It was only a matter of time before former Sen. Norm Coleman put his official stamp on this year’s Minnesota elections.
Coleman leads the American Action Network (AAN), a political juggernaut that has become one of the most well-funded “dark money” groups in Washington. This year, AAN is spending six figures on the 8th Congressional District race, where DFL Rep. Rick Nolan is running for re-election against Republican Stewart Mills.
Here’s an excerpt from the group’s ad in the 8th:
“Nolan voted to keep special health care perks and first class airfare for congressman. He voted himself four pay raises in five years. If only Nolan took care of our veterans like he takes care of himself. Rick Nolan was one of just four in Congress to vote against health care and pension benefits for our veterans.”
This ad covers a lot of ground, with parts of it being mostly true, misleading and false.
AAN is a political nonprofit. That means it can only spend a certain portion of its money on political ads like its Nolan ad, which are considered educational spots meant to inform voters about a candidate’s record.
Because the group is a nonprofit, it doesn’t have to disclose its donors.
The ad comes in four parts:
“Nolan voted to keep special health care perks…”: The Affordable Care Act requires members of Congress and their staff to get insurance through the new exchanges. According to the New York Times, members of Congress are benefiting from some special perks set up by the exchange and the insurance companies selling insurance on them, including a help line dedicated to members of Congress and their staff and a higher number of “gold plans” to choose from compared to other exchanges.
But none of those perks are outlined by the new health care law. They were created, by choice, by the D.C. exchange and insurance companies.
So, when Nolan voted against an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2013 as the AAN ad cites, he wasn’t voting to keep those perks in place because the law doesn’t require them. That said, had the law been repealed, members of Congress would no longer have been required to get insurance through the exchange.
Furthermore, Nolan’s staff said that he voted against an effort to repeal the ACA because he supports the new law. Indeed, the there are a lot of provisions in the ACA, and the requirement that members of Congress get their insurance through an exchange is just one of them.
A vote to repeal the law would have been a vote to repeal a requirement that insurance companies must cover people with pre-existing conditions, or that states participate in the federal exchange or build their own, or that children can be covered by their parents plan until they are 26.
There are no special perks for members of Congress in the health care law, so it’s false to say Nolan voted to keep them.
This part of AAN’s ad is a stretch, too.
Buried in the massive House Budget Resolution for fiscal year 2015, there’s a provision that prevents members of Congress from using taxpayer dollars to buy first class plane tickets. The annual budget resolution is a blueprint and can’t be enforced by law.
Nolan voted against that budget resolution – and so did nearly every other Democrat in the House because it was crafted by Republicans.
Meanwhile, a similar provision was included in the Democrats’ version of the budget, and Nolan voted in favor of that.
This part of the ad is misleading to the point of being false.
Here, AAN is on somewhat stronger footing. They’re referring to votes Nolan cast during his first turn in Congress between 1975 and 1981.
In 1975, Nolan voted to accept a presidential recommendation that members of Congress be paid $44,600 up from $42,500.
In 1976, Nolan voted against an effort to block an automatic pay raise for Congress.
In 1977, congressional pay increased to $57,500 based on a presidential recommendation, but Nolan voted against efforts to block the increase.
And in 1979, Nolan supported a bill that increased congressional salaries to $60,662.
Now, members of Congress get automatic pay raises unless they vote otherwise. Nolan’s staff points out that Nolan voted against a pay raise during his fourth term in office.
Nevertheless, this part of AAN’s ad leans toward accurate even though the last vote was 35 years ago.
This is true, but taken entirely out of context.
Last year, Nolan voted against a funding bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is typically a solidly bipartisan piece of legislation.
But that wasn’t because Nolan doesn’t want to fund veterans’ care. It’s because he thought the bill didn’t put enough money into health care services for vets. Further, Nolan has since voted for other bills that increased funding for veteran care.
This part of the ad is misleading at best.