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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Not So Swift

A new fundraising plea from the Democratic National Committee highlights the link between a new conservative group’s health care ads and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth — but it goes too far in its claim of a connection.

An e-mail message from David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, says:

Plouffe, DNC pitch: We knew healthcare reform would face fierce opposition — and it’s begun. As we speak, the same people behind the notorious "swiftboat" ads of 2004 are already pumping millions of dollars into deceptive television ads.

Not exactly.

The health care ads in question are financed by Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which is funded partly by Rick Scott, its chairman and the former head of hospital chain Columbia/HCA. (We wrote about one of the group’s ads in late April.) Scott’s group is using CRC Public Relations, which also worked for the 2004 Swift Boat group that attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s military service. (We wrote about those ads, too.) But CRC isn’t the one "pumping millions" into TV ads about health care. Spokesman Brian Burgess tells us that the PR firm hasn’t contributed money to run the ads.

And there’s no evidence that those who bankrolled Swift Boat Vets are funding Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, either. The organization is not obligated to reveal its funding, though Scott has said he has put in millions of his own money. Burgess says that Scott didn’t contribute to Swift Boat Vets — and there’s no record of him having done so, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ database. We asked Burgess if there was any truth to the DNC claim that those behind the Swift Boat ads are pumping money into CPR’s health care ads, and he said "no."

So does the DNC know something that we don’t? Actually, when we contacted the press office, we were told that the e-mail "does not say that the same people were funding the ads, we merely said the same people were behind the ads."

Hmmm. Here’s the sentence again:

DNC e-mail: … the same people behind the notorious "swiftboat" ads of 2004 are already pumping millions of dollars into deceptive television ads.

We fail to see how this could be read any other way: It clearly says that the Swift Boat backers are spending millions on the ads. Maybe DNC copywriters think they’ll raise more money by saying that than by saying what’s true, which is that a new group has hired the same PR firm that turned out the earlier ads.