Republican congressional candidate Tom Ganley is an auto giant and the owner of other businesses including insurance, real estate, aviation and finance companies.
His success enhanced his stature as a candidate. And, it made him rich enough to help finance his campaign against Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton in Ohio’s 13th Congressional District.
Sutton, with help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has countered by questioning the practices that Ganley used to build his wealth and automotive empire.
Sutton's TV advertising has cited lawsuits filed against Ganley dealerships. PolitiFact Ohio examined those claims and noted that while her numbers were correct, the information was presented without context. Specifically, the ad cited large numbers of lawsuits filed against Ganley without noting that he’s been in business four decades and is Ohio’s largest car dealer.
"Buyer Beware," a TV ad from the DCCC, added the claims that Ganley has "two F's from the Better Business Bureau" and "over 160 complaints in just three years."
PolitiFact Ohio decided to examine these assertions and, again, tried to put them in perspective.
We started with the letter grades from the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB called them "another tool to use" in choosing a business, and said that the grades are based on 17 different factors that include the time a business has been in operation and how it has handled complaints. An especially important factor is a business's responsive to complaints cited by the BBB.
The BBB did give F ratings to two Ganley dealerships, primarily for failing to respond to six complaints filed against them during the bureau's "standard reporting period" of three years, and for false claims in advertising.
But in the BBB’s online listings, the average grade for the 20 Ganley dealerships was a B+. That rating compared favorably to the per-store average of four other dealer groups we surveyed (Spitzer, Classic, Liberty and Cincinnati-based Joseph).
The grades undergo continuing review and revision, and they have changed since the DCCC's ad. One F grade was upgraded to a B-. The second was withdrawn, replaced with "no rating" and is listed as under review. A third dealership, not rated earlier, was given an F.
As for complaints, the BBB says, "There is no known industry standard for the number of complaints a business can expect. The volume of business and number of transactions may have a bearing on the number of complaints received by the BBB."
Over 42 years in business, Ganley has sold 585,211 cars and served 1,501,715 service, parts and body customers, said Meghan Snyder, a spokeswoman for Ganley's campaign. "He stands proudly behind his record of serving and employing Northeast Ohioans over the past six decades."
We found that its average of almost nine complaints per store, about three per year, was slightly higher than the average for the four other groups we looked at, and that a larger number of complaints involved "selling practices."
Warning consumers about one practice, the BBB's website says that several of the dealerships may offer a "conditional delivery agreement" or "spot delivery agreement" to car buyers.
Signing such an agreement permits the consumer to take the new vehicle home before financing has been approved," the BBB warns. "Although offered as a 'convenience' to consumers, these agreements can often create problems if the consumer interprets them to mean the final terms of the car purchase will be as originally promised."
Those agreements led to several of the lawsuits against Ganley dealerships, such as one filed by a couple who said they took a new car home 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.
So let’s check the scorecard.
The DCCC's claim that Ganley has "two F's from the Better Business Bureau" checked out. But the ad fails to note that those two grades later changed.
The claim of "over 160 complaints in just three years" is accurate.
- Recognizing that Ganley is Ohio's largest car dealer with 20 dealerships is information not in the ad that lends it some perspective. And that the average grade for all those dealerships is a B plus is an important detail that also is missing.
We rate the ad claim as Half True.
Cleveland Better Business Bureau, BBB business ratings
Interview, Erica Dilworth, Cleveland BBB, Sept. 24, 2010
Betty Sutton for Congress, "Buyer" campaign ad, posted to YouTube Sept. 21, 2010
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, "Millionaire Used Car Salesman Tom Ganley: Buyer Beware" campaign ad, posted to YouTube Sept. 21, 2010
PolitiFact Ohio, "Rep. Betty Sutton cries ‘voter beware’ in ad against GOP opponent Tom Ganley," Oct. 15, 2010
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