ELECTION 2020

Fact Checker: Are PAC attacks on Rita Hart's voting record accurate?

Democratic former state Sen. Rita Hart answers a question during an Oct. 8  debate with  Republican state Sen. Mariannet
Democratic former state Sen. Rita Hart answers a question during an Oct. 8 debate with Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks moderated by The Gazette’s James Q. Lynch and KCRG-TV9’s Chris Earl in Cedar Rapids. The winner of the race will fill the seat left vacant by retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

As the Nov. 3 Election Day draws closer, voters across the state are receiving the last appeals for candidates in their mailboxes, including those in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

A mailer recently sent by the Congressional Leadership Fund targeted Rita Hart, the Democratic candidate and former state senator vying against Mariannette Miller-Meeks, currently a Republican state senator, for an open seat in the U.S. House.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative Super PAC, made three specific claims against Hart.

Graded a B

The first points to Hart’s voting record in the Iowa Legislature: “In the State Senate, she raised the gas tax, voted against simplifying the income tax system, and supported allowing a tax increase on cattle.”

The ad also claims, “Hart is supported by national Democrats who voted to allow the US Export-Import Bank to provide loans supporting the Chinese government.”

Finally, the ad’s third claim: “In the State Senate, Hart voted to allow exemptions for certain health plans to drop coverage for preexisting conditions. One health insurance company that benefited from this vote had previously contributed to her campaign.”

Analysis

Claim 1: “In the State Senate, she raised the gas tax, voted against simplifying the income tax system, and supported allowing a tax increase on cattle.”

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In a response to the Fact Checker’s request for its sourcing, the Congressional Leadership Fund stated it was referencing Senate File 257 when it claimed Hart “raised the gas tax.”

The legislation — which then-Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, signed into law — raised the state’s gas and diesel fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon. Hart did vote in favor, according to the Iowa Senate Journal from February 2015.

The attack ad also points to Hart’s vote opposing the Iowa Working Families Tax Act, the sweeping tax reform bill that was up for debate in the Senate in February 2018. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, if passed into law, it would have cut state revenue by $1.1 billion annually.

Among its overhauls, Senate File 2383 would have reduce Iowa’s nine individual state income tax brackets to five, condensing the rates to range between 5 and 6.6 percent, the Des Moines Register reported.

In addition, the bill would have cut Iowa’s top corporate tax rate from 12 to 7 percent, according to The Gazette.

The Feb. 28, 2018, Senate Journal confirms Hart’s vote against the bill. SF 2383 did pass the Senate, but not the House. A different version of the proposal, Senate File 2417, passed the Legislature and became law in May 2018.

Finally, about the claim that Hart “supported allowing a tax increase on cattle:”

The Congressional Leadership Fund pointed to a checkoff, or an excise tax, that was implemented in 2016 on all cattle sold in Iowa.

The legislation allowed beef producers to vote on whether they wanted to see the checkoff increase that could range between 50 cent and $1. That was on top of the existing $1-per-head federal checkoff.

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Beef industry officials told The Gazette in 2016 they needed the extra funding — which was expected to reach up to $1.5 million annually — to promote Iowa’s cattle industry, research beef products and provide educational materials to the beef industry.

Iowa beef producers ultimately agreed to implement an extra 50 cent-per-head of cattle, voting with a 56 percent majority in a referendum at the end of 2016, according to The Gazette.

Hart was a member on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 2016 when it sponsored the initial bill that proposed the checkoff, Senate File 2278. That bill was subsequently substituted for House File 2269, which received unanimous support in the Iowa House and Senate. Then-Gov. Branstad signed the bill into law in April 2016.

The first two items within this first claim are accurate, but the third statement on Hart’s support of a cattle tax is missing the context that it was supported by industry officials and approved by cattle owners. We give this claim a B.

Claim 2: “Hart is supported by national Democrats who voted to allow the U.S. Export-Import Bank to provide loans supporting the Chinese government.”

As evidence, the Congressional Leadership Fund pointed to U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s endorsement of Hart in May. Hart is competing for the seat as the Iowa City Democrat retires.

In November 2019, Loebsack voted against a motion to recommit on the United States Export Agency Act of 2019.

Congress was voting to reauthorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, the official credit agency of the federal government established to support American jobs “by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services,” according to its website.

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The vote in question would have added an amendment prohibiting the bank from issuing a loan to the Chinese government under certain circumstances, such as the support of the Chinese intelligence agency.

The Congressional Leadership Fund also pointed to a $5,000 contribution to Hart’s campaign from AmeriPac, a leadership PAC founded by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. A review of the Federal Election Commission campaign contributions confirms the donation.

Hoyer also voted against the motion on the United States Export Agency Act of 2019, according to the roll call.

All but nine Democrats voted against the motion, and all Republicans voted in favor.

On its face, this claim is true. Hart is supported by two lawmakers who voted against an amendment that would have tightened qualifications on loans to the Chinese government.

However, this claim lacks nuance when it comes to Hart’s stance on this issue, as she has not publicly stated whether she believes there should be more restrictions on Export-Import Bank loans to China.

For that, we lower the grade to a B.

Claim 3: “In the State Senate, Hart voted to allow exemptions for certain health plans to drop coverage for preexisting conditions. One health insurance company that benefited from this vote had previously contributed to her campaign.”

For this final claim, the attack ad is referring to Hart’s vote on Senate File 2349, legislation that allowed the sale of a specific type of health policy that does not qualify as health insurance so is not regulated by the Iowa Insurance Division.

After the law passed, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, partnered with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to sell this policy. According to the Des Moines Register, applicants could be denied coverage for preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

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Hart was one of only four Democrats to vote for the bill, according to the Iowa Senate Journal from March 2018. It passed with Republican support and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in April 2018.

Hart stated later that year while a candidate for lieutenant governor that she believes these kinds of policies are “not wise,” but was responding to her constituents who were struggling to find affordable health care, according to a report from The Gazette.

Wellmark’s PAC did contribute $500 in 2012 and $500 in 2014 to Hart’s campaign for Iowa Senate, according to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Overall, the claim is accurate and gets an A.

Conclusion

The Congressional Leadership Fund gave an accurate summary of Hart’s voting record in the Iowa Senate when it came to the first and third claims, which we gave a B and an A respectively. However, the second claim was a bit muddled, earning it a B.

With two Bs and a A, the overall grade of the mailer earns an B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Michaela Ramm.

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Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.