Like all good politicians, the late Ronald Reagan understood that the best way to drive a message home to people was not with dry statistics but with stories - anecdotes about ordinary folks like themselves. (Some of Reagan's stories were true and others were not, but that wasn't the point; the point was they were effective.)Taking a page from the Reagan playbook, opponents of Measures 66 and 67 tried to tell Oregonians a story. The story was told in the first person by Carol Leuthold, who with her husband owns a dairy farm in Tillamook, in a letter mass-mailed to voters.
It was a touching story of a small, struggling family business that will be devastated if Measures 66 and 67 pass and modest tax increases on some businesses and high-income individuals are allowed to stand.
"Measure 67 would tax businesses up to $100,000 a year even if they didn't make a profit," the letter said. "Public employee unions say the sky will fall if the new taxes do not pass. I'm here to tell you that the sky is already falling on Oregon small businesses like mine."
When reporters and bloggers started checking around, however, the story started looking kind of hinky.
The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes called Leuthold and found out that the only effect of M67 on her business would be to increase its minimum tax payment from the present absurd $10 (unchanged since 1931) to $150 - hardly a back-breaker. Leuthold told Mapes she and her husband would pay more in personal taxes because their income is over $250,000, and since they plow money from other (unspecified) sources back into the farm their business would be negatively affected.
But a little more digging revealed that the Leutholds are not exactly hard up. A profile on the Tillamook Cheese Fan Club website (subsequently removed) described them as having "a serious case of the travel bug. The couple has roamed around the world, including stops in Brazil, Italy, Germany and Alaska." Last year Carol went to Italy and France to take cooking classes and Dan went on safari in Africa.
If Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, the deep-pocketed group behind the Leuthold mailing, wanted to tell a story about a struggling mom-and-pop business that will be devastated by Measure 67, why didn't they use a real one instead of a couple of globetrotters with a quarter-million-dollar (at least) income?
Probably because they couldn't find one. Under Measure 67, 88% of Oregon small businesses will have to pay only the $150 minimum. The top $100,000 figure Leuthold's letter cited would apply only to corporations with more than $100 million in sales in Oregon. That's why the Oregon Bankers Association, representing the likes of Wells Fargo and Bank of America, has kicked in $100,000 to defeat 66 and 67.
The tax opponents should have realized it's harder to sell bogus stories in the age of the Internet and Google than it was in Reagan's day. For trying to peddle this fairy tale to Oregonians, we're giving them THE BOOT.