House Republicans today plan to take what for now will be a symbolic vote to repeal President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, as a national campaign group backed by Aetna Insurance attacks Democrats over their health care stand.
Republicans took back the House two years ago in part by targeting Democrats who supported Obamacare. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld Obama's signature achievement, the assault is accelerating. California is a major part of that fight.
To understand how that battle will be fought, take a look at American Action Network, a nonprofit corporation, and its related organization, a super PAC called Congressional Leadership Fund.
American Action Network has produced Web ads that juxtapose vintage Three Stooges footage with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as she tries to explain whether the Obamacare fee imposed on people who fail to buy health insurance will be a penalty or a tax.
Twin spots urge three congressional Democrats from New York and three from California to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They're all GOP targets, including Rep. John Garamendi, whose district encompasses Yolo County; Rep. Jerry McNerney, in San Joaquin County; and Rep. Lois Capps, in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
As Capps' strategist Bill Carrick notes, few people turn to the Three Stooges for wisdom about health care. But the slapstick spots presage more pointed attacks that surely will follow.
"The wild card is how much is outside groups going to spend. They certainly have plenty of money," Carrick said.
American Action Network spent $26.8 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The network announced this week that as part of its 2012 campaign, it will spend $10 million to organize get-out-the vote efforts in states, including California, where the outcome of congressional races could determine control of the House.
American Action's board includes former Republican senators and congressmen. Its president, Brian O. Walsh, is a former political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which runs Republicans' campaigns for the House.
As a nonprofit, American Action Network can raise unlimited sums of money without disclosing the identities of its donors. Although such groups cannot directly call for candidates' defeat, they can air campaign-like ads urging voters to take action, like calling on incumbents to repeal Obamacare.
And while American Action Network doesn't disclose its donors, there are a few suspects, like Connecticut-based insurance giant Aetna.
Aetna gave $3.3 million to American Action Network last year, though we're not supposed to know that. The online news organization SNL Financial discovered last month that Aetna made the disclosure in a regulatory filing, apparently by mistake.
American Action Network's related political arm, Congressional Leadership Fund, also is raising money. Unlike the nonprofit, however, the PAC can campaign directly for and against congressional candidates, and must name its donors.
Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have given $5 million of the $5.2 million the Congressional Leadership Fund raised through last month.
They're the same happy couple who gave $21 million to Newt Gingrich's super PAC and $10 million and counting to the super PAC supporting presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's election.
Democrats need to gain 25 seats to retake the House. To do that, Democrats will need to do exceedingly well in California, where they hold 34 of 53 congressional seats, and have visions of gaining four to six more.
To this end, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $4.6 million worth of television time in Sacramento, Modesto and Stockton.
Republicans, including the smart ones who run American Action Network, are well aware of California's significance, which explains why the network is focusing on Garamendi, McNerney and Capps.
It's also spending to defend Republican incumbents Rep. Jeff Denham in Stanislaus County and Rep. Dan Lungren in Sacramento County, having opened by recently buying an ad in The Bee on his behalf.
"California is at the core of the battle for the House," said Dan Conston, spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund. "If Democrats don't make significant gains in California this cycle, they have no prayer of recapturing the majority for this cycle."
Insurance companies claim they will try to implement Obamacare. But as Aetna's donation shows, some companies also will try to undermine the law, as they have been doing since 2009 when several spent millions to fight its passage.
The act will change the insurance industry by expanding the number of people who will be able to get health insurance. That will make a profitable business less certain. No business person likes uncertainty.
To dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will need to hold onto the House, elect Romney as president, and take control of the Senate. To pull that off, Republicans will need the American Action Network and the millions it raises from billionaires like Adelson and companies like Aetna.