In a new television ad out this week, the group “60 Plus” asserts that seniors would lose access to doctors, treatments, and life-saving drugs if the Democratic health care plan is adopted. The group, with ties to the national GOP and almost fully funded by the pharmaceutical industry, is pumping $2 million dollars into airing the ad in eight states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
The ad includes the standard scare tactics about proposed cuts to Medicare “to pay for a plan that could lead to a government takeover of health care.” An older man pleads at the end of the ad, “Don’t make us pay for health care reform by cutting Medicare. We’ve sacrificed enough.” The ad targets individual Senators in those eight states, Democrats and Republicans who are potential swing votes on health care. This is an extension of ads from 60 Plus that started back in August. They’ve also sent out mailers to seniors featuring similar dire warnings.
Not mentioned in the ad is the makeup of the organization 60 Plus, a kind of conservative counter to the AARP. Among their past contributions to the national debate are advocacy against the “death tax” and for “saving Social Security,” which they label as their top priorities. And their website claims that 60 Plus is “a non-partisan seniors advocacy group.” But the ties to national Republicans and industry lobbyists are numerous, as the Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch has detailed.
According to Sourcewatch, Jim Martin, the President of 60 Plus, has a long affiliation with the Republican Party and “claims to have given then-‘Texas Gov. George W. Bush his first political job … way back in 1967.’ ” The PR contact on the press release touting their latest ad is Carl Forti, the former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, national political director for Mitt Romney’s 2008 Presidential campaign, and the executive VP at FreedomWatch, which has been active in the tea party movement and the anti-health care town hall meetings back in August. Forti now runs the Black Rock Group, which he founded. This Politico article details Forti and Black Rock’s key involvement in trying to exploit a loophole in FEC rules to basically gut campaign finance law and allow “individual corporations to coordinate with no restrictions their own advertising and direct mail attacks on candidates.”
And that really looks like what 60 Plus is already doing, to some extent. 60 Plus has been a front group for the pharmaceutical industry since its inception. It was part of a coalition called Citizens for Better Medicare financed mainly with pharma money, which spent around $65 million dollars during the 2000 elections. That relationship has only expanded from there, with 60 Plus aiding fights at the state and national level for the drug lobby. From Sourcewatch:
In 2002, 60 Plus fought state legislation that would create formularies, or lists of preferred, lower-cost prescription drugs for Medicaid patients. 60 Plus fought “such legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico,” with assistance from the Bonner & Associates firm, which specializes in astroturf lobbying. “The firm’s paid callers, reading from scripts that identified them as representatives of 60 Plus, urged residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. later said it had paid Bonner & Associates to make the calls,” reported AARP. At the time, 60 Plus president Jim Martin denied “anyone was misled. ‘The callers had an outline,’ said Martin. ‘This is an important issue that impacts people’s health.'”
“In its 2001 fiscal year, 60 Plus got a total of $275,000 from PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America), CBM (Citizens for Better Medicare) and three drug companies (Merck, Pfizer and Wyeth-Ayerst) plus another $300,000 from Hanwha International Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of a Korean conglomerate with chemical and pharmaceutical interests — amounts that made up about 29 percent of its revenue,” reported AARP.
60 Plus supported a lawsuit by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America against the state of Maine (in a “friend of the court” brief) for daring to try to pass a law that will authentically reduce prices for Medicare drugs by allowing the state to buy in bulk directly from manufacturers. It has also joined a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission regarding campaign reform (specifically in support of soft money for issue ads).
In the 2002 election campaigns, 60 Plus paid for issue ads on local radio and TV stations across the country saying that local Republican candidates “care for seniors” so much that they “passed a prescription drug bill” that “saved us from an inept government bureaucracy meddling with health plan benefits.”
Bonner and Associates, you recall, is the group which sent fake letters to members of Congress opposing climate and energy legislation, the recent subject of a Congressional investigation.
In a sense, 60 Plus exists in a long continuum with other conservative movement front groups and recipients of corporate money. They date back to direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie, and they have ties to conservative movement types like Jack Abramoff, according to this report by Rachel Maddow. They have multiple connections to GOP lobbyists and movement types, including the former head of the Virginia Republican Party. And in an amusing additional bit of information, the current national spokesman for 60 Plus is Republican activist and alleged entertainer Pat Boone.
But clearly, the wing of the conservative movement funding 60 Plus and directing its attacks is the pharmaceutical lobby. AARP did the definitive work on this subject a few years back, finding that “virtually all of (60 Plus’) largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.” In 2002, 60 Plus received 91% of its total revenue – $11 million dollars – from one undisclosed donor, which the Washington Post reported lined up perfectly with “an unrestricted educational grant” to 60 Plus from PhRMa, the drugmaker lobby group. Jim Martin, the 60 Plus President, has acknowledged in interviews that it received money from pharmaceuticals, saying “I wish it was more.”
A call to Carl Forti, the spokesman for the new 60 Plus ad, was not returned.