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60 Plus, a Dark Money Group, Peddles Partisan Spin at Campaign Stop in Madison
At a recent rally in Madison, Wisconsin, 60 Plus Association President Jim Martin had a lot to say about Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and the dire threat liberals supposedly pose to Medicare, but he failed to answer basic questions from the crowd about the funding for his own organization.
60 Plus bills itself as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, and is currently criss-crossing America on its "Let's Do Better" healthcare bus tour, largely in protest of the 2010 federal health care bill, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which the organization claims severely harmed Medicare.
At their Madison stop on September 30th, they encountered some resistance from the crowd of around fifty Madison seniors, who at times seemed more concerned with the groups activities than any of the fear-mongering predictions.
Canadian "Health Care Refugee" Underwhelms the Crowd
The town hall began with a speech by Shona Holmes, a self-professed "health care refugee'"who claims to have fled to the United States from Canada in order to receive treatment. According to her speech, the Canadian health care system (which provides free universal coverage for all its citizens) failed to adequately treat her condition in time, and without the faster (and hugely more expensive) services provided in America, she would have died.
Holmes has repeated these claims in a recent ad by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed dark money group that is chaired by billionaire David Koch. The ad is recycled from 2009, when AFP began targeting the ACA. In it Holmes denounces the law as a step closer to socialized medicine: "If this health care bill stays the way it is ..." She said, and sighed "... I just want to make sure Canadians have a place to go."
Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association have used Holmes at rallies to promote their opposition to health care reform, despite numerous reports suggesting she may have been exaggerating the severity of her condition.
In 2009, she testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying, "If I had relied on my own government-run health care system in Canada, I would not be sitting here before you today. At the very best, I would be blind and the very worst I would be dead," due to a tumor in her optic chasm. However, the director of the Mayo Clinic, where Holmes eventually received treatment, says otherwise, stating in an interview with the Annenberg Public Policy Center that the condition Holmes suffered from was "a benign lesion and is not typically life-threatening."
The New York Times has taken issue with Holmes' primary argument, noting that her "implicit comparison of the new health care law with Canada's health system is off base -- Canada has a single-payer health care system, an approach President Obama rejected when he crafted the new health care law, which still relies heavily on private insurance."
60 Plus Repeats the GOP Lie on Medicare "Cuts"
After a pre-recorded video of former President George W. Bush, who got his first political job from Jim Martin back in 1968, Martin took the stage. He divided his time between railing against the AARP and listing liberal senators (and GOP targets) he believes will be facing "a senior citizen tsunami" in this election cycle for their alleged mistreatment of the elderly. Martin claimed that the AARP was a fundamentally just organization until "the insurance sharks" took over, but failed to mention that his own organization actively supports the ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who themselves support a plan that would leave seniors at the mercy of insurance companies by transforming Medicare into a voucher system. While onstage, Martin specifically called out Senators Jon Tester of Montana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Bill Nelson of Florida as U.S. Senate members facing the "tsunami" due to their support of "Obamacare."
Martin reserved his sharpest criticism for the ACA's $716 billion in "cuts" to Medicare, cuts that "we seniors paid in for!" But this claim, also repeated by Romney in the first presidential debate, has been thoroughly debunked. Not only were the "cuts" actually cost savings clawed back from providers, they were also phased-in over 10 years. Moreover, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have documented, the exact same provisions were included in Paul Ryan's budget proposal which passed the House with overwhelming GOP support and was embraced by Mitt Romney at the time. Ryan was widely panned as a hypocrite and a liar when he attacked the "cuts," but failed to mention his authorship of the same "cuts" in his RNC acceptance speech.
While 60 Plus rails against Obama and Pelosi, the group has long described Ryan as a protector of Medicare.
60 Plus Is a Partisan Dark Money Group that Does Not Disclose Its Major Funders
Martin's comments were well-received by most of the crowd, but Martin's speech was interrupted at several points by irate seniors yelling that 60 Plus was "a shill for the pharmaceutical companies" and demanding: "Where do you get your money?" Martin at first declared "I get not a penny from the pharmaceutical companies ... not for 12 years," before launching into a rambling story about 60 Plus Association spokesman Pat Boone, which did little to address their complaints.
Boone is featured prominently in many of the group's ads, which have run in most of the crucial races this election cycle. The primary targets of Boone are Democratic senators in close races, primarily Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan along with Nelson, McCaskill and Tester, who each were the target of nearly identical ad buys running as high as $750,000 apiece back in March 2012. In the ads, Boone chastises the senators for supporting the ACA, particularly the "cuts" to Medicare and the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) of "unelected bureaucrats" that Boone and 60 Plus allege have the power to "ration care," a claim that is patently false, as the IPAB is specifically prohibited from deciding what care Medicare recipients receive.
60 Plus has also run ads attacking U.S. Senate candidates Tim Kaine in Virginia and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.The group spent $770,000 attacking Kaine, and claims to have spent upwards of one million on their buy against Baldwin. These ads do not feature Boone, but rather seniors saying they are upset that their senators have "cut" Medicare spending.
The last time the organization was revealed to have taken money directly from pharmaceutical companies was back in 2002 (courtesy of "educational grants" from PhRMA, a trade group composed of most major American pharmaceutical companies), but the 60 Plus Association is organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means it does not have to disclose its donors. The group has long maintained that it is sustained by donations from its hundreds of thousands of members, but in 2012, it received $8.9 million dollars (the majority of its operating budget) from a single donor, the Center to Protect Patients' Rights. CPPR is another 501(c)(4) whose donors are a mystery, although the majority of its funds went to support conservative groups that opposed the ACA.
In 2012, 60 Plus also received two generous $50,000 donations from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the Alliance for America's Future, both of which are also registered 501(c)(4)'s, whose original donors may never be disclosed. Crossroads GPS also gave $3.7 million to the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB), which brought the failed legal challenge to the ACA. (The Center for Media and Democracy has recently exposed the NFIB as a highly partisan organization that appears to advance the interests of big money rather than small business.)
Bankrolled by dark money, Martin's 60 Plus group will likely keep working as a vital part of the conservative spin machine and voter-mobilization agenda.