Attack ad against Senator Joni Ernst overstates 'special interest' money claim

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- The I9 Fact Check team has looked into the claims made in a TV ad attacking Republican Senator Joni Ernst.

A still image from a political ad called "Ruth, from Iowa Forward (Courtesy Image)

SOURCE: TV ad titled “Ruth," directed against Republican Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa Forward, a group run by a left-leaning non-profit organization called Iowa Voices.

CLAIM: “I see her taking money from special interest groups”

ANALYSIS: The ad includes a graphic saying Ernst “took $1.8 million from Special Interests” and cites The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, DC-based non-partisan, non-profit organization that runs OpenSecrets.org.

A spokesperson for Iowa Voices, Benjamin Cobley, said special interest money includes any donations that come from, “PACs (Political Action Committees), individual companies and contributions from individuals who listed their occupation to be within specific industries such as pharmaceuticals or the insurance industry.”

While Iowa Voices may have their own definition of what constitutes as special interest money, there is no universally accepted meaning. OpenSecrets.org does not have a “special interest” category but does break down donations by certain PACs, companies and individuals around certain sectors. For her career, Open Secrets says Ernst has raised about $2.7 million from the “finance, Insurance and real estate” sector and $512,000 from the “health” sector in her Senate career, dating back to 2013.

According to records from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) analyzed by the I9 Fact Check Team, between January and May of this year, Ernst had accepted nearly $730,000 in campaign contributions from PACs across sectors. That includes some that represent the healthcare industry, like the National Community Pharmacists Association, National Association of Health Underwriters, and the drug maker, Merck.

Open Secrets also notes Ernst’s Democratic challengers have accepted donations from the sectors of health professionals, hospitals and health services, like HMOs.

Under Iowa Voices’ definition, nearly all political donations could be classified as “special interest”. That broad definition makes the implication against Joni Ernst’s acceptance of it misleading. That’s why it gets a ‘C’.

CLAIM: “She voted to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people like Ashley (those with pre-existing conditions).”

ANALYSIS: This statement comes from Ernst’s vote for the American Health Care Act of 2017, a failed effort to repeal and replace part of the Affordable Health Care Act, known as Obamacare.

The bill would have required insurers provide coverage to “any applicant," barred premiums based on health status and barred limiting coverage for pre-existing conditions.

However, the bill also allowed states to apply for waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions, while those who are healthy pay lower premiums. The Congressional Budget Office review noted that would let average premiums lower as younger, healthier people buy insurance. The review also noted, “people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive non-group health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

While the bill would have kept some protections for people with pre-existing conditions, it would have let insurers charge more to those with pre-existing health conditions. Right or wrong, that different treatment fits the definition of discrimination. This claim gets an “A”.