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In an ad in the hard-fought U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, Republican Linda McMahon charges that her Democratic opponent, Rep. Chris Murphy, has been getting rich in Congress.
The ad focuses on Social Security and Medicare, but it includes a momentary detour into how much Murphy got paid for his labors in the Capitol.
The narrator asks, "Why is Congressman Chris Murphy lying to you about Linda McMahon and Social Security? Because while Murphy was raking in $1 million in salary, he voted to cut Medicare for current recipients by $716 billion."
An on-screen visual reads: "Congressman Chris Murphy: $1 million in taxpayer-funded salary."
A reader asked us: Are members of Congress really paid $1 million salaries?
Actually, no. Not even close.
Since Jan. 1, 2009, lawmakers have been paid $174,000 a year. The key to understanding the ad’s claim comes from the fine print on the screen. It says, "Congressional salaries 2007 through 2012."
So the ad is referring to Murphy’s cumulative earnings over a six-year period and calling it his "salary."
We checked a Congressional Research Service paper on lawmakers’ salaries and found that if you add up the salary earned by Murphy over the six-year period since he was elected to Congress, it does come to more than $1.03 million.
"He’s been in Congress six years, and he’s cumulatively been paid $1 million dollars," said Todd Abrajano, communications director for the McMahon campaign. "It’s pretty clear and straightforward."
But in our view, that’s a ridiculous way of calculating "salary," which is defined as "a fixed regular payment, typically paid on a monthly or biweekly basis but often expressed as an annual sum."
The tremendous distortion of this claim is that it adds up multiple years and uses a terminology that suggests it is for one year.
Using their logic, we would say the median household income in the United States is more than $300,000. (The median household earned just over $50,000 in 2011, according to the Census Bureau.)
The method for calculating Murphy’s salary was disclosed on the screen, but it is in such small type -- and it was calculated in such an unorthodox way -- that the explanation is greatly outweighed by the narration and the visuals.
We’ve never heard of anyone refer to their "salary" as six cumulative years of earnings. By phrasing it this way, the ad is pulling a fast one. We rate the statement False.
Linda McMahon for Senate, "No Plan" (ad), Oct. 11, 2012
Congressional Research Service, "Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables," Oct. 3, 2012
Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011" (news release), Sept. 12, 2012
Interview with Todd Abrajano, communications director for the McMahon campaign, Oct. 18, 2012
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