Wilson campaign faces final elections commission hearing
By David Skolnick
and Marc Kovac
Charlie Wilson’s campaign is facing a final hearing, likely as early as next month, before the Ohio Elections Commission, after a panel found probable cause that the Democrat made a false statement in a campaign ad about Medicare against Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson.
A similar comment in a television ad by a Super PAC (political action committee) that supports Wilson has been taken off the air by two West Virginia television stations in areas that border the southeast portions of Ohio’s 6th Congressional District.
The complaint with the elections commission was filed by Cambridge resident Richie Oster against Wilson, who is hoping to take back his seat from Johnson, who defeated the two-term incumbent two years ago. The 18-county district includes all of Columbiana County and the southern part of Mahoning County.
The issue before the commission Thursday was a Wilson commercial alleging Johnson, of Marietta, “voted to kill Medicare,” a claim that received a “Pants on Fire” — the lowest rating possible — by Politifact, a newspaper effort to verify campaign claims.
“What you have before you is the ‘Lie of the Year,’” said Mark Landes, legal counsel representing the complainant. He added later, “The voters deserve better. ... I think that a finding helps the public understand what the truth is and who’s telling it.”
Recently, Democrats have added “as we know it” or “as it now exists” when talking about the Republican Medicare bill when saying it kills Medicare.
Don McTigue, legal counsel for Wilson’s campaign, countered that Johnson supported budget resolutions that would end Medicare as it now exists, replacing it with a voucher system that could limit benefits.
“It includes a health- insurance program for seniors that is vastly different than anything we know of as Medicare,” McTigue said.
The elections commission voted 4-0 to find probable cause that a violation occurred in the matter. While a date for the hearing isn’t finalized, Phil Ritcher, the commission’s executive director, said it could be early next month.
Rachel Jacobs, Johnson’s campaign manager, said this is one more indication of the lengths Wilson and his supporters will go to get him elected.
After the hearing, Jacobs said Johnson won’t debate Wilson — except for two events he’s already confirmed in Marietta on Monday and in Steubenville on Oct. 11 — until Wilson “apologizes for his lie and agrees to not repeat it.”
Wilson has committed to six candidate events, including an Oct. 10 debate in Boardman, and will attend all of them, said J.R. Starrett, his campaign manager.
Using this “as an excuse to dodge public debates” is “overreaching at its worst,” Starrett said. “Johnson has to be concerned with the strategic direction he is being given from his team. [This is] yet another sign of a campaign that is quickly losing support and relevance.’
Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC, a pro- Democrat Super PAC, spent $400,000 in television time in Youngstown and two other TV markets on an ad that states: “Johnson voted to cut Medicare for seniors.”
Andy Stone, House Majority PAC’s spokesman, said: “We absolutely stand behind the commercial, and the claim is legitimate.”
“Charlie Wilson’s Washington allies are so desperate to cover up for his vote to cut $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare that they are resorting to what Politifact called ‘the Lie of the Year,’” said Christyn Keyes, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Johnson campaign asked Youngstown TV stations to stop airing the House Majority commercial, but none has done so. The Super PAC purchased time for this ad through Monday.