A new TV ad from labor group AFSCME links Mitt Romney to unpopular Florida… (Chris O'Meara / Associated…)
Reporting from St. Petersburg, Fla. —
For weeks, Mitt Romney has gotten off scot-free in Florida because his cash-starved GOP rivals lack the financial resources to attack him on TV.
Now a Democratic labor union is about to fill the void, attacking Romney's business record in a new ad, accusing him of what it calls "corporate greed" and linking him to Medicare fraud at a company where he once sat on the board of directors (see video below).
AFSCME has purchased airtime in Florida for the 30-second spot, which bends the facts to link Romney to Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott, another businessman-turned-politician who once ran a company that paid $1.7 billion in fines, penalties and damages for Medicare fraud (still a record).
In the anti-Romney ad, which begins airing Saturday, the male voiceover says that while Romney was a director of Damon Corp., a medical testing company acquired by Bain Capital in 1989, "the company was defrauding Medicare of millions." The ad goes on to point out that Romney profited handsomely from his investment in the suburban Boston company (which Bain, the private-equity firm Romney co-founded, sold several years later).
"Prosecutors called it corporate greed run amok," intones the narrator. "The company was fined $100 million. But Romney himself made a fortune." On the screen, a mock newspaper headline says that Romney "personally reaped $473,000." One of the signboards in the ad says that Damon committed "$25 million in Medicare fraud while Romney oversaw the company."
The scandal, which involved overbilling Medicare, did result in Damon paying a $119-million fine.
However, the ad doesn't tell the whole story. For one thing, and significantly, prosecutors never implicated Romney or anyone else from Bain in the fraud.
An eagle-eyed viewer -- or someone hitting the pause button on YouTube -- might catch a headline on the black-and-white screen that points out Romney profited from a firm "later tied to fraud" and that Damon was "fined after sale by Bain." Those nuances are (deliberately) lost on the average viewer.
Then the kicker, at least for Florida viewers: In the ad, Romney's face morphs into Scott's. "Corporate greed, Medicare fraud. Sound familiar?" asks the narrator, over a closing image of Romney and Scott standing side by side.
The ad may not do much harm in the primary to Romney, since Scott's approval rating among Republican voters is 67%, according to the most recent Quinnipiac University survey, released this month.
But among Florida voters in general, Scott is still struggling to recover his popularity. Overall, he gets a 50% unfavorable/38% favorable job rating in the survey.
An AFSCME official, defending the ad, said the union thought it was important to draw attention to Romney's business background and his record as a director overseeing Damon, particularly since he is running on his private-sector expertise. "He should have been paying attention" to what was happening at Damon, said the official.
The union says it is paying nearly $1 million to air the ad in three Florida markets -- Tampa, Orlando and West Palm Beach -- both on broadcast and cable, as well as the Internet. The buy is to run through the Jan. 31 primary, according to AFSCME.
The Romney campaign reacted to the ad by attacking President Obama, blaming him for the jobless situation in Florida, which it said had been "at double-digits for 31 straight months." Actually, Gov. Scott earlier in the day celebrated a drop in the unemployment rate to 9.9%, hailing it as the first time in years that the level had fallen to single digits (it declined by 0.1% from the previous month) in the state.
"President Obama and his union cronies will stop at nothing to distract from this president’s failed record," said Ryan Williams a Romney spokesman, pointing to the nearly 1 million Floridians who are unemployed and "rampant" foreclosures. "Mitt Romney is a conservative businessman who knows how to create jobs and will put an end to the economic stagnation caused by President Obama’s job-killing policies."