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U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016. U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin September 9, 2016
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 9, 2016

Ad attacking Patrick Murphy as among 'least effective' in Congress misses the mark

A conservative organization portrays U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, as a "fabulously phony failure" in a TV ad.

Murphy is taking on Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in one of the most closely watched Senate battles in the nation.

In the ad, American Future Fund says, "Patrick Murphy was named one of America's least effective congressmen."

The fund is a political nonprofit organization that does not have to disclose its donors and has spent millions of dollars this election cycle largely attacking Democrats.

We will explain the basis of that claim and the shortcomings of the evidence.

(The ad also states that Murphy distorted his work record related to being a certified public accountant and small business owner. We have fact-checked similar attacks about his resume .)

‘Faulty analysis’

The ad cites an InsideGov ranking of members of Congress, as well as a Tampa Bay Times blog about the ranking. InsideGov is a product of Graphiq, a technology company that amasses data. We have previously dissected that ranking in a misleading attack by Murphy’s primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando.

Murphy was first elected in 2012. The InsideGov ranking was published in August 2015, and only deals with Murphy’s tenure through 2014. That was when Murphy was a Democratic freshman with little seniority in the Republican-controlled Congress. The tally does not include bills introduced in the current 114th Congress (Jan. 3, 2015-Jan. 3, 2017) since they still have time to pass bills.

InsideGov ranked Murphy as the 21st least-effective member. The list is stacked with rookies — 21 of the politicians named "least effective" have served four years or less. It’s also overwhelmingly filled with Democrats, the minority party in the House since 2011.

The main problem with this ranking is it’s based on a single measure: the percentage of bills sponsored by each member over their time in office that went on to pass committee. That’s not a sufficient way to rate the effectiveness of a member of Congress.

Congressional experts have repeatedly told us that there are many other ways to evaluate the effectiveness of a member beyond getting a sponsored bill passed in committee. Members can get language included in other bills, co-sponsor bills, hold hearings, negotiate agreements or provide constituent service (for example, help with getting Social Security benefits). A member might only pass one bill, but it could be a particularly important one.

Roy Meyers, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, called the InsideGov analysis "clickbait garbage."

"It is a well-known fact that members of the House minority are naturally disadvantaged in having their bills reported by the committees controlled by their opponents," he said.

Meyers said that among political scientists, the most sophisticated attempt to evaluate legislator effectiveness that has been done recently was created by Craig Volden, a University of Virginia professor, and Alan Wiseman, a Vanderbilt University professor.

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Their "Legislative Effectiveness Score" measures how successful a representative is at moving his or her own bills through different stages of the legislative process, where each of those bills is also coded for its substantive significance. Then the professors compare members to average scores relative to those in a similar party status (majority or minority), level of seniority, and chair position (committee or subcommittee chair).

In the 113th Congress, Patrick Murphy scored 0.350. An average minority-party member with his seniority (freshman term) would be expected at 0.391. So Murphy is slightly lower than the average but considered to be close enough.

"So he meets expectations according to our criteria," Volden told PolitiFact Florida.   

GovTrack, a website that tracks congressional legislation, publishes an annual report card with rankings in various categories rather than just one. For example, it ranked Murphy as No. 2 among House Democrats for writing bipartisan bills in 2015.

"We would never reduce effectiveness to a single number (and we don't generally make value judgments about whether a member is doing a good or bad job)," said Josh Tauberer, founder of GovTrack. "InsideGov's analysis demonstrates a total failure to understand how politics works."

Murphy’s campaign pointed to instances of him getting bill language out of a committee as a freshman.

In May 2013, Murphy introduced HR 1974, a bill that would have changed how the Small Business Administration gave out loans for businesses rebuilding after a disaster. Instead of being reported out of committee, Murphy’s language was attached to HR 4121 as an amendment along with other SBA-related changes and sent from the Small Business Committee to the House. No action was taken on the bill.

In October 2013, Murphy was a cosponsor and co-author of HR 3329, a bill concerning banking regulations. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., was listed as the sponsor, but Murphy’s campaign noted he and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., managed the bill in the House. In the Congressional Record, Capito credited Murphy for writing the bill with Luetkemeyer. The bill eventually became law.

Rubio himself has taken credit for legislative victories by getting language inserted into other bills, so he considers that a measure of effectiveness.

His campaign also cited examples of Murphy playing a role in legislation passed during the current session of Congress that wasn’t included in the InsideGov analysis.

For example, in April the House unanimously passed the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act introduced by Murphy and U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. The bill will allow competition in the flood insurance marketplace. It hasn’t received a vote in the Senate yet.

Our ruling

The American Future Fund ad said,"Patrick Murphy was named one of America's least effective congressmen."

This is based on a ranking of one group that narrowly looks at Murphy’s record by only including bills he sponsored that passed out of committee through 2014. Congressional experts have told us that there are multiple ways to influence legislation and be an effective member which aren’t captured by this analysis of only part of his tenure.

The ad also omits that as a freshman Democrat, Murphy had little chance of getting legislation through committee. The majority of members on the "least effective" list are freshmen Democrats. Another analysis shows that he met expectations for a freshman of the minority party.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

American Future Fund, Ad, Sept. 1, 2016

InsideGov, "These are the least-effective members of Congress,"  and ranking for U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, Aug. 6, 2015

Graphiq, About, Accessed Sept. 9, 2016

Center for Responsive Politics, "American Future Fund," 2016

Palm Beach Post, "Murphy, Grayson tangle over effectiveness rating," Aug. 17, 2016

Tampa Bay Times The Buzz, "Study targets Patrick Murphy in ranking of least effective members of Congress," Aug. 10, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Grayson says Murphy 'hasn't passed a single bill out of committee,'" Aug. 18, 2016

PolitiFact Florida, "Republican group misleads in attack on Patrick Murphy’s resume," Sept. 9, 2016

PolitiFact Florida, "Did Hillary Clinton only have her name on three laws in eight years?" June 23, 2015

Interview, Nick Ryan, Founder of American Future Fund, Sept. 8, 2016

Interview, Craig Volden, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy University of Virginia, Sept. 8, 2016

Interview, Roy Meyers, Professor of Political Science and Affiliate Professor of Public Policy University of Maryland (Baltimore), Sept. 8, 2016

Interview, Galia Slayen, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy campaign spokeswoman, Sept. 8, 2016

Interview, Josh Tauberer, founder, Sept. 8, 2016

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Ad attacking Patrick Murphy as among 'least effective' in Congress misses the mark

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