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Koch brothers group behind new ads targeting Begich over health care

Lisa Demer

A Koch-brothers funded group is launching new ads targeting U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and five other Democrats over the new health care law just as the Republican National Committee is stepping up its strategy to blame Democrats for everything wrong with the measure.

Americans for Prosperity, which started with money from billionaire businessmen David and Charles Koch, said Wednesday its new series of television ads will air in five states at a cost of $4 million.

The Alaska ad features a woman who talks about Begich as if he is her senator but who in reality is an actress from Maryland. Messages for the woman, Connie Bowman, weren't returned Wednesday but she told The New York Times she was "just an actress" doing her job. Among other credits, she appeared in the Baltimore-based HBO series "The Wire" as an aide to the governor, and she has a YouTube show on sacred places.

"I trusted the president and Sen. Begich. Lots of promises were made to pass Obamacare," says the woman, who with her perfectly styled hair and makeup and granite-counter kitchen doesn't seem like a typical Alaskan. "Now millions are losing their health care. ... Sen. Begich didn't listen. How can I ever trust him again?"

A man's voice then tells viewers to call Begich and "stop Obamacare." The telephone number for his Washington office flashes on the screen.

Democrats as well as the Begich campaign blasted the campaign as the latest Affordable Care Act deception.

"This is yet another Koch-brothers phony attempt to snooker Alaskans," Susanne Fleek-Green, Begich's campaign manager, said.

Begich is up for reelection next year and three prominent Republicans -- all critical of the new health care law -- are fighting for the chance to take him on. It's expected to be one of the most volatile races in the country.

Among them are Dan Sullivan, former natural resources commissioner, who notes that in 2010 as state attorney general he wrote the state's 48-page memo on the Affordable Care Act that questioned the constitutionality of the mandate for individuals to have insurance. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld it as within the government's taxing authority.

The other two Republican candidates, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller, a tea party favorite, both think the law should be repealed.

Begich, in a new radio ad airing in Alaska, says he's been frustrated with the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act, too, but believes it's important to ensure health coverage is within reach of everyone.

"I had to go on the website twice a day for a month to get signed up," Begich says in the ad, describing how he bypassed a Washington, D.C., site, for federal officials in order to enroll at the same healthcare.gov site used by Alaskans. Begich settled on a plan with a monthly premium of $594, counting dental care, Fleek-Green said. In signing up as any Alaskan, he gave up a federal subsidy that would have covered 75 percent of the premium, she said.

When his wife, Deborah Bonito, was pregnant with their son back in 2002, before he became mayor, the family only had catastrophic coverage, which was all they could afford, he says in the ad. Such plans have high deductibles and often don't cover many aspects of health care that are now required, such as immunizations. Fleek-Green said it cost the family about $350 a month.

"It's why I'm working to fix what's wrong in the law without throwing out what's right," Begich says in the ad.

Among other things, he introduced legislation Tuesday to allow "copper plans," which would come with lower monthly premiums than now are available but also higher out-of-pocket costs. The plans would still include the 10 essentials required in the Affordable Care Act.

Begich was in a group of Democratic senators who met with Obama earlier this month over the troubled health care program that is the president's signature domestic initiative. They demanded the administration fix glitches with the federal healthcare.gov site and make other changes.

"It's absolutely unacceptable in this day and age that the administration can't deliver on the promises it made to all Americans because of technical problems with a Web site," Begich said in a statement after the two-hour meeting on Nov. 6.

Besides Begich, the other Democrats being targeted in the new Americans for Prosperity ads are: Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Reps. Patrick Murphy and Joe Garcia of Florida and Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona.

Also on Wednesday, the Republican National Committee unveiled its latest effort to ding Democrats over Obamacare. It's inviting 10 senators and 30 House members, all Democrats up for reelection next year, to participate in a "We're Running on Obamacare" press conference Thursday morning. The first name on the list of invitees? Begich.

The Republicans also say they've purchased Web domains for each Democrat with names like PryorLovesObamacare.com, referring to Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor, though a Web search Wednesday evening didn't find that or a similar one for Begich.

Early this month, the Republican National Committee targeted Begich and others with robocalls and Facebook posts asking voters to challenge them on Obamacare. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is framing its bid to take back the Senate from Democratic control over Obamacare, which it calls Begich's "legacy."

Matt Larkin, an Anchorage political consultant and president of Dittman Research, said the strategy is a smart one for Republicans eyeing Begich's seat, but isn't enough on its own.

The health care law may have less impact in Alaska than other places because of the number of military members and federal and state workers, all of whom have employer-provided insurance, Larkin said. He isn't working for any of the candidates in Alaska's Senate race but has been approached by Freedom's Frontier, a super PAC that has formed to support Treadwell.

Americans for Prosperity Alaska representative Heidi Gay didn't return a telephone call Wednesday.

Last week, the group co-hosted a town meeting on the Affordable Care Act at Loussac Library's Wilda Marston Theater that featured two representatives from a Florida-based conservative group, the Foundation for Government Accountability.

One, Christie Herrera, used to serve as health task force director of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. She warned at the Nov. 12 meeting of the costs of expanding Medicaid and said it was higher than earlier studies had said. Three days later, Gov. Sean Parnell announced he was not expanding Medicaid, which the law had envisioned as a way to provide health coverage to poor people.

The other, Josh Archambault, talked about the law more broadly. He warned of hackers accessing private information in the online insurance marketplaces. He contended many doctors are likely to stay away from the new insurance plans. And he warned the IRS may be aggressive in auditing people who qualify for insurance subsidies, which come in the form of a tax credit.

Asked after the meeting whether their goal was to scare people away from health coverage under the law, Herrera said their information was rooted in facts and "Obamacare is scary."

The ultimate goal, Gay said at the meeting, was to repeal the law.


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com
Contact Lisa Demer at LDemer@adn.com or on