Nebraska Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse, running as an anti-ObamaCare crusader in his bitter primary, made six figures on the speaking circuit for speeches he gave to pro-ObamaCare health associations.
Questions over Sasse's healthcare background have been one of the main sticking points his opponent, former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, has used against him. But that hasn't stopped Sasse from getting the endorsement of nearly every conservative group in the race to replace retiring Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).
Some groups offered an outright endorsement of the law before it was passed, as with the Arkansas Hospital Association, whose president and CEO was quoted in a 2009 press release from then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) encouraging the senator to vote for it. Sasse gave a speech to the group in October 2012 that earned him $10,500.
Others lauded the law after it was passed. Dallas-based Baylor Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Convery, in 2011 praised a nationwide healthcare informational exchange, in which Baylor was taking part, as “an example of health care reform that's really coming out of the health care system.”
Sasse was paid a total $23,000 from the group for two speeches, in July and October of 2012.
From the Texas Hospital Association, which endorsed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, Sasse made a total $26,500 for two speeches, in September of 2012 and February of 2013.
Nearly every association expressed some form of support for the law before Sasse spoke to their members.
The speeches on health care aren’t an unusual form of income for a former policy adviser to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sasse, who served under George W. Bush but is currently Midland University’s president, has long been looked to as an expert on health care policy and has penned numerous op-eds and given dozens more speeches on the topic.
An aide for Sasse’s campaign, when asked about the speeches, said that they were all critical of the law, and no transcripts or recordings have surfaced to suggest otherwise.
The aide compared them to Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) speeches to majority-African American and typically liberal-leaning universities to expand the GOP’s appeal, charging that Republicans need to try to convince others of the problems with ObamaCare and spread the “GOP message of repeal and conservative solutions in healthcare.”
But those speeches and op-eds have given his detractors in the Senate race fodder to charge that he’s insufficiently opposed to ObamaCare.
Osborn used a Fremont Tribune report on a speech Sasse gave in November of 2010 at the Fremont Area Health Care Summit in a recent ad. Osborn quoted Sasse as saying, per the Tribune report, that the law was an “important first step” and “Republicans are not repealing this bill,” and charged he “gave up.”
That ad, however, was lambasted in an editorial by the Fremont Tribune, which said Osborn used the paper’s article inaccurately, and affirmed Sasse’s opposition to ObamaCare.
“After rereading the story, we believe it is obvious Mr. Sasse never supported ObamaCare,” the paper wrote.
Tyler Grassmeyer, Sasse’s campaign manager, pointed to the op-ed as evidence the debate over who’s the real ObamaCare opponent holds no water.
"The Fremont Tribune settled this debate by pointing out that Shane Osborn has repeatedly misused quotes to level dishonest attacks against Ben Sasse. Now the only question is if the Osborn campaign will have to take down their dishonest attack ads?” he said.
But the news that Sasse benefited from groups that supported ObamaCare will likely provide fodder for his opponents, as the race heads into its final two weeks.
Polls of the race have shown varying outcomes, but most indicate Sasse’s support has surged over the past month, as the candidate racked up national conservative endorsements. He appears to be in a dead-heat with Osborn, though recent polling has shown businessman Sid Dinsdale gaining momentum.
The primary is scheduled for May 13, and whomever wins the nomination is expected to easily win the seat this November.
—This piece was updated to clarify the content of Sasse's speeches.