Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg August 9, 2012

Pro-Obama group blames Romney in woman's death

An ad from a pro-Obama super PAC suggests that Mitt Romney is responsible for a woman's death.

The TV ad  by Priorities USA Action has Joe Soptic, who has been used in Obama campaign ads, telling the story of what happened to his wife after Mitt Romney’s company, Bain Capital, closed the GST Steel plant where Soptic worked until 2001. 

On the screen are these words: "Mitt Romney and Bain Capital made millions for themselves and then closed this steel plant."

Soptic says "I lost my health care.  And my family lost their health care.

And a short time after that my wife became ill.I don’t know how long she was sick.  And I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew we couldn’t afford the insurance.

And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia and that’s when they found the cancer. And by then, it was Stage 4. There was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days."

Without ever saying so directly, the ad leaves a very clear impression that Romney’s actions led to the premature death of Soptic’s wife. This is a powerful emotional attack on Romney and leads us to ask, do Romney and Bain Capital bear responsibility for Joe Soptic’s loss?

Bill Burton, a former Obama aide who is the head of Priorities USA Action, appeared on CNN to defend the ad on Aug. 8, 2012, and denied that the ad suggests that Romney is responsible for the early death of Soptic’s wife. 

"We would never make that case," Burton said.

But we find that preposterous. The force of the ad’s narrative is inescapable. The story begins with the plant closing and ends with a woman’s death. And there are problems with the sequence it presents.

The tale of GST Steel

This is not the first time Romney’s opponents have focused on the demise of GST Steel. Last  spring, an Obama ad said that after Romney and Bain bought the struggling firm, they loaded it with debt, took millions in profits and then shut it down. PolitiFact rated that ad Mostly True.

With Romney at the helm, Bain purchased GST Steel in 1993 for $75 million, and renamed it GS Technologies Inc.

GS Technologies announced plans to spend $98 million modernizing the Kansas City plant where Soptic worked and in 1995, issued $125 million in bonds to pay for a merger with another wire rod maker in South Carolina. Plans were put in place to take the company public, but other problems intervened.

In April 1997, the company faced its first labor strike in 40 years. The walkout stretched over 10 weeks, becoming bitter, divisive and sometimes violent. Then prices for electricity and natural gas skyrocketed. A power bill in September 1998 was more than double what it had been in 1997, a costly increase because the plant depended so heavily on electrical equipment.

Meanwhile, a flood of cheap steel imports drove down prices in the late ‘90s, the company reported. In 1998, it worked with other steel companies and United Steelworkers of America to petition the government for limits on wire rod imports.

In 2001, GS Technologies filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11.

The former GST Steel plant shut down and about 750 workers lost their jobs and their health insurance. By this point, Romney was running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and from all indications, played no direct role in the final decision to close the Kansas City plant.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Bain had more than doubled its money on the deal, pocketing some $26 million.

Is Romney responsible?

The latest ad hammers Romney for causing long term misery in Kansas City, Mo., where GST Steel was located.

The misery of layoffs is indisputable, as are the profits Bain and Romney accumulated. It is in the nature of a free-market economy that within a single business deal, some people can walk away poor while a few others walk away wealthy.

But it is not so clear that Bain’s actions alone brought the plant down. Rising costs and cheap steel products from Asia left many American steel fabricators uncompetitive. GST Steel was far from the only firm to go belly up.

We asked Priorities USA Action if the plant would have survived under any circumstances. They told us that no one knows for sure but it didn’t help when Bain took millions out of the company.

Joe Soptic said in the ad that when the plant closed, "my family lost their health care." Yet Soptic’s wife had insurance for about a year or two after that through her own employer, according to CNN, a fact that Burton's group acknowledges.

Soptic said, "A short time after that (the closing of the plant), my wife became ill." But that's collapsing the time frame. The illness took place in 2006, some five years after Soptic lost his job, according to POLITICO.

The connection between Soptic’s job, his wife’s lack of insurance and her illness is complicated. She had no insurance because a shoulder injury caused her to leave a job that provided coverage. That was the immediate reason for her being uninsured, not the plant closure.

As for the impact of not having insurance, there is a large body of evidence that shows a strong relationship between a lack of health insurance and premature death. A 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine assessed scores of studies on this topic. Among its conclusions: Uninsured adults are more likely than insured adults to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of cancer. That might fit with the story of Soptic’s wife, but we don’t know the medical details of her case.

Surprisingly, the Romney camp itself said that the lack of health insurance might have played a role.  Spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a Fox News interview that "if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care."

Other fact-checkers have examined the ad and found little if any evidence to support the suggestion that Romney is to blame. called it misleading. CNN said it was "not accurate." Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post FactChecker, gave it four Pinocchios saying it "stretches the bounds of common sense and decency." 

On a side note, the ad’s emotional message and the questions raised about its accuracy prompted the Obama campaign to distance itself from the ad. Asked if the campaign thought it was appropriate for a third-party group to tie Romney to the death of a woman, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama team had "no involvement with any ads that are done by Priorities USA.  We don’t have any knowledge of the story of the family."

That reply struck some as implausible. The Obama campaign had featured Soptic in a previous ad and campaign officials had participated in a briefing with reporters where Soptic had talked about his wife.

Our ruling

The ad from Priorities USA Action offers one man’s story to suggest the investment practices of Romney and Bain Capital led to the early death of his wife.

We believe Romney bears responsibility for the general practices of Bain Capital and the record is clear that in Kansas City, Bain profited while many people suffered. But there is little to support the ad's innuendo that Bain is responsible for the early death of the steel worker’s wife.

The cancer came several years after he lost his job and her lack of coverage was not due solely to her husband losing his health insurance.

We don’t know if the steel mill would have survived given overseas competition. It’s possible that Bain might have extended the life of the firm. And even the makers of the ad agree that it would be wrong to say Romney is responsible for the woman’s early death. 

The ad uses innuendo for a serious allegation, but there's no proof directly linking the death to Bain. We rate the claim False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Priorities USA Action,Understands, August 7, 2012

CNN,The Situation Room, August 8, 2012

PolitiFact,Obama ad claims Romney, Bain left misery in wake of GST Steel takeover,  May 16,

CNN,Brianna Keiler fact checks attack ad pinning woman’s death on Romney, August, 7, 2012

Politico,Woman mentioned in Priorities ad died in 2006, August 7, 2012

Washington Post, New anti-Romney ad: same steelworker, tougher message, August 7, 2012, Is Romney to blame for cancer death?, August 8, 2012

Institute of Medicine,America’s uninsured crisis: Consequences for health and health care, February 2009

Politico,Romney spokesperson cites Massachusetts health law, August 8, 2012,Romney spokesperson touts Romneycare, August 8, 2012,Dying from lack of insurance, September 24, 2009

Kansas City Star, ‘Queen’ reigned with talent, June 26, 2006

Los Angeles Times, "A closer look at Mitt Romney's job creation record," Dec. 3, 2011

Reuters, "Special report: Romney's steel skeleton in the Bain closet," Jan. 6, 2012

Washington Post, Beyond the Obama ads: Joe Soptic’s steelworker story, August 8, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jon Greenberg

Pro-Obama group blames Romney in woman's death

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up