GOP Ad Mischaracterizes Michigan Candidate’s Response to 2020 Protests

A day after a protest in Grand Rapids inspired by the murder of George Floyd turned violent, Democratic House candidate Hillary Scholten of Michigan pleaded for “peaceful” protests and urged demonstrators “to not resort to violence and destruction.”

Yet, a six-second Facebook ad from a Republican PAC falsely claims Scholten “dismissed the destruction” during the May 30, 2020, demonstration. The ad also claims Scholten “praised the rioters,” who were protesting the death of Floyd, a Black man who was killed five days earlier by a white police officer in Minneapolis. 

The digital ad was funded by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that supports efforts to elect Republicans to the House.

A longer version of the ad was posted to the Congressional Leadership Fund’s YouTube channel, where it received more than 79,000 views. It also started airing Sept. 7 on TV, according to Kantar Media.

Both ads cite a May 31, 2020, Facebook post from Scholten about the Grand Rapids protest as a source for the claim.  

A spokesperson for the Congressional Leadership Fund told us in an email that the Facebook post referenced in the ad was about Scholten’s response to a Facebook post by Democratic state Sen. Winnie Brinks of Michigan.

The Congressional Leadership Fund said that Brinks was dismissive of the property damage from the protests when she wrote, “Broken glass will be swept up today. Broken windows will be replaced in a matter of days,” and that “Grand Rapids is good at praying, talking, book clubs,” but “what we aren’t so good at is the deep structural change that is necessary.” In the full post, Brinks wrote:

Brinks, May 31, 2020: Broken glass will be swept up today. Broken windows will be replaced in a matter of days. But broken systems in education, housing, business, non-profits, banking, healthcare, and every other part of life will take a lot more time. Yesterday’s march was not just about the dangers of unjust police actions. It was a call to all of us to work for justice in every sphere of our lives. When it comes to race, Grand Rapids is good at praying, talking, book clubs, introspection, and working on our individual personal growth. (To be clear, I am not minimizing the importance of those activities.) But what we aren’t so good at is the deep structural change that is necessary to actually achieve just outcomes for black and brown people. I was happy to see so many people eager to get to work cleaning up early this morning. Now let’s see if we can muster that eagerness into the hard work it will take to achieve lasting justice for black and brown people in our community. It’s going to require a lot more than a broom and good intentions.

Scholten reposted Brinks’ post and added: As the sun sets on our dear city again tonight, I’m praying for peace and working for justice. Thank you for these wise words Senator Winnie Brinks. I look forward to working with you to transform the systems that perpetuate racial injustices in our communities.”

Scholten wrote a separate Facebook post on May 31 in which she pleaded for protesters “to not resort to violence and destruction.”

“As a civil rights attorney, Iʼve unfortunately seen people of color be victimized, and Iʼve seen the consequences of police brutality. They deserve justice, but that work cannot be accomplished by harming even more innocent people,” Scholten wrote. “Our community will struggle to rebuild from the ongoing crisis brought on by the coronavirus, and last nightʼs destruction will make that even more difficult. People can and should continue to speak out for George and all victims of violence. I’m pleading with those who take to the streets to make that effort peaceful and to not resort to violence and destruction.”

Larkin Parker, a spokesperson for Scholten’s campaign, told us in an email that the Congressional Leadership Fund ad was “100 percent false.”  

In the version of the TV ad posted on YouTube, the Congressional Leadership Fund also says that “Scholten worked with a group that wanted the rioters to get away with destruction.”

The ad cites Scholten’s LinkedIn profile, a Fox 17 news article and other sources for the claim.

The Congressional Leadership Fund spokesperson said the ad was referencing Scholten’s previous work for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, citing joint work by the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on civil rights issues prior to the 2020 protests.

The spokesperson said that after the 2020 protests, ACLU Michigan “called for police throughout the state not to bring charges against demonstrators during riots in Michigan.”

The Fox 17 news article cited in the ad is about a complaint against Grand Rapids police filed more than three years ago by ACLU Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

The article, which was published in April 2019, had nothing to do with the protests that occurred in 2020, and her work for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center ended prior to the protests. 

According to Scholten’s LinkedIn profile, she served as a staff attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center from July 2017 to June 2019, and began her run for Congress in July 2019.

Scholten is running against Republican John Gibbs to represent Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. Gibbs, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump,  defeated Rep. Peter Meijer in the Republican primary. Meijer was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Trump in January 2021 for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Scholten, a lawyer, worked in the Justice Department from 2013 to 2017, when Barack Obama was president. Gibbs worked in the Trump administration.

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