Ads Target Thomas, Wilson On Social Security Overhaul

Posted May 6, 2005 at 6:14pm

An independent group opposed to President Bush’s proposal to carve out private accounts within Social Security will launch Spanish-language ads targeting two House Members today.

The commercials — funded by ProtectYourCheck.org, Americans United to Protect Social Security and Latinos for a Secure Retirement — will run in the districts of Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R- Calif.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) for two weeks at a cost of $100,000.

Both Members have substantial numbers of Hispanic constituents.

The ads represent the leading edge of a five-week “Take a Stand” campaign by Americans United aimed at trying to force Members — primarily Republicans — to publicly announce whether they support or oppose privatizing a portion of the retirement system.

“We are an entity trying to affect the legislative process,” explained Erik Smith, a consultant to ProtectYourCheck.org. “We are hoping that people in these districts will speak to their Member and encourage them not to back privatization.”

The new ads are the first by anti-privatization forces in which specific Members of Congress have been targeted. They will run in the Albuquerque, N.M., and Bakersfield, Calif., markets, as well as nationally on CNN Español. Chambers, Lopez and Gaitan, a Latino-owned media consulting firm based in Arlington, Va., produced the ads.

They come just days after Bush hosted a group of Latino businessmen in Washington, D.C., to push his Social Security overhaul plan.

Latinos are considered a crucial swing vote for the parties heading into the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Although many Hispanic groups dispute the 2004 exit polls, they showed Bush winning 44 percent of Latino voters — a 9 percent increase from his showing in 2000.

Bush has said his proposal to create private accounts within Social Security would allow Latinos, who might not otherwise be saving for retirement, to establish a nest egg.

Democrats have expressed unified opposition to privatization even as Republicans in Congress continue to push forward.

Thomas is expected to begin the legislative process of marking up a bill as early as next week, with the stated goal of reporting it out of committee within a month.

He has publicly supported private accounts as well as Bush’s progressive indexing proposal, which would ensure that low-wage earners continue to receive full compensation even as more affluent retirees would see their benefits greatly reduced.

The ad that’s set to begin running in Thomas’ district today paints the Republican plan as built on nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

While a magician performs card tricks on screen, the ad’s narrator says, “President Bush and his allies want to gamble with Social Security and privatize it.”

As the magician makes a stack of cards disappear, the narrator intones, “This will ruin our families … and your money will disappear. Call Congressman Thomas today and tell him to not gamble with our Social Security.”

The same basic ad will run in Wilson’s 1st district.

Thomas’ district spans the Central Valley of California and is centered on Bakersfield. Twenty-one percent of the district’s population is Latino, according to the 2000 Census.

Wilson’s Albuquerque-based seat had a 43 percent Hispanic population in the 2000 Census.

While Thomas appears to be impregnable in his district — he won re-election unopposed in 2004 — the anti-privatization forces are hoping to frustrate the California Member and even provoke the kind of angry response for which Thomas has become known during his Congressional tenure.

Wilson, on the other hand, is a perennial Democratic target.

She won the 1st district in a June 1998 special election to replace deceased Rep. Steven Schiff (R). Five months later, she beat the same opponent to claim a full two-year term.

In 2000, Wilson beat a former U.S. attorney by 7 points; in 2002 and 2004 she won 10-point victories over state Sen. Richard Romero (D).

Democrats are hoping to convince state Attorney General Patricia Madrid to make a run in 2006.

Although the district went for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D), 51 percent to 48 percent, in the 2004 presidential election, a Republican has held it since 1968.