Ad Watch: Gubernatorial Election Spots — More Than Meets the Eye?

John Reitmeyer | October 25, 2017 | Elections 2017, Politics
What the latest round of ads for the governor’s race overestimates, underreports, and simply gets wrong

Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno
With this year’s gubernatorial election reaching the home stretch, a new set of ads is airing as part of a final push to win over the state’s remaining undecided voters. Some of these ads are as short as 15 seconds — not enough time to establish a context for the claims being made. Footnotes are also displayed, implying the claims are substantiated, but they appear for mere seconds, posing a challenge for viewers who want to do their homework.

Here are the latest ads airing in support of both Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno, along with our own reviews.

‘Four More Years of Kim Guadagno Is Unaffordable’

The 30-second ad from Murphy’s campaign focuses on affordability, which is an area that Guadagno has also emphasized. The ad ties Guadagno directly to the record of incumbent Gov. Chris Christie, the two-term Republican whose approval rating has sunk into the teens. Guadagno has served alongside Christie throughout his tenure as lieutenant governor after the two took office together in early 2010.

What the ad says

Murphy’s ad highlights several data points related to Christie’s record, and several footnotes are flashed on the screen briefly as supporting evidence. Among the claims, the ad specifically refers to property-tax bills rising on average 17 percent since 2009. The ad also tracks increases in New Jersey Transit fares and the cost of tuition at the state’s four-year colleges and universities as it makes the case that Guadagno would continue along the same path. It also questions the Christie administration’s use of lucrative economic-development tax incentives among other policy decisions.

What’s left out

Property taxes are only levied at the local level in New Jersey, but they are influenced by funding from the state budget and other state policies. While the 17 percent figure that’s used to demonstrate the growth in the average New Jersey property-tax bill during Christie’s tenure is accurate, it does not include any context that would allow the viewer to determine whether 17 percent represents progress or a step backward.

For example, the average New Jersey property-tax bill grew by more than 20 percent during just the four years that Democrat Jon Corzine was in office immediately prior to Christie’s tenure. Thus, the 17 percent increase experienced during Christie’s two, four-year terms represents progress in terms of slowing the rate of growth. But that also doesn’t tell the whole story, since funding for many property-tax relief programs was reduced during Christie’s tenure, meaning the net burden may actually be higher for many homeowners.

Murphy’s ad also doesn’t make any reference to Guadagno’s centerpiece plan to devote roughly $1.5 billion in state funding to create an altogether new property-tax relief program that would pay out rebates as large as $3,000 to some homeowners, with relief for households earning the state’s median income estimated to be nearly $900. But Guadagno is also relying on funding from several uncertain sources to help pay for the new program, including from expected revenue growth and a planned state-government audit.

The ad also overstates the total increase in NJ Transit fares that’s occurred during Christie’s tenure by a few percentage points, and it omits a key fact related to the economic-development tax-incentive issue. The tax-incentive programs that have been administered by the state Economic Development Authority during Christie’s second term were designed by Democrats, and Murphy hasn’t spelled out specifically how legislative leaders from his own party should change course.

What the Guadagno camp says in response

“Kim Guadagno has promised to lower taxes and audit Trenton to cut spending, while Phil Murphy has guaranteed billions in higher taxes. That’s the clearest choice New Jerseyans have ever had in an election.”

“Your Money”

Two of the newest ads supporting Guadagno are actually being aired by the Republican Governors Association, which is a national organization that supports GOP governors and gubernatorial candidates. The RGA, which Christie led in 2014, is registered under federal Internal Revenue Service rules, meaning it doesn’t have to abide by state contribution and spending restrictions that the gubernatorial campaigns themselves are required to follow. Each RGA ad runs for just 15 seconds, and both take aim at Murphy’s fiscal proposals.

What the ads say

Both RGA ads open with a claim that Murphy is planning to increase taxes, and they both use a reference to an Observer story that is briefly flashed on the screen as a footnote. In “Your Money,” the ad labels Murphy a “liberal insider,” and then it goes on to highlight Guadagno’s goals of providing more property-tax relief and making New Jersey “affordable.” The “Checkbook” ad also calls Murphy a “liberal” as it uses all 15 seconds to attack the Democrat, including with a claim that Murphy “really doesn’t get New Jersey.”

What’s left out

Both ads target Murphy’s plan to bring in more tax revenue, but they don’t say he wants to use the money to boost spending on education, transportation, and shoring up the public-employee pension system. In all, Murphy is looking to raise $1.3 billion in new revenue annually, but the ads use a four-year total of $5 billion without clarifying the multiyear timeframe. They also don’t make it clear that there would be little impact on broad-based taxes paid by most New Jersey residents. A good share of the new tax revenue would be generated by hiking income taxes on millionaires, and other tax-policy changes would hit only large corporations and hedge-fund managers, according to Murphy, who also wants to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana in New Jersey.

While Murphy is labeled an “insider” in the “Your Money” ad, he has never held elected office in New Jersey, and for the most part was not well known even among many fellow Democrats until about a year ago. He has served as a chief fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, and as the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the tenure of former President Barack Obama. In 2005, Murphy also chaired a panel assembled by then-Gov. Richard Codey to review public-employee benefits-funding issues.

Guadagno herself has strong ties to the state’s political world. In addition to serving for more than seven years as the lieutenant governor, she was also the elected sheriff in Monmouth County from 2008 to 2010. Guadagno has also previously worked for the state attorney general’s office.
Also, while the “Checkbook” ad closes with a line stating that Murphy “really doesn’t get New Jersey,” as that claim is made a block of fine print appears on the screen showing the RGA is based in Washington, D.C. Murphy, a Massachusetts native and former Goldman Sachs executive, is a longtime resident of Middletown in Monmouth County.

What the Murphy camp says in response

“After spending eight years standing by Chris Christie’s side while they made New Jersey worse for New Jersey residents, Kim Guadagno and her friends in the Washington GOP establishment are now outright lying to them.”