Waging early internet war in suburban Pa. congressional race

Nearly a year before next year’s congressional elections, national Republican and Democratic groups are launching internet attack ads in a suburban Philadelphia race.

Democrats think they have a shot at two-term U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, whose 6th Congressional District includes parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties.

So Democrats are attacking Costello, and he and the Republican National Congressional Committee are going after Chrissy Houlahan, the Democrat they expect to face next November.

Taxes and health care

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is placing display ads on Facebook, and a group called Save My Care has an internet video ad attacking Costello for his vote in favor of the Republican tax overhaul in Congress.

“Congressman Costello voted for a bill that gives tax breaks to billionaires and corporations, but takes money out of the pockets of middle-class families,” an announcer says in the ad.

Is it true? The plan includes big corporate tax reductions, and independent analysts say the wealthy are the biggest beneficiaries of the tax cuts.

As for others, there are so many different provisions that affect families in so many different circumstances that you can accurately say millions of middle-class families will get tax hikes, and millions will get tax breaks.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found 76 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut averaging $1,900 next year under the plan, and 7 percent would experience an average tax hike of $2,100.

But the benefits for middle-class families decline over the next 10 years as some credits and deductions are phased out.

In 2027, the Tax Policy Center found, about 61 percent of taxpayers would have tax cuts averaging around $2,400, and 24 percent of taxpayers would have tax hikes averaging $2,100.

Sweatshop operator?

The RNCC is running a harsh, edgy digital ad attacking Democratic candidate Houlahan. It claims the sneaker company where she was an executive years ago abused workers at Chinese sweatshop factories.

“Workers were fed food that resembled pig slop,” an announcer says in the ad (above). “They worked 100 hours a week, and were paid just 35 cents an hour.”

The charges come from a 2004 report by the labor-backed Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights that focused on factories for the apparel-maker Puma.

Houlahan’s company, AND1, is mentioned only twice in the report. But the authors said conditions at a plant that produced sneakers for AND1 were “extremely similar, if not exactly the same.”

Houlahan told Ryan Briggs of City & State, who first wrote about the charge, that her company had rigorous standards for its plants, conducted regular audits and had American expats embedded to keep an eye on conditions.

On her campaign website, Houlahan writes about her experience forming AND1 and what she says was its commitment to humane employment practices and social responsibility.

After leaving AND1, Houlahan and some others formed B-Lab, a nonprofit devoted to encouraging companies to commit to “the highest standards of verified, overall social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.”

While Houlahan has gotten significant endorsements, she isn’t the only Democratic hopeful in the race. Businessman Robert Dettore is also an announced candidate.

For now the ads are just on the internet, popping up on the screens of voters in the 6th Congressional District (and, in the case of the Democrats’ Facebook ads, the 7th and 8th districts).

But the nasty stuff will be on the airwaves soon enough.

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