Candidate says one PAC trying to get competitor ‘career politician’ Timothy Hill elected
(WJHL) – Two “super PAC” political action committees unleashed attack ads today criticizing Diana Harshbarger, the Kingsport pharmacist who a recent poll shows leading the Republican primary race for Tennessee First District Congressional representative.
Harshbarger’s campaign issued a statement from campaign manager Zac Rutherford today blaming an “Anti-Trump Super PAC” for the ads and saying it was part of an effort “to help elect career politician Timothy Hill.”
Hill, of Blountville, is completing his fourth term as a state representative for Tennessee’s Third House District.
The “Bless Your Heart Coalition” is responsible for one of the ads, which so far center around a federal conviction of Robert Harshbarger Jr. for mislabeling drugs from China and claiming they were from the U.S. Robert Harshbarger was sentenced to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $1 million in the case.
Club for Growth Action, a Super PAC affiliated with the Club for Growth, a powerful PAC mainly dedicated to economic conservatism, sponsored the other ad. The Club for Growth endorsed Hill last week and has spent nearly $500,000 on TV ads that began running late last week.
Rutherford said what he called the “DC Swamp Group” behind the ads is attempting to dredge up a “baseless attack” that “has been tried before and debunked.”
The voiceover in the Club for Growth Action ad says “Harshbarger was an officer of a company busted for selling counterfeit Chinese drugs to treat American dialysis patients, claiming the drugs were American-made and approved.”
It goes on to say the drugs were “used on innocent veterans and Medicare patients” and that the company “charged taxpayers full price for cut-rate Chinese drugs.”
The Bless Your Heart Coalition ad strikes a similar tone.
“Diana Harshbarger knows all about China,” its narrative says. “Her family’s business imported cheap, misbranded drugs from China, selling them to programs like Medicare and the VA…”
It continues by saying Harshbarger is “buying campaign ads made possible by her family selling phony medicine from China.”
Diana Harshbarger provided a statement in May when News Channel 11 reported on the federal case in the wake of ads she released criticizing U.S. reliance on Chinese drug manufacturing.
“My husband had a company that made medications. I had no role or involvement in that company whatsoever,” Harshbarger said in a statement that had asked whether the case impacted her own business approach from 2013 going forward.
Harshbarger’s campaign repeated that claim Wednesday. “The hit the Never-Trump group is running with has nothing to do with Diana and references an incident and company (AIMS) Diana had zero involvement in,” Rutherford said. “Zero.”
Harshbarger’s campaign told News Channel 11 in May that she had for years operated Custom Compounding Centers of America. Tennessee Secretary of State’s office records show her as the registered agent for that company, which formed in 1990.
The only current information available about the Bless Your Heart Coalition super PAC at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website is the registered Washington D.C. address of the PAC and the name and contact information of the treasurer. The PAC formed June 25.
The Harshbarger campaign’s statement doesn’t reference that PAC, but does mention the Club for Growth, whose super PAC Club for Growth Action recently put $550,000-plus into ads supporting Hill.
“Club for Growth’s anti-trump stance dates back to 2016 where they spent a whopping $7 Million to make sure President Trump wouldn’t get elected,” the statement said. “With friends like those, it’s no wonder Tim Hill is lagging so far in the polls.”
The statement also included a link to a 2015 Kingsport Times-News article about a visit Hill and other state legislators paid to Premier Pharmacy, Harshbarger’s current business, saying Hill “lauded her facility.”
Hill responded by saying he had “run this race on my pro-life, pro-jobs, pro-Trump record and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
He said he welcomed the Club for Growth’s endorsement and support, noting the Club “strongly supported Marsha Blackburn’s campaign and has fought for President Trump’s agenda.”
Hill also addressed the content of the negative ads, saying, “for months my opponent has avoided explaining why her business sold illegal drugs from China to our seniors and veterans. I hope the people get an answer before they vote.”
Club for Growth “anti-Trump?”
Of the Club for Growth, Harshbarger’s statement said: “Club for Growth’s anti-trump stance back to 2016 where they spent a whopping $7 Million to make sure President Trump wouldn’t get elected. With friends like those, it’s no wonder Tim Hill is lagging so far in the polls.”
Club for Growth Vice President for Communications Joe Kildea told News Channel 11 Wednesday that the group is anything but anti-Trump — at least now.
“This is another false claim from a desperate politician. Club for Growth has a very positive working relationship with President Trump,” Kildea said.
He referenced a recent FactCheck.org post about an April ad in a Kansas Senate race that also called the Club for Growth anti-Trump. That post called the ad misleading and said Club for Growth President David McIntosh has been forthcoming about the group’s past less-than-chummy relationship with Trump.
The post refers to an August 2019 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which McIntosh said this: (W)hat we base our current position on is the results. President Trump has governed as a free-market conservative, cutting taxes, trying to get rid of Obamacare, deregulating the oil and energy industry, deregulating the internet. And it’s working.”
According to a 2016 FactCheck.org post, the Club for Growth criticized Trump starting in 2011, when he was considering a presidential run. Several press releases and an op-ed from the club’s then president leveled several criticisms at Trump.
The group called him “a liberal” in one press release and then-president Chris Chocola labeled him a “faux conservative” and someone who will “say anything to get attention, but not a serious candidate for the Presidency.”
In 2015, the post reported, Club for Growth Action began running a series of ads painting Trump as a liberal and that in early 2016 Club for Growth Action ran an ad claiming Trump supported higher taxes. The post pointed out that Trump had at that point “issued a tax plan that would significantly cut taxes for individuals and businesses.”
The Club for Growth endorsed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican primary in late March, 2016.
A July 2019 article in The Hill revealed that the Club for Growth had been strategizing with a super PAC that was supporting Trump’s reelection campaign. The article said a “closer relationship” to the president was “a stark departure for the free-market group, which mercilessly attacked Trump under McIntosh’s leadership during the 2016 Republican primary and refused to support his general election bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton.”
The Spry Strategies poll conducted for News Channel 11 June 21-24 had Harshbarger leading at 22.4 percent, with Hill third at 11.3 percent.
Bless Your Heart – mystery PAC
The only person listed in documents so far available about the Bless Your Heart Coalition is Thomas Datwyler, the treasurer. The bio section on the website for Datwyler’s 9Seven Consulting claims he has served as treasurer for “numerous state and federal campaigns and committees” over the last seven years.
“Thomas has extensive experience with FEC compliance and reporting, contribution processing and record keeping,” the bio states.
News Channel 11 has regularly checked the FEC site for raw filed reports on Bless Your Heart Coalition’s spending, which are required on a 48-hour basis. So far, no spending from the PAC has been uploaded.
Super PACs have been widely criticized as “dark money” that has a negative impact on the American political process. According to the Center for Responsive Politics “Open Secrets” website, Super PACs “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”
Additionally, they can accept money from non-profit 501(c)3 organizations. This essentially allows individuals to avoid having their names disclosed as donors by donating to a 501(c)3 — which doesn’t have to disclose donor names — after which that 501(c)3 donates to a Super PAC.