The American Medical Association's political arm has spent $450,000 on advertising to promote the healthcare reform record of Republican Rep. Jon Fox of Pennsylvania in the final days of his battle with Democrat Joseph Hoeffel III.
Both national political parties see the 13th Congressional District contest as crucial to control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The race is also seen as too close to call.
The AMA is paying for television and radio ads and direct mail. Its funds, considered an independent contribution not subject to restrictions on political action committee giving under federal election laws, are on top of Fox's own $1.2 million campaign war chest this year.
The AMA money is a bonanza for the embattled incumbent, who beat Hoeffel two years ago by only 84 votes.
Airing now on local radio and TV stations, the AMA-sponsored commercials say, "Jon Fox believes you should be able to choose your own doctors. He's an independent leader working for healthcare you can count on."
Hoeffel quickly criticized the AMA's action, saying that Fox voted for healthcare reform bills that were supported and opposed by the AMA.
"The AMA needs to look at the record of the congressmen they are coming to help," Hoeffel said. "If they looked at Jon Fox's record, they would know that it does not measure up."
Hoeffel's campaign released a letter that it said was from local doctors who opposed the ads. "We are formally asking that the AMA cease their advertising campaign on behalf of Jon Fox immediately," the letter said. "Jon Fox has shown no commitment to the interest of doctors and their patients."
Fox said he voted for both a bill promoted by the AMA-the Patient's Bill of Rights sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, (D-Mich.)-and the Patient Protection Act, a Republican-sponsored measure considered favorable to insurance companies, "because I'm a pragmatic legislator who wants to see healthcare reform move forward."
Federal Election Commission records show the AMA support for Fox was the largest of three last-minute campaign expenditures by the physician group. Embattled Republican Rep. Greg Ganske of Iowa and Republican Ernest Fletcher, a doctor running for an open House seat in Lexington, Ky., were given $200,000 and $250,000, respectively.
Federal election law allows PACs to spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditure advertising, but it bars them from collaborating with political campaigns.
James Stacey, spokesman for the AMA's PAC, declined to comment on the group's support for Fox, except to say: "We rely on state and medical societies and a variety of sources to make our choices. There's a lot of different input into the decisionmaking."