The Priorities USA Action SuperPAC Ad That Has Everyone Pissed

Aug 9, 2012
8:39 am

Priorities USA Action is the Super PAC that is supporting President Obama this year. We have always said here that Super PACs are awful, since they are a duplicitous way for political candidates to lower the political discourse while distancing themselves from being responsible for the message.

This week, Priorities USA Action is feeling the heat for the following ad, called "Understands."

You decide for yourself what you think. During a report by CNN that investigated the facts behind this ad, the individual in the ad, Joe Soptic, said the following: "That's the way that I feel. I mean, Mitt Romney, he's a very rich man. I mean, it's obvious if you watch him on television that he's completely out of touch with the average family, or you know, middle income people. I don't think he has any concept as to how when you close a big company like that how it affects families, the community. You know, it affects everyone."

Nonetheless, the ad is getting slammed from both sides of the aisle. CNN did an initial report about the facts behind the ad and interviewed Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action. The videos and full transcripts are here.

BLITZER:  A new attack ad by a Super PAC backing President Obama basically blames Mitt Romney for a woman's death from cancer after his company, Bain Capital, shut down the steel mill where the woman's husband worked. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's watching the story for us.

Brianna, on the surface, it seems pretty outrageous to blame Mitt Romney for the death of this woman. That's a pretty outrageous claim, but what's going on here?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does when you dig deeper here, Wolf, because this ad makes it sound like this woman passed away shortly after Bain Capital closed down the steel plant where her husband worked. But in reality, she passed away five years after it closed.

And the former steel worker in this ad, I spoke to him on the phone today, and he said that during some of that time, his wife had insurance through her employer. So, Wolf, this is a heart-wrenching story, but it's not accurate.


KEILAR (voice-over): Joe Soptic (ph) worked at GST steel in Missouri for almost 30 years. He was laid of after Bain Capital acquired the plant, eventually closing it down. Now, Soptic is featured in a new ad by Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC supporting President Obama's re-election.

JOE SOPTIC, FORMER STEELWORKER & OBAMA SUPPORTER: When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my healthcare. And my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that, my wife became ill. And then, I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia. That's when they found the cancer. And by then, it was stage 4. There was nothing they could do for her.

KEILAR: It's a heartbreaking story, but the ad does not tell all of it. In 1999, Mitt Romney leaves Bain for the Salt Lake Olympics, stopping day-to-day oversight of the company but remaining CEO. In 2001, Joe Soptic (ph) loses his job when Bain closes the plant. His wife still has insurance, though, from her employer, Savers Thrift Store (ph).

A year later, Romney formerly leaves Bain, and it's that year, 2002 or perhaps 2003, Soptic tells CNN that his wife leaves her job because of an injury. That's when he became uninsured without fallback insurance from her husband. A few years later, in 2006, she goes to the hospital, is diagnosed with cancer, and dies just days later.

Soptic, an Obama supporter, who has appeared in another ad back in May for the Obama campaign blames Romney for the loss of his job and his insurance.

SOPTIC: That's the way that I feel. I mean, Mitt Romney, he's a very rich man. I mean, it's obvious if you watch him on television that he's completely out of touch with the average family, or you know, middle income people. I don't think he has any concept as to how when you close a big company like that how it affects families, the community. You know, it affects everyone.

KEILAR: The Romney campaign is blasting the ad. A spokeswoman saying President Obama's allies continue to use discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration's deplorable economic record. The Obama campaign and the White House are keeping their distance from the debate. White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said he has yet to see the ad.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm simply saying that I have not seen this. So, how could I possibly assess it without –

KEILAR: Will you assess it later?

CARNEY: If you ask me tomorrow, sure.


KEILAR (on-camera): Now, Wolf, I followed up with Carney after the briefing, and he told me that he may look at the ad, but if I ask about it, quote, "my assessment will be, I have no assessment." This is kind of a case of a Super PAC being able to do the dirty work and the campaign and the candidate, and in this case, the White House trying to keep its hands clean, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the White House at least now not touching this commercial. The Obama campaign, I take it, isn't saying anything about it either, is that right? What about the Super PAC, itself? What are they saying?

KEILAR: That's right. Everything is being referred to the Super PAC. I spoke with Bill Burton, a founder of Priorities USA Action. And I pressed him on this, are you drawing this link between Mitt Romney and this woman's death? And he said, no, we're not doing that. But Wolf, I think a lot of people who looked at that ad, certainly you, certainly I, did not walk away from it with that impression.

Bill Burton eventually appeared with CNN and defended the ad.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, I want you to stand by, because Bill Burton is here. He's the co-founder of Priorities USA Action. You're responsible for this ad, is that right? 


BLITZER: You stand by it? 

BURTON: Absolutely. 

BLITZER: You make a serious allegation, in effect suggesting that the Republican presidential nominee, in effect, is responsible for the death of this woman. 

BURTON: That is absolutely not true. 

BLITZER: We've gone through the timeline, and clearly, he's not responsible. 

BURTON: Absolutely not. You're absolutely right, he's not. And that's not what the ad suggests. 

BOLDUAN: What is the message of the ad? Because that's clearly missed then, Bill. 

BLITZER: Anybody watching that ad…

BURTON: Well, it's clearly missed by that fact check. There's no doubt. The point of this ad is that — it's to tell the story of one guy, Joe Soptic, and the impact on his life that happened for years, and to this day, as a result of decisions that Mitt Romney made. 

This is — this is one of a series of ads in which we talk about the very long-lasting impacts that Mitt Romney's decision had on these communities, on these individuals and their families. 

What that fact check did was it presupposes that, if Joe's wife had gotten sick right after he left that company, after he was fired from that company, then somehow Mitt Romney would be culpable. That if she hadn't had health insurance for a short time in that intervening period, somehow Mitt Romney would be culpable. 

We're not saying Mitt Romney is culpable for that. What we're saying is that Joe Soptic was fired from his job, and as a result of that, he wasn't able to get — he wasn't able to hold onto health-care benefits that were promised to him. And as a result when his wife got sick, he didn't have health care. 

BLITZER: His wife was diagnosed, I think, six years after Mitt Romney effectively left Bain Capital. He effectively left in 1999. 

BURTON: Well, he was the CEO until 2002. 

BLITZER: Yes, but in 1999, he went to run the Olympic games in Salt Lake, and he worked full time on that. 

BURTON: When you're the CEO, you're responsible for the organization.  BLITZER: Yes, but most people — in terms of day-to-day operations, he had no role. 

BURTON: He was the CEO. He was the sole shareholder. He was responsible for the decisions that were made. 

BLITZER: But he had already been gone from the day-to-day operations.

BURTON: Well, his name — he signed his name to…

BLITZER: But the bottom line, I want — I want Kate to move on. You're standing — you stand by this ad. You haven't placed it any place yet, have you? 

BURTON: Well, we shipped it. So it's — it will show on TV soon.

BLITZER: How much are you spending to promote this ad, and where are you going to promote it?

BURTON: Well, it will be up in battleground states around the country. It's part of a $20 million project that we're using the tell the story…

BLITZER: What part of that 20 million? 

BURTON: Well, you know, it depends. Every ad is a little bit different. Sometimes you think that you want to keep an ad on longer, and so you do. 

BLITZER: Even though so many fact checkers says it's inaccurate, it's not responsible, it's misleading, you're still going to go ahead and play it? 

BURTON: Well, Wolf, just like we just talked about, what we are — what this ad does is it tells a story of one guy and the impact Mitt Romney had. 

BLITZER: But it's misleading in the tell. 

BURTON: Well, this is your opinion. But none of…

BLITZER: Most independent fact checkers, and we're independent. 

BURTON: No fact in that ad is wrong. 

BLITZER: The impression that you get that he killed her. 

BURTON: So you're saying — you're saying there's impression. You're saying that there's an impression. 

BLITZER: Anybody that watches that 60-second ad comes away and says Mitt Romney is responsible, at least indirectly, for this lovely woman's death.

BURTON: I just don't think that's true, and we would never make that case. 


BOLDUAN: That's the message you take away from it, Bill. Because whatever message was intended in this commercial is not what we hear. 

BURTON: It's clearly — it's clearly lost on some folks, but make no mistake about that. But the truth is, what this ad is about is what Mitt Romney wants the campaign to be about. He says that his central…

BLITZER: Hold on a second, because I want to bring Brianna into this, because she did the fact check. 


BLITZER: Brianna, you're still with us? Right?

KEILAR: I am. 

BLITZER: Now, he's questioning your fact check. I want you to tell Bill Burton how you did this, how you came into this, and what your thoughts are based on. He's saying that they never wanted to suggest that Mitt Romney was indirectly responsible for the death of this woman. 

BURTON: Look at what you're saying, Wolf. Of course — of course that's not what we're trying to say. 

BLITZER: You're not?

KEILAR: If I may. 

BLITZER: She did the fact check. She worked hard on it. 

BURTON: Fact check your questions.

BOLDUAN: Bill, let Brianna have a say. 

BLITZER: Listen to Brianna.

KEILAR: If I — if I may, because we were the only ones who were able to speak to Joe Soptic, who obviously is the voice in the ad, and it was Joe who in the ad — well, yes, as of yesterday, we had spoken to him in the afternoon. And it was Joe who says in the ad that his family lost his health — lost health insurance when he was laid off from Bain. 

But it was Joe himself that told me that his wife did have primary health insurance, that she was secondarily covered through the health insurance at GFT Steel. 

So it just seemed like there was very much an incomplete picture in this ad, painted by Joe Soptic's word, put out there by the super PAC, and that when you put it out to a reasonable person, they took away the conclusion that Mitt Romney was tied to her death. 

And I just think that if you were to have told the complete story, a person watching this might have drawn a different conclusion, and for that point, I think it is inaccurate. 

BURTON: Well, I appreciate your opinion on how we could have made the ad, but Brianna, frankly, I talked to Joe today, as well. And we had a conversation about, you know, what he thought of the ad and how he thought it was playing. And his opinion is that… 

KEILAR: He stands by it. 

BURTON: He does stand by it. Because his opinion is that Mitt Romney is not culpable for his wife getting sick, but when she got sick, when their family needed health insurance, they didn't have it. 

And if he was able to stay in his job, if he was able to keep health insurance that was promised to him by Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital when he was there, even before this period that Wolf lets him off the hook for, 1997, they made a contract with the workers, said no matter what happened to the company, they would be able to keep their health insurance. He wasn't able to. They canceled their health insurance. 

KEILAR: And also, she — she also — she remained insured after that. She hurt her rotator cuff. The insurance that she had was her primary insurance through Savers Thrift Store there in the Kansas City area. That is when she had to leave her job, and she lost that health insurance. 

So there's also this element of if she hadn't been injured, she would have been able to keep the health insurance. I just think that there are a number of factors not mentioned in the ad. 

BURTON: The point that — the point here that if she didn't — if for some reason she didn't have health insurance during that time to take care of her shoulder, that then Mitt Romney might be more culpable, that's not the point that we're making. And I just don't think that that's the right conclusion to draw. 

BOLDUAN: Now I think — I want to jump in real quick. 

KEILAR: I think she had — she had health insurance. I think maybe I missed your point. But she had health insurance at that point. 

BURTON: Right. No, my point is that, even if she had not, that wouldn't make Mitt Romney any more culpable for her getting sick or what happened to her. Because that's not the point that we're trying to make. We're trying to say that, for thousands of people, when Mitt Romney came to down, they lost their jobs and their health insurance. The impact of that is still felt. That community where that plant was is still run-down. 

BOLDUAN: Bill, I want to jump in real quick, because a big part of the story is how the campaign itself seems to be running away from this. I think we have…

BLITZER: The Obama campaign. 

BOLDUAN: The Obama campaign, I apologize. They've been peppered with questions about this since the time that the ad has come out. Listen to what the reaction has been. 


ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: This is an ad by an entity that's not controlled by the campaign. I certainly don't know the specifics of this man's case. 

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: You do know that we don't have anything to do with Priorities USA, that by law, we're not allowed to coordinate with them, and by law we don't have anything to do with their ads. I don't know the facts of when Joe Soptic's wife got sick or when she died. 

JEN PSAKI, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: We can't speak to the super PAC ads. We don't have anything to do with them. So I don't have anything further on that. 


BOLDUAN: You know — you've worked at the White House. You know all of these folks very well. Are you — are they backing you up? I know you guys cannot coordinate or talk about…

BURTON: This is funny. 

BOLDUAN: Let's be honest. If there's an inaccurate ad that could even be perceived as deceptive coming from a Republican- supporting super PAC, you guys would be lighting your hair on fire. 

BURTON: The thing I — the reason I think this is so funny is you just showed three clips of folks who are affiliated with the president's campaign or are at the White House saying what is just basic fact, which is of course they had nothing to do with this ad. Of course we don't coordinate our message or strategy. 


BLITZER: There's nothing wrong. They don't have to coordinate. But there's nothing wrong with them saying, yes, it's a factual ad or it's a distortion. They're just saying, "We don't know anything about it."

BURTON: Actually, they — they can't say whether or not they like or don't like an ad. 

BLITZER: Yes, they can. 

BURTON: They can't because — well, I mean…

BLITZER: When the Romney campaign — Bill, and you know this — when they put out a distortion or when a super PAC supporting Romney puts out a distortion, you're all over them, and you're raising serious questions.

The last hour, we had one of these pro-Romney — a Romney campaign ad on welfare reform which was a distortion. We pointed that out, as well. 

BURTON: That was a distortion of fact. Absolutely.

BLITZER: One of the reasons that the American public loses confidence in politics and in presidential candidates is when — you don't have to do that. You don't have to distort. You can just get into a serious debate. There are serious issues. You guys disagree. The American public's interest… 

BURTON: There are serious issues in this race.

BLITZER: Yes, there are.

BURTON: And one of them is Mitt Romney's business experience. He says that should be the central focus of why…

BLITZER: There's going to be ads… BURTON: What this ad does, and what our other ads do, we've got Dolores (ph). We've got Donny (ph) on our Web site, who talk about the impact that Mitt Romney had on their lives.

When people look at those ads, what they take away from it, isn't any of this stuff that you guys are talking about. It's that Mitt Romney thinks that his business experience ought to be, why he should be the president of the United States. But they see those ads and they say no, that guy should not be president of the United States, because the impact that he has on people's lives, the impact that he has on lives… 

BOLDUAN: Let's hold on — let's hold — let's go to break. 

BLITZER: Kate is holding on.  Brianna, don't go away. We'll take a quick break. Bill Burton is here. He's nice enough to stick around, defend this controversial ad. We're going to continue this conversation right after this. 


BLITZER: We're back here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Bill Burton. He's the co-founder of Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC. We're going to continue our conversation on this rather controversial ad. But Brianna, our White House correspondent, she wants to make a point. 

Go ahead, Brianna. 

KEILAR: Well, I was just going to say, Wolf, I think it is interesting, because today we heard from the campaign that they're not familiar with the personal story of Joe Soptic, but we know there is this conference call, so there at least is some familiarity. 

Joe Soptic appeared in a campaign ad back in May. And when I spoke to him yesterday, he told me that he was asked by the campaign to appear at events in battleground states. 

And it seems like until now, with this super PAC ad running, the campaign has not run away from Joe Soptic's story. So it just makes me wonder how well the president is really served by this ad that's supposed to be helping him. 

I'm here following him in Colorado. He was talking about women's issues today. The campaign, the White House was trying to make a case about a Romney ad on welfare that they say is very unfair, and a lot of fact checkers have agreed. And instead this is what we're talking about. So it just makes me wonder if it really does serve the president well and how widely it's actually going to air. 

BLITZER: All right, Bill, go ahead. 

BURTON: Well, I mean, what Brianna is suggesting is that there would be some sort of coordinated effort by which we would run an ad…

KEILAR: I am not. I am not suggesting a coordinated effort. 

BLITZER: She's not suggesting coordination.

BURTON: No, no, no, no. Listen to my whole point. Listen to my whole point. 

And that after we run an ad, maybe the president would go campaigning with Joe Soptic. And she's surprised that she hasn't seen him out on the trail today. That would never happen obviously. 

We've got our own program. We're working very hard to make sure that the American people know the truth about Mitt Romney's business experience. The campaign is doing what the campaign is doing. And to suggest that we would be mixing those two, I think, is a distortion of what the campaign finance laws are and what would possibly even happen here. So…

BOLDUAN: One point I think Brianna makes — it's a very important, very good point here — is doesn't this — what this ad is effectively done, doesn't it do exactly what you don't want it to do, which is, No. 1, it's getting your — the campaign you support completely off message. The president was talking about women's issues today. And the campaign is being peppered about questions about an ad — about an ad that has been found to be deceptive, inaccurate. We can debate that in and of itself.  But the fact that…

BURTON: We have.

BOLDUAN: We — I enjoy it. But it's getting him off message. And that's not what your intention is. Do you regret that at all?

BURTON: Well — no, I think what we have been able to do is extend this conversation about Mitt Romney's business experience, and what it's meant to the thousands of people whose lives that he had a profound impact on.

BLITZER: What about the hundreds of thousands who have jobs today because of the — the capital that he invested in Sport Authority and Staples and some other companies that are hugely, hugely successful.

BURTON: What's interesting is that you actually give him credit for more jobs than he himself would take. 

BLITZER: Say 100,000.

BURTON: He has said all sorts of different numbers.

BLITZER: Those are pretty successful companies.

BURTON: There's no doubt that there are places where he was successful. There's a reason that he made so much money. But the point here is he says that it's his business experience why he ought to be president of the United States. Well, let's look at some of the decisions he made and when he forced companies into bankruptcy and made all that money… 

BLITZER: Fair — it's a fair point, if you look — if you look at the failures and you look at the successes and you add up. The American people can say he's a good business man, he's not a good businessman. That is all fair. 

But as I get back to the point, we're not going to belabor it longer, because we have already, when you do an ad that seems to leave the impression that he was at least indirectly responsible for a woman dying from cancer, that is so powerful, that is so tough, that goes beyond what you guys should be doing. I'm not saying you shouldn't argue and debate. That's the impression any reasonable person seeing that ad, you get that impression.

BURTON: In these thousands of stories, some of them are truly heart-breaking, and they're really sad. And that doesn't mean that they should necessarily be off limits. But he had a profound impact on found impact on people's lives. And if you go into those communities, you've got thousands of people who know the impact that he had in their lives, but he walked away.

BLITZER: You're standing by this ad? You're going to play this ad?

BOLDUAN: The ad is running in Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia. It should start…

BLITZER: It will start.

BOLDUAN: It will start this week. 

BLITZER: Bill Burton, it was good of you to come in and talk about it. 

BURTON: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.  And go Buffalo Bills. Bill Burton and I are both from Buffalo. 

BOLDUAN: Now you're going to fight with me over my Colts. So it will start now.

BLITZER: Still ahead, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, cutting loose and engaging in some dance diplomacy. Stand by.

What is interesting to note that the Romney campaign's reaction to this ad is being slammed by several conservative outlets. For example, Red State said that the reaction to the ad used "with a mind numbingly bit of spin that may mark the day the Romney campaign died."

Here is what Erick Erickson of Red State wrote yesterday:

Priorities USA was damaging itself and Barack Obama over its mind numbingly insane ad painting Mitt Romney as a killer.

Then the Romney campaign decided to sabotage itself with a mind numbingly bit of spin that may mark the day the Romney campaign died.

Defending Romney and combating the ad, Romney spokesman Andrea Saul . . . let’s go to the quotes

“To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Andrea Saul, Romney’s campaign press secretary, said during an appearance on Fox News. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs and losing their health care in President [Barack] Obama’s economy.”

Conservatives have put aside their distrust of Romney on this issue in the name of beating Barack Obama. They thought he and his campaign team had gotten the message and the hints. Consider the scab picked, the wound opened, and the distrust trickling out again.

About the only thing more stupid in terms of building bridges with the right would be to say something nice about fetal stem cell research.

Start your watches for that one!

In the meantime, Ann Coulter seems to be off the Romney train as well. See this one.

“Her response was not that it was despicable, not that Bain… that Romney had left Bain five years earlier or the woman died five years after the plant closed and didn’t even get her insurance from her husband, her response was, ‘Well, if she had lived in Massachusetts with Mitt Romney’s health care plan, she would have had health insurance.’

Anyone who donates to Mitt Romney, and I mean the big donors, ought to say if Andrea Saul isn’t fired and off the campaign tomorrow, they are not giving another dime, because it is not worth fighting for this man if this is the kind of spokesman he has… There’s no point in you doing your show, there’s no point in going to the convention and pushing for this man if he’s employing morons like this. This ad is the turning point and she has nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat! She should be off the campaign.”