An attack ad aired this week by Rep. Gus Bilirakis states his Democratic opponent Chris Hunter "has some radical ideas about your money."
But it is packed with false claims about Hunter's stance on environmental, economic and health care policy and makes reference to a plan and tax proposed by Hunter that don't actually exist.
The ad states Hunter, a former FBI agent who quit his job as a federal prosecutor in December to run for Congress, has a "plan" to increase power bills by $1,200 a year. Hunter has never proposed such a plan.
Bilirakis backs the claim with a 2010 study by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, which estimated a cap and trade bill that passed the House in 2009 but never made it to a vote in the Senate would have increased energy bills for a family of four by $1,200.
Hunter said he supports concepts like cap and trade, which provide economic incentives for reducing pollution with a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a market for companies to buy and sell emission allowances. But to tie him to a failed piece of legislation from 2009, when he wasn't in office, is "partisan political gamesmanship," Hunter said.
"They are creating a fiction to attack and engaging in fear mongering and misleading the electorate so Gus can perpetuate his power and hang on to the seat he inherited," Hunter said.
Next, text flashes on the screen describing a "Chris Hunter new tax: pay more at the pump." It cites a 2013 National Association of Manufacturers study estimating a carbon tax would hurt manufacturing jobs and increase the cost of fuel.
Hunter said he supports "harnessing the power of the free market" to address climate change but has stopped short of giving a blanket endorsement to carbon tax as a concept without specifics.
"I haven't and I won't reduce my thinking to saying yes or no to something that's super complex and reducing it to two words," he said.
Hunter said Congress should evaluate proposals like the one backed by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker that would impose a tax on carbon emissions to reduce consumption. The plan, also backed by former Republican Secretary of State George Shultz and former Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, would return money raised through the tax to consumers in carbon dividends.
"You can't reduce any one of theses things to bumper stickers or slogans," said Hunter, who also teaches international environmental policy at University of Tampa. "Part of what has to change in our district and state and country is the way in which we engage in dialogue with one another in how we solve these serious, complex challenges."
In the ad, Bilirakis, a Republican from Palm Harbor, also claims Hunter supports "increased costs and radical uncertainty" for Medicare. Hunter supports a buy-in option for Medicare. The Bilirakis ad cites a 2009 AARP study which raises concern about the sustainability of expanding Medicare to more people if done through existing trust funds.
"It's absurd for them to cite a 2009 study in 2018 when so much has happened in the evolution of our health care system," Hunter said. "How about this. How about Gus agrees to participate in a televised debate so voters can evaluate our positions on health care."
As a senior trial attorney with the Department of Justice in Tampa, Hunter prosecuted Medicare and TRICARE fraud committed by operators of home health care scams, compounding pharmacies and other schemes. He secured convictions of more than 30 defendants in crimes involving more than $160 million of fraud since 2013.
At the end of the 30-second ad Bilirakis claims, without evidence, that in addition to raising constituents' power, fuel and health care costs, Hunter would "cut your take home pay by almost $20,000." In response to a request for clarification from the Tampa Bay Times, Bilirakis campaign manager Towson Fraser said the claim referenced Hunter's opposition to President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cut package.
The ad was correct in stating former President Barack Obama endorsed Hunter this month, along with dozens of other Democrats in competitive races across the country.
This is the second advertisement Bilirakis has released with blatant falsehoods. In an advertisement earlier this month, Bilirakis explicitly took credit for a law cracking down on opioids he had no hand in crafting.
Bilirakis is running for a seventh term representing District 12, a seat his father, Michael Bilirakis, held for 24 years before him. He has raised $1.7 million for re-election, and had $561,734 cash on hand as of Sept. 30, the most recent available filings from Federal Election Commission.
In his first run for public office, Hunter has raised $721,331 and had $260,145 on hand as of Sept. 30, according to federal filings.
In response to being called "radical," Hunter said "the most radical thing I've done is at the age of 45 with four kids in grade school resign a position I absolutely loved serving at the Department of Justice to run for Congress." He also posted a response directly on Twitter: