KSL Investigators fact check Utah’s 4th Congressional District attack ads

Oct 13, 2020, 10:44 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:12 pm

SALT LAKE CITY  — With days to Election Day, Utah’s hottest congressional race is heating up. It’s the battle between incumbent Democrat Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican challenger Burgess Owens.

Negative ads have pervaded TV and social media in this race. As the finish line comes into view, the KSL Investigators checked facts vs. fiction in campaign advertisements.

“McAdams Didn’t Even Show Up” 

A recent ad paid for by GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund claimed McAdams was absent from “half of meetings” of the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC).

The commission has been around since 2000 and McAdams has served as a commissioner since taking office in 2019.

The ad cited five dates: May, June, September and October 2019, and March 2020. The ad claimed McAdams “didn’t even show up, missing half the meetings.”

An ad by the Congressional Leadership Fund which accuses McAdams of missing CECC meetings was edited for accuracy.

We found this a misleading claim. McAdams did miss two CECC meetings, in June and October 2019.

His campaign told us this was “because of conflicts with other committees.” His campaign added McAdams has “gotten tough on the regime” by voting on measures to support Hong Kong and human rights in China.

McAdams’ campaign decried this ad, and the CLF changed the ad to be more truthful. The most current ad said McAdams “missed meetings” rather than “half of meetings.”

Age Tax, Taking Away Health Care & Gutting Pre-Existing Condition Protections 

An ad on Facebook, paid for by the left-leaning House Majority PAC, accused Owens of wanting to “take away health insurance” and “gut pre-existing condition protections.”

We found this claim was a mix of truth and fiction.

Owens has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act multiple times, including on his campaign website. This claim was listed on Burgess4Utah.com as recently as August.

At some point, Owens changed his view, because his website currently states, “Obamacare no longer needs to be repealed.”

This screenshot of Burgess4Utah.com from August 2020 shows Owens supported the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. A screenshot of Burgess Owens' campaign website in October 2020 now states no repeal of the ACA is necessary.

The ad’s reference to the “Age Tax” comes from a bill that passed the U.S. House in 2017. The American Health Care Act was voted on while former congresswoman Mia Love was still in office. The bill proposed increased premiums for older Americans. It eventually died in the Senate.

Currently, Obamacare protects individuals with pre-existing conditions by mandating that insurance companies cannot deny coverage. Because Owens has previously backed repeal of this law, it would then also repeal these protections.

Owens’ website claims he “has continually committed to ALWAYS support health coverage for pre-existing conditions.” He cited President Trump’s executive order from Sept. 24, 2020.

Owens’ Multiple Bankruptcies

An ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee claimed Owens has filed for bankruptcy six times and that he has $1.7 million in unpaid taxes and personal debts.

An ad by the House Majority PAC claims Owens has filed for bankruptcy six times.

We found this claim mostly true.

According to federal bankruptcy court documents accessed through PACER, Owens has filed for bankruptcy five times, not six. However, only two of those filings went through to completion. The remaining three Chapter 13 filings were dismissed and terminated.

Owens’ first Chapter 7 filing in New York in 1991 did not have documents attached to the claim, so we were unable to find financial details on this case.

The second Chapter 7 bankruptcy was filed in 2004 in Pennsylvania and discharged in 2005. Documents state $1.7 million in claims asserted. The court allowed $574,737.33 in claims, and $200,145.39 was paid.

Taxpayer Money for Gender Reassignment Surgery

In an ad paid for by the Burgess for Utah campaign, McAdams was accused of using taxpayer money to pay for gender reassignment surgeries.

This claim is misleading.

A Facebook ad paid for by Burgess for Utah claims McAdams approved taxpayer money for gender reassignment surgery.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune cited in the ad, McAdams’ office was approached in 2016 by five individuals seeking health care coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

McAdams was the mayor of Salt Lake County at the time. Ultimately, it was the Salt Lake County Council, not McAdams, who voted to include this procedure.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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KSL Investigators fact check Utah’s 4th Congressional District attack ads