HARRISBURG — Television attack ads are flying between Scott Wagner and Paul Mango in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary for governor, with a month until the election where GOP voters will pick a challenger to take on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Attack ads being aired by Mango and Wagner are playing on TV screens across the state, and it could stay that way until the May 15 primary election.
Wagner and Mango had, until recently, battled over who is the most conservative candidate, but they also have taken shots at each other’s records — or their companies’ records — in the private sector.
Meanwhile, a third Republican candidate, Laura Ellsworth, casts herself as the mature alternative.
An analysis of key claims in TV ads aired by Mango and Wagner:
Mango’s 30-second ad that began airing April 4 used a cartoon figure of Wagner and pounded him as a slumlord, a polluter, a sleazy bail bondsman, a greedy businessman and, perhaps most damning, a deadbeat dad.
In question was the Mango ad’s contention that Wagner was “hauled into court and ordered to pay $800,000 in back alimony and child support.”
The allegation was based on Wagner’s long-running child support and alimony case. It followed the 2008 separation from his third wife and involved support for his youngest daughter, Cristina.
A judge found in 2012 that Wagner had an $800,000 overdue payment in a case stemming from a dispute over Wagner’s income that should be considered eligible for calculating his support obligations. The judge’s opinion noted that Wagner had made support payments going back to the separation.
A lawyer who has 26 years focusing on family law, John F. King, of suburban Harrisburg, said the term “deadbeat dad” is a somewhat subjective term. After looking over the judge’s decision in Wagner’s case, King concluded that Wagner “certainly did not turn his back on wife and child. He just dramatically underpaid (based upon his legal obligation) until ordered by the court to do otherwise,” he wrote in an email.
A deadbeat dad, King said, is often used to describe someone who tries to avoid their support obligation. “Mr. Wagner did not try to avoid his obligation,” King wrote. “He did, however, try to seriously mitigate it.”
The case dragged on for three years because it was a complex case, and required fact-finding, expert analysis and numerous hearings, King said.
Wagner’s campaign said he had paid child support on time and his lawyer in the case told the York Daily Record in 2013 that the sides ultimately settled the case in a confidential agreement.
A 30-second ad that Wagner began airing March 13 made several claims about Mango or the consultancy where he worked for nearly three decades, McKinsey and Company.
One key claim calls Mango “the leading advocate for Obamacare,” the sweeping federal health care law called the Affordable Care Act that former President Barack Obama signed in 2010.
Mango spent most of his time at McKinsey as a health care systems consultant, before leaving the company in early 2017 to run for governor.
In support of the claim, the Wagner campaign cited little more than a 2009 magazine article in which Mango agreed with hospital-system officials that universal insurance with subsidies for the poor would greatly reduce hospital losses and a paper Mango co-authored in 2007 that cited mandated coverage as one of various approaches health systems use to fix problems.
In any case, Wagner’s campaign did not identify a single statement by Mango that urged Congress to pass the legislation or suggested that Mango was a leading advocate.
Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who was a consultant to the Obama administration on technical aspects of the health care law, said he had never heard of Mango.
Also Joan Alker, a prominent health care policy researcher and executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University in Washington, said she had never heard of Mango and would not characterize McKinsey as in any way instrumental in the fight for the health care law.
McKinsey, itself, says it is non-partisan and neutral on policy. If anything, McKinsey was noted for a report it produced in 2011 that gave a much harsher assessment than the Obama administration of the law’s effect on private-sector employer-provided insurance.
Mango said he never advocated for the health care law and supports its repeal.