A television advertisement has sparked a dispute between the camps of Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D.-W.Va. and state Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell in the race for the U.S. House seat for the third district of West Virginia.
The advertisement for Rahall --paid for by the House Majority PAC -- focuses on protecting black lung benefits for miners and their survivors, which has become a key issue in the congressional race.
In the ad, Terri Ryan talks to her husband Rick, a coal miner, about her fears he could lose his black lung benefits and she could be charged more for health care if Rahall is not re-elected.
(The ad is available here.)
The fight comes down to who would better protect the expanded black lung protections that the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., added to the Affordable Care Act. Rahall has voted for several changes to the Affordable Care Act, but says the act itself should not be repealed in order to preserve benefits like the black lung protections.
Jenkins, who is likely to be Rahall’s opponent in November’s general election for Congress, would entirely repeal the ACA, often called “Obamacare” by critics.
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers, pointed out that Jenkins’ position of repealing the ACA would eliminate the Byrd Amendment that now strengthens the ability of miners to receive federal black lung benefits, first approved in 1969.
“Previous laws may have said they were entitled to them, but the truth is most never got them.... The language Sen. Byrd incorporated into the Affordable Care Act changed that,” he said.
Repealing the ACA, Roberts added, would “have the practical effect of once again cutting off black lung benefits for many, if not most of those applying for them.”
Joe Massie, president of the National black lung Association, also said the ACA helps miners and widows get black lung benefits.
“That provision [helping them] in the federal black lung law was removed under Ronald Reagan in 1981.
“Today, if a miner has worked for 15 years in the mines and suffers from total pulmonary disability, he is presumed to have black lung, unless a coal company can prove otherwise. The ACA shifted the burden of proof,” Massie said recently in Beckley.
The Jenkins campaign criticized the ad and asked that it be taken off local television stations. Jenkins said he supports coal miners collecting black lung benefits, but has not explained what he would do to protect those benefits if the ACA were repealed.
Thornton said Jenkins “can’t pick and choose parts of the ACA he likes while vowing to scrap the whole thing.”
Andrew Sere, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant working for the Jenkins campaign, said on Monday, “Station managers for three television stations provided us with written confirmation that the ad was pulled Thursday.
“A media monitoring service and further conversations with station managers indicate that on multiple stations, the ad did not run Thursday afternoon and Friday.... Their ad got pulled because independent fact-checkers thoroughly debunked its accuracy.”
But House Majority PAC and conversations with several station owners dispute those claims.
Matt Thornton, communications director for House Majority PAC, which produced the ad promoting Rahall, told The Gazette Tuesday, “The ad we are running today is the same ad that began when we started the buy.”
Last week, Thornton sent out a press release stating, “A number of you likely received the press release [from the Jenkins campaign] claiming that our ad, ‘Worry,’ which points out that Evan Jenkins has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and with it extended black lung benefits, is no longer running on a number of stations in West Virginia.
“That claim is absolutely false. We have confirmed that our ad continues to run per our original ad buy. House Majority PAC looks forward to the Jenkins campaign retracting their press release.”
Last week, the Jenkins campaign sent out press releases that stated four television stations had stopped airing the House Majority PAC ads.
Even though they pulled the ads on March 20 and 21, the stations soon began putting them back on the air.
When asked about the ads, Frank Brady, general manager of WVVA-TV in Bluefield and Beckley, said on Tuesday, “It is my policy not to put that out in the newspaper.
“But if you were sitting down here [watching television] in this market, you could see them,” Brady said.
Bray Cary, general manager of WOWK-TV in Charleston and Huntington, said, “We got the spots sometime last week and started airing them. Then we got a protest from whoever was protesting and we took them off.
“We worked with the Broadcasters Association and notified the producer of the spots. They presented the new spots and we put them back on the air. They changed them and we continued airing them as of yesterday morning.
“We have not gotten a second request for taking them down,” Cary said.
Al Marra, general manager at WOAY-TV in Oak Hill, said, “The ad was taken off Thursday, then re-instated on Friday, until legal counsel, after more fact checking, determined it to be false and misleading. One of their commercials continues to air.”
WVNS-TV in Ghent did not return a telephone call.
After the controversy, Thornton said, “We sent all the television guys a lot of additional information. But we did not ship in a new ad.”
Paul Kilgore, president of Professional Data Services in Atlanta, Ga., contacted the four West Virginia television stations last week, asking them to remove the ads.
Kilgore, who is treasurer for the Jenkins campaign, told The Charleston Gazette on Tuesday, “I really can’t comment. I will pass this on to somebody in the campaign.”
Professional Data Services also works for the re-election campaigns of Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and several other Republican Senate and House candidates around the country.
Ezra W. Reese, a lawyer at Perkins Cole, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, wrote to the four West Virginia television stations last Thursday criticizing Kilgore’s letter for focusing on a March 17 statement Jenkins made to support black lung benefits.
“What [Kilgore] does not tell you is that Sen. Jenkins did not exclude the black lung benefits from his vow to repeal the ACA until after the House Majority PAC ad began to air....
“Jenkins’ new position,” Reese added, “does not mitigate the danger of repealing entirely a law that contains those important black lung benefits. Many critics of the ACA have argued that it should be amended, a process that would not disturb pieces of the law not subject to the amendment.”
The Jenkins campaign website contains no proposals about how to keep black lung benefits if ACA were repealed.
But his campaign site points out, “In the state legislature, Jenkins has supported numerous measures to protect the health, safety and pensions of West Virginia coal miners, and he is firmly opposed to any cuts to the federal black lung Benefit Program.”
Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.