Truth Lost to Oil, Babies

Posted Oct. 26, 2010, at 7:47 p.m.

The truth always takes a beating in political campaigns, but two recent ads from the major political parties have gone too far.

In one television ad, the Republicans criticize Democrats in the Legislature for putting a new tax on babies and hip replacements. In the other, a Democratic mailer on behalf of Libby Mitchell’s campaign for governor says that Eliot Cutler has been “a lobbyist for big oil companies for most of his career.”

Neither is strictly true.

As for the “baby tax,” a television spot, paid for by the Maine Republican Party, features a woman dressed as a nurse, saying she wasn’t interested in politics until she heard what the Democrats were doing with taxes. They put a new tax on surgery, she said. So, if you have a hip replacement or have a baby, you now pay more taxes.

Patients scrutinizing their hospital bills — which few do because insurance covers such costs — would find no tax on babies or hip replacements. A surcharge was added to paid health insurance claims last year to replace the “savings offset payment,” which helped fund the Dirigo Health program. A mailer about the “baby tax” does make reference to the much-maligned Dirigo program, at least making this ad a bit more honest than its television counterpart.

Insurance companies objected to the savings offset payment and sued the state over it every year. The savings offset payment was originally included as a way to recognize that the reforms that were part of the Dirigo package actually saved insurance companies money.

If insurance companies — which made record profits last year despite the recession and one of which sued the state because its 18.5 percent rate increase was reduced to 10.9 percent by the superintendent of insurance — are passing this assessment on to consumers, those consumers should be mad at the insurance companies, not Democrats.

The characterization of Eliot Cutler as a lobbyist for big oil is more egregious. Mr. Cutler, a lawyer, has been a lobbyist, but for only brief stints during his legal career, which also included time on Sen. Ed Muskie’s staff and with the White House Office of Management and Budget. In these roles, contrary to Democratic assertions that he is hostile to environmental protection, he successfully advocated on behalf of the federal Superfund program and legislation to clean up the nation’s water and air.

He has never worked for “big oil companies,” as the flier from the Maine Democratic Party asserts, although the firm he works for, Akin Gump, has represented such interests.

Mr. Cutler has steadfastly said he objects to the prospect of drilling for oil off Maine’s coast. So trying to tie him to the Exxon Valdez disaster or the BP oil spill is nothing but scare tactics with no relation to reality.

Maine faces serious, pressing problems — a government that costs too much, pension liabilities that will eat an ever-larger share of the state budget, an aging population that is too small to spur economic development. Cute ads about a “baby tax” and suggesting a candidate will cause an oil spill here do nothing to begin to solve these problems.

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