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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Father Doesn’t Always Know Best

A super PAC formed by the father of Rep. Ted Yoho’s primary challenger claims Yoho is “first in line” at “feeding at the special interest trough,” but offers up two misleading examples:

  • The ad accuses Yoho of taking “a nearly $20,000 junket paid for by a special interest group.” But the ad doesn’t mention that the “junket” was a trip to Israel or that Yoho is a member of the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittees on the Middle East and terrorism.
  • It also says, “Yoho takes an Obamacare subsidy for himself.” The “subsidy,” as we have said before, is nothing new. The government, like most large employers, has long paid part of health care premiums for its employees, including members of Congress.

The ad is the work of Florida Conservatives United — a group formed in July by Robert Rush, who is the father of Yoho’s challenger, Jake Rush, in the Aug. 26 Republican primary. Robert Rush and his sister, Marian Rush, each donated $100,000 to the super PAC. As of Aug. 6, the PAC had no other donors. Marian Rush works at her brother’s law firm.

‘Junket’ … to Israel

Yoho won election to Florida’s 3rd Congressional District in 2012 with the support of tea party groups. He barely upset 12-term congressman Cliff Stearns in the Republican primary and then coasted to victory in the general election.

The last-minute attack ad from the Rush family PAC accuses Yoho of being a hypocrite. The ad — complete with snorting pigs, stacks of dollar bills and floating dollar signs — quotes him as saying during the 2012 campaign: “Career politicians are like pigs feeding at the trough.”

The ad goes on to say, “Now, he’s first in line at the trough, accepting a nearly $20,000 junket paid for by a special interest group.” A jet plane, stacks of dollar bills and a globe are shown to illustrate the excess.

But the ad leaves out key details, notably the location of the trip and the reason for it.

The trip was to Tel Aviv, Israel, and cost $19,186 for Yoho and his wife, according to Legistorm, a nonpartisan website that tracks congressional travel. It was paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, an arm of the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Yoho is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and sits on two subcommittees: Middle East and North Africa, and Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.

Legistorm describes the trip this way, based on travel documents that it compiled from public records: “Republican members of Congress educational trip including meetings with top Israeli officials, seminars on history and foreign policy, and tours of multiple strategic and historical sites, including Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.”

The Gaza Strip, of course, is now the site of a war between Israel and Hamas, and Yoho sits on a key House subcommittee that deals with trouble in the Middle East. During the visit, the 29-member congressional delegation met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Of course, these trips mix business and pleasure, and Yoho told the Gainesville paper that it was “awesome” to visit the historic and religious sites. But to suggest it was a pleasure “junket” with no educational or diplomatic value is misleading.

‘Obamacare Subsidy’ Yet Again

The ad also raps Yoho, an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, for being a hypocrite on Obamacare. It says, “Candidate Yoho opposed Obamacare, but while families suffer under Obamacare, Congressman Yoho takes an Obamacare subsidy for himself.” It shows a doctored image of Yoho wearing an “I like Obamacare” button.

But there is no “Obamacare subsidy.” Members of Congress get the same employer contribution from the federal government to buy health insurance on the exchange created by the ACA as they did when they were buying health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits program.

We have debunked this line of attack so many times that we will just repeat what we said only last week about this gross distortions of the facts:

FactCheck.org, Aug. 20: The Office of Personnel Management pays an average of 72 percent (but no more than 75 percent) of the private health insurance premiums for federal workers under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which until this year also covered members of Congress and their staffs.

But to avoid another bogus criticism — that the Democrats’ 2010 health care bill would somehow have “exempted” members of Congress — the health care law requires House and Senate members and employees to purchase their health insurance through the ACA’s new insurance exchanges, rather than through the FEHB. The Office of Personnel Management proposed to continue the same employer payments when congressional members and aides moved from the FEHB to the new exchanges. “The amount of the employer contribution toward their Exchange premiums is no more than would otherwise be made toward coverage under the FEHB Program,” OPM stated.

Some voters in the 3rd Congressional District may still view the trip to Israel as a “junket” or the employer-contribution for health care as an “Obamacare subsidy” even after learning the details that we lay out here. They are entitled to their opinions. But opinions should be based on facts, and the super PAC ad conveniently leaves them out of this ad.

— Eugene Kiely