A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Overspiced Louisiana Gumbo

Democrats mix religion, politics and hype in ads aimed at choking Republican Jindal's bid for governor.


Summary

The Louisiana Democratic Party is serving up a hard-to-stomach mix of exaggeration, mischaracterization and falsehood against Republican candidate Bobby Jindal, who’s running for governor in a contest that could be decided in October.

We found these items floating in the stew:

  • One ad falsely claims Jindal "supported raising the Medicare eligibility age." The proposal actually came from former Democratic Sen. John Breaux, not Jindal.
  • The same ad claims Jindal, a member of the House of Representatives, “failed to support our troops and veterans” by voting “against fully funding Tricare,” the health insurance program covering active-duty military personnel and their families. Actually, what Jindal voted against was expanding Tricare to cover non-active-duty National Guard and Reserve troops.
  • The ad also says Jindal "voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs," which isn’t true. The bill the ad refers to wouldn’t have controlled drug prices directly, and it likely would have had little if any effect on prescription drug prices, according to nonpartisan government experts.
  • Another TV ad claims Jindal, a Roman Catholic, “insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants” with a theological article written years ago. In fact, Jindal’s article said, "I am thrilled about … Catholics and Evangelicals discovering what they have in common."
  • A third ad claims Jindal got a "D" rating from a "nonpartisan" veterans group. But the group has given "A" ratings only to Democrats and "F" ratings only to Republicans.

Analysis

The Louisiana Democratic Party aired ads throughout the state and on YouTube attempting to stop what it calls the "coronation" of Republican Bobby Jindal as governor on Oct. 20.

Under the state’s unique primary system, all candidates for the office run in the same primary regardless of political party. Democrats hope to hold Jindal to below 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Should he win a majority, he would be elected governor, bypassing a run-off. One recent poll puts him at 63 percent against a field of two Democrats and one other Republican.

We look at three of the party’s ads here. According to The Associated Press, all three aired in various parts of the state for a total ad buy of roughly $600,000.

The ad titled "Coronation" is a stew of fact and fiction we find hard to swallow.

[TET ]

LDP Ad: "Coronation"

Actor/King: I crown you governor.
Narrator: Excuse me, what are you doing?
Actor/King: I’m crowning Bobby Jindal governor of Louisiana.
Narrator: But we haven’t even voted yet.
Actor/King: Look everyone knows Bobby’s going to win.
Narrator: But everyone doesn’t know that Bobby proposed limiting Medicaid patients to only five prescriptions per month. Voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Supported raising the Medicare eligibility age. And failed to support our troops and veterans by voting against fully funding TRICARE – the veterans health care program.
King/Actor: Uh, Bobby, let me hold onto this for right now. [/TET]

Limiting Medicaid Prescriptions

The ad claims Jindal "proposed limiting Medicaid patients to only five prescriptions per month.” But that’s not true for all Medicaid patients. The 1996 proposal that emerged from the state Department of Health and Hospitals, which Jindal headed at the time, exempted children and nursing home residents, and it also allowed physicians to override the limit for any patient for whom they deemed additional medicine was necessary.

Furthermore, Jindal also backed a proposal that would have allowed other patients to be exempt from the five-prescription limit if they agreed to go to only one doctor and one pharmacist. Medicaid recipients were allowed to visit multiple doctors without one doctor knowing what the previous doctor had prescribed. 

At the time, the state’s pharmacy program projected a cost overrun of $10 million. It was estimated the prescription limit plan would save the state $3 million to $4 million. The plan was approved by the state Legislature, which has been occupied by a majority of Democrats since Reconstruction. 

The prescription plan was never implemented, however. According to M.J. Terrebonne, the Department of Health and Hospital’s pharmacy director, the plan was rescinded. 

Lower Prescription Drug Costs?

The ad also charges congressman Jindal with having “voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs.” That’s an overstatement to say the least. What Jindal voted against earlier this year was H.R. 4, a Democratic proposal that would not have lowered drug prices directly, and probably not indirectly either. It would have required the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prescription drug prices with drug manufacturers. But, as we reported previously, lower prescription drug prices were not a likely result, because the bill failed to give the secretary much bargaining leverage. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that the secretary would be ineffectual and the prices of drugs would change very little, if at all:

CBO: Since the legislation specifically directs the Secretary to negotiate only about the prices that could be charged to [prescription drug plans], and explicitly indicates that the Secretary would not have authority to negotiate about some other factors that may influence the prescription drug market, we assume that the negotiations would be limited solely to a discussion about the prices to be charged to PDPs. In that context, the Secretary’s ability to influence the outcome of those negotiations would be limited.

No Medicare for You … Yet?

The ad says Jindal "supported raising the Medicare eligibility age," which Jindal calls "a blatant misrepresentation." We agree. The proposal in question was that of former Sen. John Breaux, not Jindal.
 
Breaux, a Democrat, and Republican Rep. Bill Thomas of California co-chaired The National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, which was chartered by Congress to address Medicare solvency after the baby-boomers’ retirement boom. Jindal was the panel’s executive director but was not a voting member. One proposal considered by the panel would have pegged the normal age of Medicare eligibility to that of Social Security, meaning that over about a 25-year period eligibility would have gone from age 65, the present requirement, to age 67. Commission documents, however, clearly identify this idea as "Sen. Breaux’s proposal."

The Louisiana Democratic Party bases its claim that Jindal supported the idea on an article in the magazine Modern Healthcare. However, that article says only that "Jindal presented [commission] members with the financial effects of possible policy changes," including an increase in the age of eligibility. There’s no indication that Jindal personally opposed it or supported it.

The proposal to raise the age was included in the final proposed assessment presented to the commissioners by Breaux and Thomas. A majority of the 17 commissioners voted in favor of the package, including the increased age idea, but it fell one vote short of the 11 required for adoption under terms of the commission’s charter from Congress. The commission disbanded without making a formal recommendation.

Against the Troops?

The ad further claims Jindal “failed to support our troops and veterans” by voting “against fully funding Tricare, the veterans health care program.”

The ad is only half right on this score. To begin, Tricare is not "the veterans health care program." Tricare is the Department of Defense’s health care program for members of the uniformed services, their families and survivors. It also covers retirees. Most veterans medical benefits are funded under the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Jindal did vote in support of the fiscal 2006 budget resolution, which called for cuts in funding for veterans benefits. However, the charge that he voted against "fully funding" Tricare is overstated. What Jindal voted against was expanding the Tricare program to cover National Guard and Reserve troops who are not on active duty. Tricare already covered Guard and Reserve troops when on active duty, and also 90 days before reporting and 180 days after. Republicans argued that expanding it to cover all non-active-duty Guard and Reserve would encourage their employers to drop them from private health care plans and let the government pick up the tab. The initial cost of the proposed Tricare expansion was estimated to be $185 million, but proponents conceded it would grow into the billions over time.

It is also worth noting that funding for defense health care programs, offered under Tricare, went up from fiscal 2004 to 2006. We asked the Louisiana Democratic Party to supply additional evidence showing that Tricare was not "fully funded" in fiscal 2006, as the ad claims. Despite repeated requests, the party did not provide any additional information on this issue.

Insults to Protestants

[TET ]

LDP Ad: "Religion"

Narrator: Most Americans believe we should respect one another’s religions. But not Bobby Jindal. He wrote articles that insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants. He has referred to Protestant religions as scandalous, depraved, selfish, and heretical. In this article, Bobby Jindal doubts the morals and questions the beliefs of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Pentecostals and other Protestant religions.You can read an excerpt of this and other articles by Mr. Jindal at www.jindalonreligion.com. [/TET]

Another of the ads says Jindal "wrote articles that insulted thousands of Louisiana Protestants" including one that "referred to Protestant religions as scandalous, depraved, selfish and heretical."

That refers to an intellectual article Jindal, a former Rhodes Scholar, wrote more than a decade ago in the New Oxford Review, a traditional Roman Catholic publication that says it "doesn’t pull any punches." The ad rips Jindal’s defense of his Catholic faith out of context and does not accurately portray his tone.

In fact, Jindal’s article praised certain aspects of Protestant religions and said he was "thrilled" by Catholics and Evangelical Protestants coming together. He called for the Catholic Church to adopt "the energy and fervor that animate the Baptist and Pentecostal denominations, the stirring biblical preaching of the Lutherans and Calvinists, and the liturgical solemnity of the Anglicans." And he said, "I am thrilled about the recent ecumenical discussions which have resulted in Catholics and Evangelicals discovering what they have in common."

The words "scandalous," "depraved," "selfish" and "heretical" cropped up in Jindal’s article when he lamented the way in which Christianity fractured following the Reformation. Here is what he said in full context:

Jindal (NOR, Dec. 1996): Post-Reformation history does not reflect the unity and harmony of the “one flock” instituted by Christ [Biblical references omitted], but rather a scandalous series of divisions and new denominations, including some that can hardly be called Christian. Yet Christ would not have demanded unity without providing the necessary leadership to maintain it. The same Catholic Church which infallibly determined the canon of the Bible must be trusted to interpret her handiwork; the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their “utterly depraved” minds, to overcome their tendency to rationalize, their selfish desires, and other effects of original sin. The choice is between Catholicism’s authoritative Magisterium and subjective interpretation which leads to anarchy and heresy. All churches follow their own traditions, but the Catholic Church claims a continuous link to the oral tradition which preceded and formed the canon of Scripture, the same apostolic [reference omitted] tradition St. Paul commanded us to abide by [reference omitted].

The words “utterly depraved” are actually those of the 16th century theologian John Calvin, though Jindal seems to quote them approvingly. Jindal does not apply Calvin’s quote or his reference to "selfish desires" strictly to Protestants, but to all Christians. While it may be true that some Protestants took offense at these words, the ad fails to note that Jindal’s article concludes by calling on the Catholic Church to recognize and incorporate aspects of various Protestant faiths:

Jindal (NOR, Dec. 1996): Nonetheless, the Catholic Church must live up to her name by incorporating the many Spirit-led movements found outside her walls. For example, the energy and fervor that animate the Baptist and Pentecostal denominations, the stirring biblical preaching of the Lutherans and Calvinists, and the liturgical solemnity of the Anglicans must find expression within Catholicism. I am thrilled about the recent ecumenical discussions which have resulted in Catholics and Evangelicals discovering what they have in common, in terms of both theology and morality, and as exemplified by joining to oppose abortion and other fruits of an increasingly secular society, but I do not want our Evangelical friends to overlook those beliefs that make Catholicism unique. The challenge is for all Christians to follow Jesus wherever he leads; one significant part of that challenge is to consider seriously the claims of the Catholic Church.

For the record, Jindal’s campaign lawyer, Glen Willard, wrote to local Louisiana networks calling on them to drop the ad, claiming it attacks Jindal with "false statements about his positions on the historic relationships between the Catholic Church and Protestant communities" and that "each claim made in the advertisement distorts Mr. Jindal’s positions with false and grossly distorted statements."

Jindal’s Report Card
 

We found claims made in the ad "Best Actor" to be closer to the mark, though dubious on one point.

[TET ]

LDP Ad: "Best Actor"

Male: And the final nominee for Best Actor…
Female: Bobby Jindal!
Narrator: He says he wants good government, but it’s just an act. Bobby Jindal took $7,000 from Halliburton, $115,000 from the drug companies and $120,000 from the insurance companies. He’s ranked as one of the most ineffective members of Congress and got a D rating from a nonpartisan Iraq veterans group.
Male: And the award for best actor goes to…
Female: Bobby Jindal! [/TET]

This ad says Jindal is "ranked as one of the most ineffective members of Congress," and it’s true the Web site Congress.org’s “Power Rankings” put Jindal 432 out of 439, behind even the non-voting delegates from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. You can’t get much lower than that.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that the ratings are heavily influenced by which party is in the majority. The 100 members rated as having the most power, for example, include only three Republicans. Similarly, the 100 who are rated as having the least power include only six Democrats. Jindal, serving his second term in the House, is a relatively junior member of the minority.

The ad also states that Jindal "got a D rating from a nonpartisan Iraq veterans group." It’s true that he got a D rating from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group founded in 2004. But while IAVA does call itself nonpartisan, that’s debatable.

The group posts ratings of the votes of House and Senate members that tilt dramatically in favor of Democrats. Of the 80 who got an "A" rating, all were Democrats. Of the 16 who got an "F" rating, all were Republicans.

In 2006 IAVA set up a political action committee that included former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, also a Democrat, as trustees. Records show the PAC began operation in January 2006 as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Political Action Committee, operating from the same address as IAVA. Its first reported political expenditure was $1,674 in March to support Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic candidate for the House.

At some point the PAC and IAVA split. The PAC changed its name to VoteVets in June and moved to new offices in September, roughly two months before the election. IAVA spokeswoman Kara Falkenstein states that “it was decided that IAVA’s nonpartisan credentials were too valuable to risk endorsing any candidates in such a highly partisan political climate.” VoteVets eventually reported making 99.7 percent of its political donations and political spending last year supporting Democrats or attacking Republicans.

– by Emi Kolawole

Correction: This story originally said that Tricare did not cover veterans. An astute reader alerted us to the fact that Tricare does provide coverage to retired military personnel, who are indeed veterans. We regret the error.

Correction: Our article originally stated that IAVA was founded in 2006. Records show it was founded in 2004 and began operations the following year. We also reported incorrectly that IAVA’s political action committee "supported only Democracts." The PAC, now known as VoteVets, devoted 0.3% of its political spending to supporting Republicans, and IAVA states that it severed ties with the PAC soon after it was set up.

Sources

Shuler, Marsha. "DHH pulls back on rule limiting prescriptions." The Advocate (Baton Rouge). 13 Dec. 1996: 5A.

Shuler, Marsha. "Exempting Medicaid patients from 5-prescription limit eyed." The Advocate (Baton Rouge). 21 Dec. 1996: 10A.

Gardner, Jonathan. "Miles Apart: Members of Medicare Reform Panel Argue Over Data." Modern Healthcare. 7 Dec. 1998: 6.

DeSlatte, Melinda. "In La. Governor’s race, a furor over a Democratic ad about Republican’s religious views." The Associated Press. 22 Aug. 2007 .

Simpson, Doug. "La. Democrats spend $600,000 on anti-Jindal ads statewide." The Associated Press. 14 Aug. 2007.

Zuckerbrod, Nancy. "Veterans-Turned-Candidates Have New PAC." Associated Press Online. 26 Jan. 2006.

House of Representatives, 108th Congress, "Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal year 2006," Conference Report, 28 April 2005; 27.

Love, Alice Ann. "Clinton to draft his own Medicare rescue plan." The Associated Press. 17 March 1999.