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Charge and counter-charge in West Michigan Congressional battlefield

This West Michigan primary contest for the U.S. Congress’ 3rd District seat pits two-term tea party favorite and libertarian Justin Amash against East Grand Rapids financial consultant Brian Ellis, who has backing from many business leaders and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Who: Brian Ellis for Congress What: TV ad The Call: Flagrant Foul

Relevant text of the ad:

“Mr. Amash, you were called Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress, and for good reason. Your votes put America at risk and that’s a disgrace.”

The 30-second TV spot adds a new layer of nasty to what has been a combative race in this Grand Rapids-based district. In the ad, former Marine Ben Thomas says he is “outraged” by Amash’s support for closing down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. His comments reference remarks made about Amash by U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California. The ad also faults Amash for voting to “shut down American intelligence from monitoring terrorists.”

In May, Amash was among six Republicans to vote for a measure that would provide a framework for closing Guantanamo Bay by 2016. The measure failed 247 to 177. In 2013, Amash pushed an amendment, narrowly defeated, that would would have stripped funding for a National Security Agency program that collects telephone records of people in the United States.

In a statement, Amash said: “Our brave men and women in uniform don’t support unconstitutional NSA spying on ordinary Americans — which Ellis specifically endorses in his ad. They don’t support unwise, open-ended wars. As I’ve heard from hundreds of veterans in my district, they want what I consistently vote for: a well-equipped and well-trained Armed Forces that honors its commitment to veterans and a government that protects our rights.”

The call: Flagrant Foul

While it is true Amash voted for a framework for closing Guantanamo Bay, it is not demonstrated that vote put America at risk. There is legitimate debate over whether the indefinite imprisonment of suspected terrorists without charge or trial is in the long-term interests of U.S. security. In the view of many, disclosures by NSA leaker Edward Snowden about domestic spying also raise valid concerns about the balance between security and personal privacy. To suggest that Amash’s record makes him Al Qaeda’s “best friend in Congress” is over the top.

Who: Justin Amash for Congress What: “Wrong for West Michigan” TV ad The Call: Regular Foul

Relevant text of the ad:

“Justin Amash is rated Michigan’s No. 1 conservative. So why is Brian Ellis lying about Amash? Because Ellis is afraid to talk about his own record. Ellis voted 100 percent with Jennifer Granholm, wasting millions on corporate welfare. Ellis approved Common Core. Ellis even wants to expand Obamacare. Brian Ellis, wrong for West Michigan.”

The claim in the 30-second TV ad that Amash is Michigan’s “No. 1” conservative is hard to justify. While the Amash campaign provided documentation of his high ranking from two conservative groups, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, his record on abortion does not rate as high. Analysis by, an arm of the Tampa Bay Times, notes that Amash had a perfect scorecard from the National Right to Life Committee for votes since 2012 but one of the lowest ratings among Republicans for the previous Congress. That was based on Amash’s voting “present” on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and his “no” vote on an amendment banning sex-selective abortion.

Ellis served on the board of the Michigan Strategic Fund, which provides grants and loans to approved projects, from 2003 to 2006. In 2006, according to minutes of a March board meeting, Ellis spoke in favor of a $5 million block grant that was approved for Auburn Hills-based United Solar Ovonic, an alternative energy company. The board approved a second $5 million grant in October. The firm and its parent company filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Ellis campaign spokesperson Megan Wells noted that Amash voted in 2009 in favor of the general fund budget that included for the Michigan Strategic Fund while a state representative. In April 2014, Ellis said on a Grand Rapids radio show he supports Common Core test standards for K-12 schools “for the fact that it raises standards and accountability.”

The nationally developed standards have become a center of controversy in recent months, chiefly from conservative groups fearful of loss of local control over curriculum. At a July campaign event, Ellis called expansion of Medicaid in Michigan a “good decision.”
On his campaign web site, Ellis says he “supports repealing Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered, free-market solutions.”

The call: Regular Foul

The ad overreaches when it calls Amash Michigan’s “No. 1” conservative, in light of his previous low ranking from the National Right to Life Committee. Ellis did serve on the Michigan Strategic Fund board for three years, during which time it approved funding for United Solar Ovonic among many other projects. That proved to be a bad investment. But the criticism seems a bit hypocritical in light of Amash’s own vote to fund the Michigan Strategic Fund. Ellis has stated his support for Common Core standards. But he appears to contradict himself when he says he favors repeal of Obamacare but supports expansion of Medicaid. Voters will judge for themselves whether these votes and positions are “wrong for West Michigan.”

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