Have Harry Reid and the order of the fact-checkers beaten back the the brothers who shall not be named (at least in their own ads)? That is, has a Koch-supported group been forced to “abandon” its powerful but false Obamacare “horror story” commercials, as some believe?
After Senate Majority Leader Reid attacked the oil billionaires for trying to “buy” elections by blanketing battleground states with more than $30 million worth of ads that he called “lies,” the Koch-funded advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) appears to be easing off the misleading campaign. In it, real people claim that they can’t afford Obamacare or that they’ve lost coverage because of the Affordable Care Act.
In the most glaring case, a spot targeting Democratic Senate candidate Representative Gary Peters, a Michigan woman with leukemia, Julie Boonstra, says she was forced off her old plan and onto Obamacare, which makes her life-saving medications unaffordable. “If I do not receive my medication, I will die,” she says. But the Detroit News found that Boonstra would actually save more than $1000 a year on the ACA plan. (She insists that “can’t be true.”)
Maybe it’s because of Reid’s barbs, Representative Peters’s letter telling TV stations they’re violating FTC rules by airing a misleading ad about health or all the Pinocchio noses and “False” ratings the ads have garnered from fact-checkers, but the AFP has just laid out $1.7 million to run a spot so understated and reasonable-sounding that it might indeed seem as if the Kochs are backing off.
Running in Colorado against Senator Mark Udall and in Louisiana against Senator Mary Landrieu, the spot doesn’t feature an aggrieved real person sitting at home but a slightly hip, even liberal-looking, actress standing against the kind of all-white background you’d find at an art gallery. She speaks straight to the camera and makes empathic hand gestures.
“People don’t like political ads,” she says. “I don’t like them either. But healthcare isn’t about politics. It’s about people. It’s not about a website that doesn’t work, it’s not about polls numbers or approval ratings, it’s about people.”
Up until this point, this could be an ad from Planned Parenthood, or any group supporting the ACA. Healthcare, it seems to say, shouldn’t be based on the GOP’s cynical politics, and getting rid of Obamacare is going to hurt people—real, uninsured and poorly insured pre-existing people.
But the actress (Where have we seen her before? Anyone?) continues: “And millions of people have lost their health insurance. Millions of people can’t see their own doctors. And millions are paying more and getting less. Obamacare doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.” Onscreen at the end: #PeopleNotPolitics.
Who knew the Kochs were such people persons? At this rate, they’ll one day add Orwellian hashtags like #PeopleNotProfits or #PeopleNotPipelines.
It’s hard to tell which people this ad is targeting. People who are sick of the scare tactics that the Koch millions are incessantly hitting them with? Politically moderate people who’d like a plausible but un-angry bottom line (“Obamacare doesn’t work”) to take to the voting booth? Harry Reid and the fact-checkers, who might figure that this time the ad is too vague to be lying?
Turns out, though, that even this seemingly “fact-checker-proof” ad is rife with falsity, particularly the claim that under Obamacare people are “paying more and getting less.” PolitiFact, noting “signs that the rate of the increase [of premiums] has declined since the law was passed,” said: “Most people on the individual market are getting more benefits under the law. At worst, they’re paying more to get more, though in many cases they’re actually paying less.” It rated the ad as “False.”
Anyway, the new toned-down ad isn’t new and isn’t a reaction to backlash over the horror story spots. It ran before and simultaneously with some of them, in November of last year against Senator Kate Hagan of North Carolina and in early February in Arkansas, against Senator Mark Pryor. Nor have the Kochs “abandoned” the personal victim MO. Just last week AFP dropped $700,000 to launch another real person ad against Pryor. This time a woman named Wanda says her insurance company told her that because of Obamacare it would no longer cover her. Though this claim, too, hits a big pothole.
And Julie Boonstra is still the first one to greet you at the AFP website, which maintains, “She lost her insurance and now the left is trying to discredit her, silence her and all Americans.”
However, we should definitely believe the Koch group when it says it has no intention of abandoning the horror stories. “We are currently on-air with many different types of ads, including personal testimony of Obamacare impact,” AFP spokesman Levi Russell told TPM. “This is the same strategy we’ve been using for 6 months.”
It’s going to take far more than Harry Reid and dogged fact-checking to blunt their campaign. The real question is, as Dave Weigel asks, “Why aren’t Democrats running ads showcasing the people who have been helped by Obamacare?” It’s a strategy, he notes, the Dems “perfected” in ads featuring workers who were laid off by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. (PolitiFact gave one of those ads a “False” rating, too.)
The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee sent out an e-mail a couple days ago, saying “our grassroots fundraising is on pace to match the Kochs’ $30 million dollar-for-dollar.”
Good. But what are they going to do with it?
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