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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Fact-Checking Rick Scott on Abortion

In Florida’s Republican primary for governor, a federal political committee founded by candidate Rick Scott and largely financed by his wife falsely accuses Attorney General Bill McCollum of supporting "abortion providers." The group’s new ad masquerades as a “fact check,” but it mangles facts by characterizing ordinary hospitals (such as the ones Rick Scott himself once ran) as "abortion providers."

The ad, by a group called Let’s Get to Work, first aired June 25. It begins: “Congressman McCollum’s on TV. Time for a fact check.” The ad takes excerpts of McCollum’s ad and allegedly "fact checks" them. That’s our job.

On abortion, McCollum is quoted as saying, “I voted 100 percent pro-life.” That’s true, according to National Right to Life’s ratings compiled by Project Vote Smart. But the announcer retorts, as if it’s false: “Really? As a lobbyist, McCollum’s firm pulled in $100,000 from abortion providers.” Although the group running the ad did not return our calls for documentation of the claim, Scott’s campaign website makes a similar accusation, and attributes it:

Rick Scott website: Bill McCollum’s lobbying firm took $100,000 from abortion providers. In 2001, McCollum’s firm, Baker & Hostetler, accepted $80,000 from the Federation of American Hospitals, and in 2002, FAH paid the firm another $20,000.

Let’s Get to Work — a federal committee created by Scott to help him raise and spend money that’s not subject to state campaign finance limits — wrongly equates FAH with abortion providers. FAH is a trade group that represents hospitals. It’s not in the business of providing care; it primarily lobbies the federal government on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement issues.

Furthermore, McCollum’s connection to FAH is tenuous at best. McCollum joined Baker & Hostetler as a partner in 2001. At the time FAH already had been a paying client, beginning in 1999. McCollum did not work on the FAH account, lobbying almost exclusively for the financial services industry, according to a client list provided by the McCollum campaign.

Let’s Get to Work builds on this false foundation to argue at the close of the ad that McCollum was “wrong to help abortion providers.” When asked how McCollum helped abortion providers, the Scott campaign (again speaking for Let’s Get to Work) provided information on the Health Care Claims Guidance Act. McCollum, who served in the House from 1981 to 2001, introduced the bill in 1998 to amend how hospitals are prosecuted for false claims.

So how does Let’s Get to Work link that bill to abortion providers? The same way it connected FAH to abortion providers: The group labels hospitals as abortion providers, so a bill that supported hospitals in the claims process would be viewed as supporting abortion providers. That’s faulty logic.

Hospitals are responsible for roughly 5 percent of abortions performed in the United States, according to a 2005 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health. Clinics, none of which are members of FAH, perform 94 percent of abortions. The Guttmacher report, titled “Abortion in the United States,” describes most hospitals as providing abortions only in emergency situations. “Many hospitals provide abortions only in cases of fetal anomaly or serious risk to the woman’s health,” the report says.

The ultimate irony: Scott is a founder of Columbia Hospital Corporation – which was the largest for-profit hospital chain in the nation when he left the company in 1997. Melody Durham, membership manager at FAH, says Columbia was a member of FAH at the time and, after a merger and a reorganization, remains a member as the Hospital Corporation of America.

The fact is: Florida Right to Life has given both Scott and McCollum an "A" rating. In an interview, Florida Right to Life President Carrie Eisnaugle said her group considered McCollum’s alleged connections to abortion providers “pretty tenuous.”

We’d love to see more politicians fact-check, but they need to get their own facts straight.

Update, July 7: Our original story said Scott’s wife was the sole contributor to Let’s Get to Work. That was true at the time of publication, based on contributions disclosed on the group’s website. Since then, the website has updated its list of contributors. Scott’s wife is the largest, but not the only contributor. The article has been updated to reflect that there are other contributors.

by Michael Morse