Chris Fitzsimon: Distortions from the right

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 7, 2011

Two of North Carolina’s right-wing think-tanks have started off 2011 in fine style, recycling two of their most disingenuous and misleading claims from last year. The folks at the Locke Foundation recently released a survey of state legislatorsí pay, claiming that most lawmakers in North Carolina make more than $40,000 a year, as much as the typical full-time state employee.
The report came with a total amount earned by every legislator, promoting several newspapers to write stories about much their legislators made. It is almost identical to one issued last September by the Lockerís sisters in distortion, the folks at the Pope Civitas Institute. It was absurd in September and it is absurd now.
Rank and file members of the General Assembly actually earn an annual salary of $13,951. Their job keeps them in Raleigh for roughly six months for long sessions held in odd numbered years and three months for the short session that convenes in May of even-numbered years.
That is their actual pay. They also receive a daily expense allowance when they are in session to pay for their hotels and meals and they receive a mileage reimbursement for one roundtrip to Raleigh per week. They also are given $666 a month for office expenses, postage, fax machine, furnishings etc.
Thatís it. The Lockers and Civitasers added all the payments up for 2009 and published them for each legislator. The salary, expense allowance and per diem was almost identical for every rank and file lawmaker.
Lawmakers from the far West received more in mileage reimbursements than lawmakers closer to Raleigh but most legislators all received roughly $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
The original Locke Foundation story on the Civitas chart cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics saying that the average government worker earns $44,158 a year and since many legislators received more than that, thereís your right-wing outrage.
But lawmakers donít make $45,000 a year. Thatís how much they receive. The comparison to other state employees or private sector workers is absurd.
Imagine you are offered a job for $50,000 a year. But you have to be out of town several nights a week for six months of the year and you have to take your mileage, gas, lodging and meals out of your own salary. And you have to pay your own office expenses too.
Thatís not a $50,000 a year job and the folks at Locke and Civitas know it. The problem is that many newspapers across report the ridiculous claims uncritically. The Laurinburg Exchange reported on the story with the headline ěScotland lawmakers earn $44,000 plus.î
No, they didnít. They earned $13,951 plus travel, lodging and office expenses. The problem is that as long as the mainstream media outlets keep reporting the faux reports from Right-Wing Avenue, the more they will produce them and the more the public is misled.
The other recycled distortion to start the New Year comes from the Civitasers in another biased poll on capital punishment which produced their breathless news release claiming that ěsupport for the death penalty is at an all-time high among North Carolina voters.î
The poll asked voters if they ěfavor or oppose the death penalty for those convicted of first-degree murder in North Carolina?î Civitas says that 71 percent said they favored it. That is hardly a surprise, and not just because Civitas did the poll. But it doesnít mean people overwhelmingly support capital punishment, it means they support it when not given an alternative punishment.
Polls in North Carolina and across the country show people are roughly evenly divided when asked if they support the death penalty for first degree murder or life in prison without parole óthe only two sentences that can be given to people convicted of first degree murder.
The folks at Civitas know that. Thatís why they donít give the voters an alternative when they ask the question, They want the results to come out to show support for the death penalty.
Not many of the stories about the Civitas findings cite the flaws in the poll and increasingly, news outlets are not even mentioning that Civitas is not an objective polling organization.
It is a far-right advocacy group that also conducts polls and it is run by exactly the same people who ran attack ads on Democrats in 2010 to help elect Republicans. That seems like something readers should know as they are told about the results of the biased polling.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.