A group founded by conservative billionaire Joe Ricketts, who spent millions to help Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, is on the air in Michigan where there’s a heated race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin.
Ricketts’ group, Ending Spending Action Fund, launched an ad Aug. 13 that attacks the record of Rep. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat hoping to succeed Levin. Peters is running against Republican Terri Lynn Land, former Michigan Secretary of State.
"Can you think of a single thing he’s accomplished?" a narrator asks in the 30-second spot. A clock ticks.
"In six years, Peters introduced zero bills that became law."
We decided to see if that’s accurate.
Peters was elected in 2008. In that time, he has sponsored 49 bills. A quick search found that four of them passed the House, but none of them made it through the Senate and onto President Barack Obama’s desk.
In the past we’ve found that experts are critical of such a narrow measure of legislative success, noting that it hardly captures a lawmaker’s effectiveness or track record for moving legislation. Lawmaking is a collaborative process, so sometimes many people contribute even though only one person is listed as the original sponsor.
A deeper dive into Peters’ tenure finds several legislative victories that fly in the face of the ad’s claim.
On June 9, Obama signed into law H.R. 724, an act "to amend the Clean Air Act to remove the requirement for dealer certification of new light-duty motor vehicles." Basically, the certificate required for these new vehicles was duplicative, since laws already required these standards to be met during production, thus creating red tape for these dealers.
While the bill’s listed sponsor is Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio, Peters was widely recognized for his contributions to the bill. Multiple reports indicated that he co-wrote it with Latta, and Peters was listed as the lone "original co-sponsor" of the bill.
Latta’s website even says that he "along with Congressman Gary Peters introduced" the legislation.
In 2010, Peters sponsored a bill he called the State Small Business Credit Initiative. The bill did not pass the House as standalone legislation. But during the markup of the Small Business Lending Fund Act of 2010 (later called the Small Business Jobs Act) in the House Financial Services Committee on May 19, 2010, Peters offered an amendment to incorporate his bill into the larger legislation. It was approved on 39-23 vote.
So essentially, when Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act, he was also signing Peters’ bill into law. Indeed, Peters’ profile on Congressional Quarterly notes he keeps a pen from Obama’s bill signing in his office, as Peters "was the author of an amendment that created a collateral support program for small businesses struggling to get loans because the capital they owned had decreased in value during the recession."
Peters also introduced the Animal Torture Prevention Act of 2010. The bill came in response to a Supreme Court ruling that said an existing law against so-called animal crush videos that show animals being abused was too broad and may violate First Amendment rights.
While Peters’ bill did not pass, a similar bill did. Peters’ bill is listed as a "related bill" on Congress’ bill-tracking service because it is "a companion measure, an identical bill, a procedurally-related measure, or one with substantive similarities," according to Congress.gov.
Peters has also co-sponsored 44 bills that eventually became law, and was listed as an "original co-sponsor" on five of them.
Not all of those bills are significant, nor did he play a significant role in crafting all of them. But within the walls of Congress, he can at least claim partial victory.
Those examples don’t include committee work where Peters took part in shaping bills that would later become law. For example, Peters served on the powerful Wall Street Reform Conference Committee that produced the final version of Dodd-Frank, the bill that emerged in the aftermath of the recession and ensuing bailouts.
The Ending Spending ad claims that Peters hasn't accomplished anything, making this statement: "In six years, Peters introduced zero bills that became law." If you search congressional databases, you won't find a bill introduced solely by Peters that became law. But we found several instances in which Peters was credited with writing the legislation that did become law, sponsoring a bill that became part of a larger package signed by Obama, offering a bill similar to one that became law, or was an original co-sponsor.
There’s a shred of truth in the claim by Ending Spending, but it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate the claim Mostly False.
Update: After we published this piece, we heard from Brian Baker, president of Ending Spending Action Fund. Baker pointed to the evidence (which is included in our fact-check) that Peters was not sole sponsor on any bill that became law and stood by the group’s claim. "First, it is great that PolitiFact acknowledges, as it must, that ‘if you search congressional databases, you won’t find a bill introduced solely by Peters that became law.’ This sentence confirms the truth of the central assertion in our advertisement," Baker said. We stand by our original analysis and keep the rating the same at Mostly False.