MINNEAPOLIS — New ads in a pivotal Minnesota congressional race accuse Democrat Dean Phillips of hypocrisy on health care, saying he hasn't provided insurance for his own employees even as he proclaims it's a "moral right" that everyone should have.
The wealthy businessman struck back with his own ad this week, saying U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen is "not telling you the truth," and asserting that he offers insurance to full-time employees of his coffee shops, as he did with companies he previously ran.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, debuted an ad last week in support of Paulsen, who released an ad making similar claims the same day. Phillips rolled out his counterattack Tuesday.
Paulsen is seeking a sixth term to represent a suburban district that was once solidly Republican but has become a swing district. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll gave Phillips a 9-point lead.
The super PAC's ad starts with Phillips saying: "I believe every American citizen should be afforded health insurance. I believe it to be a moral right." It then goes on to point out that Phillips acknowledged in media interviews last year that he didn't offer health insurance to his own coffee shop employees, even though his official financial disclosure says he's worth up to $77 million. "Dean Phillips, the worst kind of hypocrisy," the ad concludes.
Phillips's campaign acknowledged last week that when he and his partners were launching their first Penny's upscale coffee shop in Minneapolis two years ago that, like many small businesses, they didn't offer health insurance to their employees, who initially were all part-timers. But the campaign said they decided to pay their employees good wages so they could buy insurance on the private market.
As it grew, the campaign said, Penny's made "a handful" of employees full-timers and began offering them a health plan and covering 50 percent of the premium. There are now two Penny's locations with a third on the way, and the campaign said all 29 employees earn at least $15 an hour plus tips.
The Paulsen campaign's ad makes similar claims as the other ad. "Now he's lying to cover it all up. That's dishonest Dean Phillips, another shady businessman who'd make things worse," it concludes.
The ad refers to a debate between Paulsen and Phillips last month in which Phillips said his coffee business has "a thoughtful plan available to everybody." He didn't draw a distinction then between full-time and part-time employees.
Paulsen countered in the debate that Phillips didn't start offering insurance until the press caught him. Paulsen campaign manager John-Paul Yates said the accusation of lying pertains to Phillips's denial of Paulsen's assertion.
Phillips' new ad shows him in one of his shops. He says: "Eric Paulsen is saying I don't offer health care to our workers. Well he's not telling you the truth."
Phillips goes on to say he does offer health care to full-time employees, and that he did back when he ran his family's liquor business, Phillips Distilling, and when he ran Talenti Gelato. "No thanks to Erik Paulsen, though" he says, pointing out that Paulsen has accepted millions of dollars in donations from insurance and drug companies and voted to repeal the Obama administration's health care overhaul and its protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
Phillips supports fixing and improving President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to stabilize insurance markets and foster competition, and expanding Medicare as an option for all Americans while preserving employer-provided insurance for those who have it.