OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Negative ads in the congressional race between Republican incumbent Don Bacon and Democratic Party challenger Tony Vargas began the first week of September and haven’t gone away since.
On both sides, they prominently feature video of hardworking and older Americans appearing sad and frustrated.
Ads attacking Bacon have focused on healthcare, including abortion, social security, and his campaign financing.
Most of the ads have come from third-party groups with a disclaimer that no candidates authorized the ad. But Bacon has authorized at least two negative ads, one funded entirely by his campaign, and another by both his campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The often theatrical and vague messages in negative campaign ads don’t aim to keep voters as informed as possible.
3 News Now reporters Jon Kipper and Aaron Hegarty set out to provide more context to the claims in negative ads you might have seen over and over again. Some ads we reviewed have been replaced for newer ones, but often the topics have remained the same.
Thursday, they looked into ads attacking Vargas. Tonight, they did the same for Bacon.
Don Bacon on healthcare
Anti-Bacon ads often focus on votes related to health care and campaign funds received from the “drug and insurance” industries.
Bacon paints himself differently in his own ad in support of him. In his first ad, his wife Angie says, "I'm especially proud he's capped insulin prices at $35 a month," and other issues.
Did Don Bacon help cap insulin prices at $35 a month?
The wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Act, which Bacon ultimately did not support, included a cap on insulin costs of $35 for people on Medicare.
"We called them out on it because you can't say that you stand up for working families and then take credit for something that you ultimately voted against," Vargas told 3 News Now in an interview.
Bacon said the Inflation Reduction Act was a "bad bill." But he was one of 12 Republicans to vote for a standalone bill.
"They put in the insulin bill into a bill that almost was an $800 billion bill. So it's one of many different things on it. And so in the end, it was a bad bill," Bacon told 3 News Now.
Did Don Bacon vote to gut protections for pre-existing conditions?
The claim is made again recently in “Hog,” from the House Majority PAC. The fine-print sourcing points to Bacon’s vote in support of repealing and replacing Obamacare, which the House passed but narrowly failed in the Senate early in the Trump presidency.
When the bill was being debated, some Democrats claimed the bill would allow insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
While the ad seems to imply that’s what the vote would have done, the Republican Obamacare alternative would have kept the law against the exclusion of pre-existing condition coverage.
But it would have changed many Obamacare protections, outlined here in a summary of the bill. For instance, it would have given states the option to waive the requirement of charging the same premium regardless of pre-existing condition status. And it would have changed the limit on up-charging older adults to five times the rate of that of younger people. States could have changed that as well. Under Obamacare, it's three times the rate.
Did Bacon vote against lowering the cost of prescription drugs?
Multiple House Majority PAC ads show fine-print souring of “HR 3, Vote #682, 12/12/19” when making the claim.
That bill would have allowed the government to negotiate some drug prices. It passed the Democratic Party-controlled House, with Bacon and 190 other Republicans voting 'no.'
Bacon and Republicans who opposed it said it would result in fewer new medications.
On the same day of the vote, Bacon announced he signed on to the Republican alternative, the “Lower Cost, More Cures Act.” He said the bill would have capped senior’s out-of-pocket cost at $3,100 annually and brought more competition to the market in the form of generics.
Did Don Bacon ‘sell out’ after taking from drug and insurance company donations?
“Hog” and other ads claim he’s taken “nearly half a million dollars” from the drug and insurance industries. “Hog” sources the campaign finance website Open Secrets as of Oct. 14.
Specifically, the ad puts the number at $469,460.
Most of that comes from the insurance industry.
Bacon’s Open Secrets career financing page shows he’s taken more than $431,000 from the insurance industry. Contributions from the “pharmaceuticals/health products” industry totaled $46,307 since the 2018 campaign cycle as of Friday.
The ads claim that Bacon returned the favor by voting for corporate tax cuts. That’s based on the December 2017 tax cut bill, which permanently reduced the top corporate tax rate and for eight years cut individual tax rates.
Don Bacon on abortion and contraception
“Frontline” funded by the House Majority PAC, focuses on abortion.
It leads with the claim that Bacon joined in on the Mississippi ‘Dobbs’ lawsuit by signing on to the amicus brief with Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and the Pro-Life Caucus supporting the lawsuit.
Bacon’s name is on the amicus brief, and Bacon later applauded the US Supreme Court decision to 3 News Now when it was released in June.
Bacon was also a co-sponsor to HR 1011, which the ad highlights to take the issue beyond overturning Roe v. Wade. It's the 2021 Life at Conception Act, which defined human as life beginning at conception. The ad says the bill would have banned abortion with no exceptions. The ad also said “Bacon’s bill” would’ve banned forms of contraception, cancer treatments and fertility treatments.
Bacon argued that's not true, and said, "No one's even talking about removing contraception."
"It’s just making a statement that the unborn child has humanity," Bacon said. Other Republicans, too, have said it's “symbolic.”
The bill states that “homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, are human beings” under the 14th Amendment.
The true impact the bill would have is less clear, however. Rand Paul's press release introducing the bill doesn't say it's symbolic, but says it would "implement equal protection under the 14th Amendment for the right to life of each born and unborn human," but does not "amend or interpret the Constitution."
Bacon told 3 News Now he’d support a 12- or 15-week federal ban, saying that policy is a nice middle ground and meets voters where they are at. He said he would never vote to ban abortion if the life of the mother is threatened.
Bacon signed on to the GOP-led Access to Safe Contraception Act, which differed from a Democratic Party version of the bill.
Don Bacon on Social Security
DCCC’s “Count On” makes the claim that Bacon would “break (the) promise” of Social Security.
The ad uses a video clip from Bacon in 2016. He says: “We’re going to have to be willing to revise that retirement age.”
Bacon has said since that he’s not committed to any policy fix yet but urges both sides to explore the issue. Regardless, he's said the age adjustment would be for younger folks.
“I think for those that are under 50 years old or maybe under 40," he told 3 News Now. "I'm not the smart guy with a calculator that knows all the age things. But I think we should look at adjusting those who are younger."
He said the alternative to adjusting the retirement age would be worse.
"I want to save Social Security and Medicare. Both," Bacon said. "I think they're very important for our seniors. And to do that, you've got to make tough choices. The Democrats want to demagogue."