PITTSBURGH—Attorneys for Democrat U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper's campaign want four Erie radio stations to pull an ad by an anti-abortion group that contends her vote for health care reform resulted in "the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions ever."
Americans United for Life stands by the ad, saying the freshman lawmaker voted to pass a final version of the bill that omitted key safeguards to prevent federal funding of abortions.
But the campaign's lawyers said in a letter to the stations on Wednesday that the ad is "slanderous, inaccurate and falsifies ... Dahlkemper's stance on abortion."
"We're hopeful that the radio stations won't air the ads and be responsible and honor their (Federal Communications Commission) licenses," Erie attorney Philip Friedman told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The Erie Times-News first reported the letter sent to three FM stations owned by Connoisseur Media, of Westport, Conn. and a fourth owned by Citadel Broadcasting, based in Las Vegas and New York City.
The Connoisseur stations did not immediately respond to calls and e-mails for comment.
Jim Riley, station manager of the Citadel station, WXKC-FM, said he hadn't talked to his legal team about pulling the ads, but said they may fall into a "gray area" legally.
"In broadcast, the issue ads and the political stuff is typically treated in a manner in which we have no rights to edit or censor that stuff," Riley said. "That's a slippery slope."
Stations can't censor or pull ads paid for by a specific candidate, but they can be held responsible for the content of third-party ads, according to FCC regulations. Stations don't have to absolutely confirm third-party ads, but should investigate any claims brought to their attention to rule out blatant falsehoods.
Matthew Faraci, a spokesman for Americans United for Life Action -- the anti-abortion group's political arm -- said the ad began airing Monday on the four Erie stations, but is also airing on four other stations in Dahlkemper's 3rd District.
The northwestern Pennsylvania district is more conservative than most in the state; Republican Sen. John McCain won it by 17 votes in the 2008 presidential election, according to Robert Speel, a political science professor at Penn State University's Behrend campus. That's one reason why Republicans believe challenger Mike Kelly, 62, a car dealer from Butler, has a chance to unseat Dahlkemper, who trailed Kelly in a poll released last month.
Kelly's campaign issued a statement Thursday that it doesn't comment on third-party ads.
Americans United for Life has targeted 11 other Democrats with the same ad -- 10 incumbents who, like Dahlkemper, voted for the health care bill and Joyce Elliott, an Arkansas state senator running for an open congressional seat who is said to "support" the health care reforms in a slightly different version of the ad.
The group this week pulled its ad targeting U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., because it mistakenly used the name of his younger brother, Ken Salazar -- a former U.S. senator who is now the interior secretary. It plans to air a corrected ad.
Friedman noted that Dahlkemper fought for language preventing use of federal funds for abortions in an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, of Michigan, who leads anti-abortion Democrats in the house.
"She's pro-life. ... It's absolutely false that she voted for taxpayer-funded abortions," Friedman said.
But Faraci said Stupak's amendment was part of the House health care reform bill and wasn't included in the Senate version that became law.
Democrats have argued that an executive order signed by President Barack Obama is added insurance that federal money won't pay for abortions under the reformed health care system. Faraci's group said Obama's order could be appealed or overruled by courts -- and was necessary only because the law didn't clearly ban federally funded abortions in the first place.
AUL says the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that "abortion restrictions ... would not appear to apply" to using federal money in pre-existing condition insurance plans that states must create as part of the reforms. Still, the Health and Human Services Department announced this summer that such program for so-called "high-risk" uninsured people won't cover abortions except for rape or other instances already allowed under federal law.