The ad produce by PrioritiesUSA, a pro-Obama “super PAC” is still making waves. As explained yesterday, the ad features Joe Soptic, a steelworker who lost his job after Bain Capitol stepped in to stop the bleeding from the company’s financial losses in 2001. Soptic’s wife, Ilyona, died a few years later from lung cancer.
Soptic blames this on Mitt Romney, who founded the private investment firm. The only problem is that Romney didn’t have a hand in the day-to-day operations at Bain Capital at the time. Yes, he was still listed as CEO, but he had stepped away in 1999 to run the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. What’s more, Jonathan Lavine, a bundler for President Obama, was managing Bain Capital during the time at which the steel mill was closed.
While the pain of losing a loved one is indeed great, it doesn’t excuse the errors in the story Soptic is telling in this ad and elsewhere, including a separate ad and conference call for President Obama’s campaign (emphasis mine):
The ad features Joe Soptic, 62, of Missouri, who lost his job when GST Steel of Kansas City—owned by Bain and other investors for eight years—was closed. As melancholy music plays, Mr. Soptic says that when the plant closed, he and his family lost their health-care coverage and “a short time after that, my wife became ill.” Her illness was diagnosed five years later. “I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant,” Mr. Soptic says in the ad.
The steel plant was purchased in 1993 and closed in 2001. Mr. Romney departed Bain in 1999 and had no role in the decision to close the plant, his campaign said.
In an interview, Mr. Soptic said he thought the ad was fair. But he also said of Mr. Romney: “I’m not blaming him for her death. I wouldn’t do that.”
Mr. Soptic said that his wife was receiving health insurance through her employer at the time he lost his job at GST Steel, though she later suffered an injury, left her job and lost her insurance coverage. He could not say precisely when this occurred.
Mr. Soptic said that after he lost his job, he found work as a school custodian about six months later and had the option to put her on his insurance plan. But he opted not to, he said, because he could not afford the more than $350 monthly premium on the $25,000 salary he was making, on top of paying his mortgage and a daughter’s college tuition. Ilyona Soptic was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and died that year.
Some say the Priorities USA spot ups the ante in an already negative political ad culture. Even some Democrats are recoiling at the negative tone. “I thought the ad was wrong in terms of trying to tie a presidential candidate to a personal tragedy of a family,” said former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat from Pennsylvania. “This ad goes over the edge.”
The financial circumstances of the situation are understandable. He couldn’t afford health insurance on what he made. But his wife already had health insurance through her employer before he lost his job. This was not a situation, at least based on what the Wall Street Journal reports, where he was already paying for her coverage before he was let go and she had to pick up insurance through her employer.
But the ad itself is effective during a time where populism runs rampant, and PrioritiesUSA knows that. While defending the ad on CNN, Bill Burton, co-founder of the super PAC, noted that Romney was still listed as CEO of Bain Capital on paper, making the attack “legitimate.” As you can see in the video below, Wolf Biltzer notes the inaccuracies, such as Romney leaving the company in 1999, but these are inconvenient facts to Burton and PrioritiesUSA:
Romney probably left his name on legal filings at Bain Capital because he though he’d be back after the Olympics. A 2002 report from Deseret News notes that Romney had to be lobbied hard to run for Governor of Massachuetts, a race that was just months after the Olympics ended.
This is the state of American politics, unfortunately; and, sadly, Obama’s campaign is not condemning the ad, which means they tacitly approve of it — if you disagree, please see what Obama said about independent ads being run against him by supporters of his then-rival John Edwards. Obama said that Edwards could stop the ads if he wanted to, noting, “If [then-Obama communications director] Robert Gibbs started running a [independent political expenditure group] and I called Robert Gibbs and said, ‘Stop running ads on my behalf,’ are you suggesting I would have no influence over Robert Gibbs?”
Obama’s campaign has already lied about the sordid mess (though they have since changed their tune), stating that they don’t know Soptic’s back story. But Soptic appeared in an ad for Obama’s campaign and appeared on a campaign-sponsored conference call back in May to talk about the loss of his job, which he falsely blames on Romney.
If there was any integrity in President Obama, he’d condemn the ad immediately. But we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.