been sued for selling damaged cars as new and lending a potential buyer a car that had been reported stolen.
Some of the consumer lawsuits involve the dealer practice of offering a "conditional delivery agreement" or "spot delivery agreement," which permits a consumer to take a new vehicle home before financing has been approved.
Buyers Jeffrey and Stacy Felix claim they took home a new SUV, at Ganley’s insistence, after being told they were approved for zero percent financing. More than a month later, the couple said, they were told the rate was being moved to 9.44 percent.
Their suit, and others, additionally claimed that Ganley violated Ohio's Consumer Sales Practices Act with a purchase contract containing a mandatory arbitration clause. That clause required any dispute between the buyer and dealer to be resolved by binding arbitration.
The judge in Felix vs. Ganley Chevrolet, agreed that the clause was misleading, unfair and deceptive enough to be classified under Ohio law as "unconscionable," and therefore unenforceable.
Ganley’s campaign spokeswoman Meghan Snyder noted -- accurately -- that Ganley or Ganley Automotive was named as the plaintiff and not the defendant in some suits. She said that "90 cases were dismissed without prejudice," and that 98 of the cases against Ganley also named a manufacturer and related to the Ohio Lemon Law.
"Over his 42 years in business, Mr. Ganley has sold 585,211 cars, served 1,501,715 service, parts and body customers, and had a total of 5,486 employees," Snyder said. "He stands proudly behind his record of serving and employing Northeast Ohioans over the past six decades."
We repeat: We are not rating the ad’s statement about Ganley’s honesty.
But Sutton’s claim that he has been "sued over 400 times" and that a judge described his business practices "deceptive and unconscionable" checks out. Recognizing that he has been in business more than four decades and is Ohio’s largest car dealer are additional pieces of information not in the ad that help put the numbers into perspective.
We rate her ad claim as Mostly True.