Thursday, October 30th, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Greater Wisconsin Committee
Says Republican candidates in key Wisconsin Assembly races "side with those who want to privatize Social Security -- and risk our retirements on Wall Street."

Greater Wisconsin Committee on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 in radio ads and direct mail pieces

Group says Wisconsin Republican Assembly candidates want to privatize Social Security

Campaign literature distributed by the Greater Wisconsin committee against a Wisconsin state Assembly candidate (back)
Campaign literature distributed by the Greater Wisconsin committee against a Wisconsin state Assembly candidate (front)

Worried about the future of Social Security? A liberal Wisconsin group is betting you are -- or that it can make you worried before election day.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee and its Greater Wisconsin Political Fund are using mailers and radio ads to target Republican candidates in key 2010 races for the Wisconsin Assembly. Democrats outnumber Republicans there, 52 to 46, with one independent.

The central theme of the attacks: The GOP Assembly candidates, like their Washington counterparts, want to privatize Social Security.

Yes, Social Security, that venerable federal program -- one the state Assembly has no control over.

The wording of the attacks varies, but the claims are all similar to this one against Republican Travis Tranel, who is challenging Rep. Phil Garthwaite, D-Dickeyville.

"Travis Tranel," a mail piece says, "sides with those who want to privatize Social Security -- and risk our retirements on Wall Street."

Lest anyone miss the point, the flier includes a man -- presumably a fat-cat Wall Street banker or investor -- lighting his cigar with a Social Security card that’s been set aflame.

There’s also an image of a magnifying glass inviting readers to "check the facts."

Why, thank you. We will.

Asked to elaborate on her organization’s claims, Greater Wisconsin Committee executive director Michelle McGrorty offered two main points:

  • In the group’s view, "A Roadmap for America’s Future" -- U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to tackle the federal debt and deficits, and make significant changes to taxes, Medicare and Social Security -- would privatize Social Security.
  • Ryan, a Janesville Republican, has ties to the state GOP Assembly candidates targeted by the group.


At PolitiFact Wisconsin, this is familiar ground.

We gave Pants on Fire ratings to claims that GOP congressional candidates backed privatizing Social Security, when Democrats provided no proof beyond a sliced-and-diced statement and a two-word answer taken out of context.

Now state Assembly candidates? This could get good.

Let’s start with Ryan’s "Roadmap," a plan that has helped put Ryan on the political map, but one that does not have universal support among the GOP leadership in Washington.

PolitiFact National examined the roadmap in August 2010, after President Barack Obama alluded to it in saying GOP leaders are backing privatization plans that would tie Social Security benefits "to the whims of Wall Street traders and the ups and downs of the stock market."  

If adopted, Ryan’s plan would enable workers under 55 to, voluntarily, invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in funds managed by the government. As Politifact National noted: "That's a far cry from privatizing the entirety of Social Security."

So, the Greater Wisconsin Committee is starting off on the wrong road with its claim about the roadmap.

As for the ties to Ryan, this is old-fashioned guilt by association ... and there ain’t much association, at least when it comes to the Social Security issue.

  • Tranel, a Cuba City dairy farmer, is making his second attempt to unseat Garthwaite, a second-term Assembly Democrat. The mail piece that claims he "sides with those who want to privatize Social Security" says its proof is a newspaper article. In the article, Tranel expresses admiration for Ryan -- but there’s no mention of Social  Security.
  • Dennis Clinard, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant from Cataract, is seeking to unseat first-term Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls. A flier says "Washington politicians who wants (sic) to privatize Social Security are the fund-raising muscle behind" Clinard’s campaign. The proof listed in the flier is Ryan’s appearance at a fundraiser for Clinard. It took in $7,250, according to a state GOP official, or about 15 percent of the $46,357 Clinard’s campaign has raised in 2010.
  • Howard Marklein, a Wilson Creek accountant, is running for an open seat against Mineral Point Democrat John Simonson, a retired University of Wisconsin-Platteville economics professor. A mail piece says Marklein is "backed by Washington, D.C., politicians who want to privatize Social Security."  McGrorty said the proof is a picture of Ryan and Marklein on Marklein’s campaign website.


We could go on.

A GWC radio ad says some tea party candidates want to eliminate Social Security and "we have one right here, this guy Jack Cummings." Cummings, an Endeavor farmer, is challenging first-term Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo. McGrorty’s defense: The ad talks about a number of issues and doesn’t say that Cummings wants to eliminate Social Security.

Hmmm .... "We have one right here."

(Assembly Democrat Ted Zigmunt of Francis Creek also uses a flier to accuse his Republican opponent, Andre Jacque, of supporting privatization of Social Security. A campaign aide cited Jacque’s endorsement by the Republican Liberty Caucus, but no statement Jacque has made about Social Security.)

How do the targeted candidates respond to all of this?

Brian Pleva, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, said none of them supports -- or has made statements in support of -- privatizing or eliminating Social Security.

Why would they? They’re not running for Congress.

In any case, we could not find any such statements. And the Greater Wisconsin Committee could not provide any.

Indeed, on two of the fliers, one of the check-our-facts citations is a report by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. The report predicts cuts in Social Security benefits would result from Ryan’s plan, but that doesn’t address the question of privatization, and the report doesn’t mention the targeted candidates.

If you’re sensing a theme here, so are we.

In targeting Republicans in races that could shift the balance of power in the state Assembly, the Greater Wisconsin Committee is taking a page from the national Democratic playbook -- and misusing it. To play to fears of seniors and others, the group labels a proposal from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, as privatizing Social Security.

Even if the plan did privatize Social Security (in our view it does not), the group has offered no evidence that the GOP Assembly candidates back it. The "proof" cited borders on absurd: One candidate praised Ryan, one got his picture taken with him and a third had Ryan appear at his campaign fundraiser. Is that cigar still burning?

If not, we need a light, because the ruling is Pants on Fire.