A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Benton’s Bogus Viagra Ad


Don Benton, a Republican from Washington state who is running for U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, is airing a false and misleading ad that says: "Patty Murray voted to use taxpayer money to give Viagra to sex offenders.” The ad goes on to say, “What if I told you your taxpayer dollars are already doing that?”

It ends by urging viewers to “tell Patty Murray that you’re sick of her reckless spending.”

In a graphic on screen, the ad cites a Senate vote taken March 24 on the health care bill that is now law. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma offered an amendment that would have barred qualified health plans in the state-based insurance exchanges from providing coverage or reimbursement to convicted sex offenders for prescription drugs treating erectile dysfunction. But as we have written before, that was one of numerous amendments offered by Republicans in a failed attempt to force the Democrats to amend the health bill and, thereby, delay its passage by sending the bill back to the House.

Murray and 56 other Democrats voted “yes” to “table” Coburn’s amendment – meaning to kill it. The state exchanges, though, won’t be created until Jan. 1, 2014, so Americans – including those convicted of sex offenses – won’t receive any federal subsidies to buy health plans until then. That makes the ad quite false when it says “your taxpayer dollars are already" subsidizing Viagra for sex offenders.

We also find the claim that Murray “voted to use taxpayer money to give Viagra to sex offenders” to be misleading. She supported no such proposal. It’s true that the Congressional Research Service said that there was nothing in the new law that would "require qualified health plans to limit the type of benefits that can be offered based on the plan beneficiary’s prior criminal convictions." But strictly speaking, Murray voted against a Viagra ban, and not explicitly to provide Viagra, as this ad claims.

At the time, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana said of Coburn’s amendment: “It is a crass political stunt aimed at making 30-second commercials, not public policy.”

And now it is a 30-second commercial. Benton began airing it May 5.