Jon Ossoff, challenger for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. David Perdue, is running as an anti-corruption crusader and calls Perdue the embodiment of a corrupt system.
First elected in 2014, Perdue is still in his original six-year term, but he became Georgia’s senior senator with the retirement last December of Sen. Johnny Isakson. While the special election for Isakson’s former seat, now held by appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler, is crowded with 20 candidates, there are only three still in the race for Perdue’s seat: Democrat Ossoff, Republican Perdue and Libertarian nominee Shane Hazel. Both contests appear on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“I run a 30-year-old business that investigates political corruption, organized crime and war crimes, and corruption in politics is why health insurance and drug companies are allowed to rip off our families, it’s why polluters are allowed to poison our air and our water,” Ossoff said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s why during this pandemic they’ve printed money for Wall Street while they’ve cut unemployment benefits and let emergency small business lending expire.”
The business Ossoff runs is Insight TWI, a production company that makes documentary films and TV programs. Now 33, he has been CEO of the company for seven years and is sometimes described as an investigative journalist. After seven candidates contended for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Senate seat, Ossoff emerged victorious without a runoff, receiving 52.8% of votes in the statewide primary.
Now the campaign he is waging “isn’t about political party,” he said, but “about a political system that’s been captured by special interests with legions of lobbyists and limitless resources to spend on politics” and a need to reform that system so that policy serves ordinary people.
“My opponent, Senator David Perdue, is the embodiment of that corrupt system,” Ossoff said. “This is a guy who’s been caught selling meetings for corporate PAC checks, who puts lining his own pockets ahead of service to the people he represents, whose stock trading is among the most egregious political misconduct in Georgia political history.”
The Statesboro Herald reached out to the Perdue campaign for responses to these allegations, and the comments received in reply – from campaign staffers – appear at the end of this story. In this season when candidates are making limited in-person appearances, the Ossoff campaign had contacted the Herald to offer a phone interview, and the Herald has requested an interview with Perdue.
PACs & Boardroom
In ads, Ossoff asserts that his campaign does not take money from “corporate” political action committees, or PACs.
“My campaign is refusing contributions from corporate PACs and from federal lobbyists, and that contrasts pretty starkly with my opponent’s record of literally selling meetings in exchange for corporate PAC checks,” he said.
Ossoff referred to a fundraising mechanism that Perdue has used, called the Boardroom, as a “pay-to-play scheme” in which “Washington lobbyists” receive “ornate invitations” offering different levels of access to the senator for different levels of financial support.
In February, Atlanta’s “11 Alive” TV news reported that a “chairman” level Boardroom donor could get, with campaign contributions totaling $5,400 a year, quarterly events with Perdue, an annual retreat at the Sea Island resort and a yearly reception at his personal residence there. The TV station quoted a political science professor who called such fundraising practices “pretty standard” but also “buying access.”
Both candidates’ campaign disclosure reports to the Federal Election Commission can be found at www.fec.gov/data/elections/senate/GA/2020.
While Perdue’s July quarterly report shows contributions from PACs with more obviously “corporate” names such as National Health Corporation Political Action Committee, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Federal PAC and Honeywell International Political Action Committee, Ossoff’s report also show contributions from organizations with names such as Prairie Political Action Committee, Lobo PAC and Perimeter PAC. Both also have many individual donors.
Ossoff also blasts Perdue for his recent statements that he has always supported protections for people with pre-existing conditions after he in fact voted for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which survived the repeal attempt by a 51-49 vote in the Senate in July 2017. Perdue more recently supported a lawsuit by President Donald Trump’s administration seeking to have the remainder of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, overturned.
“Senator Perdue voted to allow health insurance companies to deny us coverage if we are already sick with something like cancer or diabetes,” Ossoff said. “He voted to let them deny us coverage for pre-existing conditions, and then lied about it in TV ads that he ran across the state for weeks.”
PolitiFact, a service of the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, reviewed Perdue’s statement in an August tweet that he has “always believed in protections for Americans with preexisting conditions” and a campaign ad asserting that his position is “health insurance should always cover pre-existing conditions. For anyone. Period.”
PolitiFact judged that statement “false” based on his vote to repeal the ACA and a purported loophole in a bill, called the Protect Act, which Perdue cosponsored to replace the protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That bill has not been voted on by the Senate.
Ossoff’s health plan
Another question to Ossoff was what his plan is for affordable health care and improved access, and whether it would just be a restoration or expansion of the ACA.
“Well first, we need to crack down on price gouging by pharmaceutical and insurance companies,” he said. “We need to expand Medicaid and invest in rural hospitals and new clinics to serve parts of our state where there’s not easy access to health care.”
He also wants to add a nonprofit, public option to the Affordable Care Act that will compete with private insurers. He said he would strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions and for women and young people “who may face price discrimination.”
The reporter also asked Ossoff if his plan would amount to socialized medicine or a government takeover.
“Of course not,” he said. “That’s just a bunch of boloney, mostly paid for by the insurance companies who don’t want to be held accountable.”
What other issues does Ossoff think are important?
“I will champion historic investment in infrastructure and clean energy, reduced taxes for working families and small businesses, anticorruption reforms to get dark money out of politics, and debt-free public college,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to take on debt to get a degree from a public college or university or an HBCU (historically black college or university).”
Debt-free does not mean free-of-charge for everyone. What Ossoff proposes is an expansion of the need-based Pell Grant program.
To a question about COVID-19, he replied that the response has been “catastrophically mismanaged” by the federal government.
“Trump and Perdue both lied to us about the scope of the threat,” Ossoff said. “Perdue was busily trading medical stocks and dumping his casino shares while he told the rest of us that this would pose little risk to our health and have little impact on economic growth, and now 200,000 Americans are dead and millions have lost their jobs.”
Perdue campaign response
"Senator Perdue supports coverage for those with pre-existing conditions no matter what, period, and anyone who suggests otherwise is knowingly lying,” Perdue campaign senior spokeswoman Casey Black asserted in an email.
“PolitiFact singled out a statement of opinion by the senator and cherry-picked select information to draw a misleading conclusion, while burying Senator Perdue's support for real legislation that would ensure pre-existing conditions are covered at no additional cost to those patients,” she wrote. “Free market solutions are the best way to protect pre-existing conditions, lower costs, and expand access – not Jon Ossoff's socialized medicine proposal which would raise costs, lead to fewer doctors, and close hospitals during a pandemic."
On another issue, Black responded that Ossoff “has absolutely no credibility when it comes to the issue of money in politics.”
“He pledged that he wouldn't take a dime of corporate PAC money, but he broke his promise and took tens of thousands of dollars from corporate-funded PAC's,” she stated. “Some of these PACs even took money from healthcare companies who Ossoff has criticized by name. To make matters worse, Chuck Schumer's dark money super PAC is spending millions of dollars on Ossoff's behalf to spread lies about Senator Perdue. Ossoff is completely shameless about his hypocrisy.”
Black supplied a quote from Perdue Campaign Manager Ben Fry responding to the claims about stock trades Perdue made last spring.
“After months of false accusations and innuendo, the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission have each individually, independently, and swiftly cleared Senator Perdue,” Fry said. “Senator Perdue welcomed this review and is gratified that his record has been cleared. After a 40-year successful business career, Senator Perdue’s sole purpose of serving in the U.S. Senate is to represent the needs of the people of Georgia.”