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  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact Florida debunks claim that Patrick Murphy was one of 'least effective congressmen'

A TV attack ad portrays U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy as a "fabulously phony failure."

Murphy, D-Jupiter, is taking on Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate battles in the nation.

"Patrick Murphy was named one of America's least effective congressmen," states the ad by American Future Fund.

The fund is a political nonprofit organization that does not have to disclose donors and has spent millions of dollars this year largely attacking Democrats.

The ad cites an August 2015 ranking of members of Congress by InsideGov, a product of technology company Graphiq. This evidence has shortcomings.

The InsideGov ranking only deals with Murphy's tenure through 2014. First elected in 2012, Murphy was a Democratic freshman with little seniority in the Republican-controlled Congress. The tally also does not include bills introduced in the current 114th Congress (Jan. 3, 2015-Jan. 3, 2017) since members still have time to pass bills.

InsideGov ranked Murphy as the 21st least-effective member. The list is stacked with rookies — 21 of the politicians named "least effective" have served four years or less. It's also overwhelmingly filled with Democrats, the minority party in the House since 2011.

But the main problem with this ranking is it's based on a single measure: the percentage of bills sponsored by each member that went on to pass committee.

That's not a sufficient way to rate a member's effectiveness.

Congressional experts highlighted many other ways to evaluate a member's effectiveness. They can get language included in other bills, co-sponsor bills, hold hearings, negotiate agreements or provide constituent service. Also, a member might only pass one bill, but it could be a particularly important one.

Roy Meyers, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, called the InsideGov analysis "clickbait garbage."

"It is a well-known fact that members of the House minority are naturally disadvantaged in having their bills reported by the committees controlled by their opponents," he said.

Meyers said that among political scientists, the most sophisticated, recent attempt to evaluate legislator effectiveness was created by Craig Volden, a University of Virginia professor, and Alan Wiseman, a Vanderbilt University professor.

Their "Legislative Effectiveness Score" measures how successful a representative is at moving his or her own bills through different stages of the legislative process, and each of those bills is also coded for its substance. Then the professors compare members to average scores relative to those in a similar party status (majority or minority), level of seniority, and chair position of a committee or subcommittee.

In the 113th Congress, Murphy scored 0.350. An average minority-party freshman would be expected at 0.391. So Murphy is slightly lower than the average, but Volden considers that close enough.

"He meets expectations according to our criteria," Volden told PolitiFact Florida.

GovTrack, a website that tracks congressional legislation, publishes an annual report card of members with rankings in various categories rather than just one. For example, it ranked Murphy as No. 2 among House Democrats for writing bipartisan bills in 2015.

"We would never reduce effectiveness to a single number (and we don't generally make value judgments about whether a member is doing a good or bad job)," said Josh Tauberer, founder of GovTrack. "InsideGov's analysis demonstrates a total failure to understand how politics works."

Murphy's campaign pointed to instances of him getting bill language out of a committee as a freshman.

In May 2013, Murphy introduced HR 1974, a bill that would have changed how the Small Business Administration gave out loans for businesses rebuilding after a disaster. Instead of being reported out of committee, Murphy's language was attached to HR 4121 as an amendment along with other SBA-related changes and sent from the Small Business Committee to the House. No action was taken on the bill.

In October 2013, Murphy was a co-sponsor and co-author of HR 3329, a bill concerning banking regulations. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., was listed as the sponsor, but Murphy's campaign noted he and West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito managed the bill in the House. In the Congressional Record, Capito credited Murphy for writing the bill with Luetkemeyer. The bill eventually became law.

Rubio, for the record, has taken credit for legislative victories by getting language inserted into other bills.

Murphy's campaign also cited examples of Murphy playing a role in legislation passed during the current session of Congress that wasn't included in the InsideGov analysis. For example, in April the House unanimously passed the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act introduced by Murphy and U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla. It hasn't received a vote in the Senate yet.

The American Future Fund's statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would create a different impression. It rates Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read more fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/florida.

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