Paying male and female employers the same salary has been a central campaign issue for Democrats up and down the ticket across the country in past years. Sure enough, that discourse also made its appearance in one of the closest Senate races this fall – the contest between Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and his challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.
“You have recently launched a television ad where you talk about your support for equal pay,” Gardner said at a recent Denver Post debate. “I support equal pay. And yet in your office you pay women 86 cents for every dollar you pay a man. Why don’t you live by example in your office?”
And a few days ago, the Colorado GOP tweeted this: “@MarkUdall STILL refuses to pay women on staff as much as men. #COPolitics #COSen”
— The Colorado GOP (@cologop) 21. Oktober 2014
CU News Corps fact-checked the Gardner and GOP attacks – and found them misleading.
The ad the congressman talked about is a 30-second spot, titled “Succeed.” In it, Sen. Udall says, “… Everyone deserves a fair shot at success – with affordable student loans, equal pay for women in the work force and equal treatment when it comes to what men and women pay for their health care.”
Gardner’s campaign staff dug up an analysis done by the conservative-leaning political news websitewatchdog.org, which showed that from October 2012 to September 2013, Udall did in fact pay the 17 full-time women on his staff 86 cents for every dollar his 14 male employers made.
Because those numbers are outdated, CU News Corps did its own analysis of salary data, courtesy of the Congress-oriented non-partisan research organization LegiStorm. You can find our full break-down of the numbers here.
At first glance, the numbers from Oct. 1, 2013, to March, 30, 2014, seem to support Gardner. During that six-month period, Udall employed 20 male and 20 female full-time staffers, and he paid the women only 84 cents for every dollar the men in his Senate office made. In Gardner’s, congressional office, on the other hand, women made $1.09 compared to every dollar paid to men.
But this is where the numbers start to get deceptive and prone to partisan twisting.
The main reason Udall pays women only 84 (formerly 86) cents for every dollar he pays men is that his chief of staff, Mike Sozan, and his deputy – the two biggest assets on Udall’s payroll – are both men. Rep. Gardner’s chief of staff, Natalie Farr, on the other hand, is a woman.
The clue here is this: The Republican calculation doesn’t consider equal pay for equal work – it literally leaves the “equal” part out of the equation.
Gender-specific seniority on the payroll isn’t considered. But the only way to find a completely accurate measure for fair pay would be to compare the wages of a man and a women for the exact same work.
The closest the CU News Corps analysis came to that were the numbers on the paychecks for Udall’s eight full-time regional directors, which mostly only differed by a few hundred dollars.
CU economics professor Jeffrey Zax said Gardner’s 86-cent number is not meaningful and should not be used. But at the same time he hinted at Democratic hypocrisy.
“Democrats in other contexts claim women are underpaid because they make the same calculation across the country.”
Earlier this year the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pushed the hashtag #GOPpaygap on Twitter.
Despite Democratic hypocrisy: Gardner actively mislead
While Democrats may not like that Republicans now use their own logic against them – Gardner’s statement remains misleading.
His campaign chose not to respond to multiple CU News Corps inquiries. Instead, Republican National Committee spokesperson Raffi Williams defended Gardner and the GOP.
“All Republicans are for equal pay for equal work,” he wrote in an email. “But it’s strange when Mark Udall tries to use one formula for all Colorado women but then cries foul when the same math is used for his own female employees. Which is it, Mark?”
Williams pointed to a tweet Udall’s team had sent out earlier this year: “#CO women earn only $0.79 for every $1 their male counterparts make. We need to bridge this gap & pass #PaycheckFairness Act ASAP. #EqualPay.”
— Mark Udall (@MarkUdall) April 7, 2014
Chris Harris, Udall’s campaign spokesperson, didn’t want to hear any of it.
“Mark knows that when women do well, Colorado does well,” Harris wrote in an email. “[The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act] ensure that when women are being unfairly discriminated against at the office, they have the tools and information necessary to make things right.”
At The Denver Post debate, Udall retorted Gardner’s attack.
“I’m reminded what Mark Twain famously said about statistics many years ago,” the senator said. “Let me make it very clear: I pay the women on my team the same for equal work.”
That Mark Twain? It’s this one: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
As it turns out, Twain’s logic applies to the equally misleading statements of both candidates.