HELENA — In Montana’s U.S. House race, the campaigns’ first TV attack ads offer an early thumbnail of the thrust of each candidate’s message – and, some exaggerated and misleading claims, on both sides.
For example, Republican Matt Rosendale’s ad attacking Democrat Kathleen Williams implies that she supports the “defund the police” movement, which she does not.
And Williams’ ad going after Rosendale said he would “let (health insurers) raise our premiums,” when he’s supported steps that have done just the opposite and led to lower health insurance premiums in Montana.
MTN News examined the facts behind both of these 30-second TV spots, which have been on the air this month in Montana.
First, we look at statements from the Williams ad:
“My millionaire opponent … pushed an agenda to help land developers, like himself.” These statements are generally true. Rosendale’s latest financial-disclosure statement, filed with the clerk of the U.S. House, says he has assets valued between $10 million and $51 million, including his ranch near Glendive and a housing development north of Great Falls.
Rosendale has worked as a housing/land developer both in Maryland, where he grew up, and in Montana, where he’s lived since 2002.
While he was a state legislator from Glendive, he voted for bills in 2011 and 2013 that would have restricted local reviews of subdivisions and developments. Developers supported the bills, while local planners, environmentalists and some ag groups opposed them. Both bills were vetoed by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat.
“He took thousands from the insurance industry … “ This statement is true, but money from insurance-industry officials is a small amount of his total campaign funds. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations, Rosendale has received at least $28,000 from people in the insurance industry – about 1.5 percent of his total donations.
The Rosendale campaign notes that Williams also has received money from insurance people – but only $2,600 of her $2.4 million total.
“… and would let (insurers) raise our premiums and deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.” This claim, according to the Williams campaign, is based on Rosendale’s opposition to, and call to repeal, the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), which is the landmark law that reformed health coverage and stopped insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing health conditions.
However, as state auditor and insurance commissioner, Rosendale has taken several actions that led to lower health-care insurance costs or attempted to lower them – some of which were in direct opposition to the insurance industry.
For example, he backed a 2019 bill designed to lower drug costs by restricting pricing practices by pharmacy-benefit managers. Insurers opposed the bill and successfully lobbied Gov. Steve Bullock to veto the measure.
Also in 2019, Rosendale and others worked successfully to pass a bill creating a reinsurance program, which led to substantially lower premiums for health-insurance policies purchased on the individual market. His campaign says this bill also helped people with pre-existing conditions get affordable coverage – although it lowered rates for all consumers.
Rosendale notes that he pushed insurers this year to lower proposed rates for 2021 policies on the individual market – although the insurers say it was their decision ultimately to set their rates.
Rates for those policies increased in 2017, while he was auditor.
“I worked with both parties to actually improve health care and protect public lands.” Williams did join Republican lawmakers in 2015 to pass Medicaid expansion in Montana, which provides coverage for 90,000 low-income Montanans, and also spearheaded an effort that ultimately required insurers to cover cancer patients in clinical trials.
On public lands, she voted in 2015 with some Republicans against a bill to study transferring management of federal lands to the states – a move seen by many public-land advocates as a precursor to selling those lands. The bill narrowly passed, but was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock.
Now, let’s look at the statements in the Rosendale ad.
“Kathleen Williams (is) a radical activist and liberal, from San Francisco.” Not really sure what qualifies someone as a “radical activist,” but Williams was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area. She moved to Montana in 1999.
“Williams backs gun control and says she’s proud to earn an F from the NRA.” Generally true. Williams does have an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and, during her 2018 campaign for the U.S. House, said she was proud to have it, and that it stood for “fearless.”
The NRA does not say why it gave Williams an F rating and did not respond to a message.
On gun control, Williams favors universal background checks for firearms purchases, including at gun shows, and says she would consider restricting the use or sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Williams says she owns nine guns herself, is a hunter, and has worked on youth-hunting programs and improving hunting habitat.
“The Williams coalition pushes to defund the police.” Williams has never said she supports the “defund the police” movement, which has called for spending less money on military-style material for police and more on public health and other safety measures.
The Rosendale campaign says the ad’s statement refers to groups that have contributed to Williams campaign and that support “defund the police,” such as Planned Parenthood.