The ad opens with foreboding tones and black-and-white photos, telegraphing to the viewer that great fiendishness is at hand.
“Dean Phillips brags about being chairman of the board of a health care company,” it announces. (Message: Dean Phillips is a gaseous self-promoter.)
It goes on to explain his term as board chairman of Allina Heath, where, 11 years ago, seven nurses sued the nonprofit for “lewd comments, groping, and even assault.” (Message: Is Dean Phillips a pervert?)
But “Phillips and the board did nothing,” the ad concludes. (Message: Why isn’t “Shady Dean Phillips” on the sex offender registry yet?)
The commercial is the handiwork of Congressman Erik Paulsen. In normal times, we’d dismiss it as but another lunging roundhouse, the kind of artless punch politicians throw when they’re pretending to be career drunks fighting over the last swig of Old Crow. Yet Paulsen made a small but critical mistake.
First, as we will soon learn, the ad’s not even in the same time zone as the truth.
Second, with “and the board,” Paulsen accused some of Minnesota’s most august corporate citizens of covering up for degenerates. They include Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic. Tad Piper, retired CEO of Piper Jaffray. Jim Campbell, ex-CEO of Wells Fargo Minnesota.
Now they’re pissed. Really, really pissed.
In normal times, which these decidedly are not, corporate chieftains would express their umbrage with the kind of stately, officious, jargony prose that’s just coherent enough to suggest they’re vaguely upset, though you can’t quite understand why.
Yet in an op-ed in the Star Tribune yesterday – “Paulsen strikes at more than his opponent with outrageous ad” – their fury has pushed them to forgo the niceties of caste. They put the congressman on full-blast. Among the highlights:
- Paulsen “leveled an outrageous lie.”
- “He has exhibited some of the worst behavior and judgment that we have ever seen in a congressional campaign.”
- Paulsen’s “behavior threatens what we believe makes Minnesota so special: the desire of people who live here to better the places we live.”
Their rage is earned. Allina is a monster concern, with 13 hospitals, 90 clinics, and 27,000 employees. As you may imagine, a health provider of this magnitude measures the incoming lawsuits by the pound, which are then handled by approximately 38,000 pounds of lawyers. Individual drips from this storm rarely reach board members, volunteers who serve part-time.
That notion is seconded by the nurses’ own lawyer, Lori Peterson, who told the Strib that "No allegations were made about Phillips and he had no involvement in this matter. In fact, I'd never even heard of him until this election campaign started."
She further damned Paulsen for launching “negative and false personal attacks against his opponent that drag these seven survivors into a political campaign for his own benefit. Paulsen should be ashamed."
Though the congressman appears to have since scrubbed the ad from the internet, his bigger problem is with the pissed-off CEOs. In his nine years in office, Paulsen’s greatest achievement has been perfecting his come-hither pose whenever lobbyists near. He’s now the sixth-biggest grubber of special interest money in Congress. Conversely, he gets a meager 1.5 percent of his funding from little people donating $200 or less.
Translation: He just falsely accused the kind of corporate leaders who compose the entirety of his support.
In victories past, Paulsen’s used a simple game plan: Avoid constituents at all costs, then use his cavalcade of corporate loot to blast his opponents with attack ads. It may represent everything you hate about politics, but it’s effective. Winner: Erik Paulsen, the better of two evils.
Yet this year’s scorched-earth tactics make the Huns look like male cheerleaders. Polls suggest voters no longer believe, and independent fact-checkers are finding that the congressman and the truth have yet to be formally introduced.
If anything, Paulsen and his henchmen – the Congressional Leadership Fund – are guilty of that cardinal conservative sin: the dreaded “overreach.” Their ads have grown so bizarre that they may start voting to protect pre-existing issues for mental health coverage.
They claim that Phillips tried to cut Allina nurses’ health benefits. But not even the nurses’ union backs Paulsen’s charge. KARE 11 calls it “simply false.”
They claim that Phillips hides his family’s charity fortune in clandestine off-shore accounts. KARE calls that misleading: “As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the Jay and Rose Phillips Foundation wouldn't have any reason to ‘stash’ money in off-shore tax havens.”
They even managed to raise the ire of veteran ‘CCO newsman Pat Kessler. In an ad belittling Phillips for not offering health care to his coffee shop employees – also false -- Paulsen used footage of Kessler appearing to denounce Phillips.
Kessler was quick to protest, saying the clip was edited “in a way that makes it appear as though I’m endorsing Paulsen’s attacks,” and that his cameo is “wildly out of context.”
It’s one thing to piss off opponents, loveable newsmen, even constituents. It’s quite another to take shots at CEOs, the very people propping up your career.
It is said that you should never bite the hand that feeds you. Especially when that hand contains a stack of twenties.