By Kaitlyn Schallhorn
Published October 11, 2018
A recent campaign ad for Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis touts the "Bilirakis Interdict Act" to combat the nation's opioid crisis by improving screening for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to catch fentanyl coming into the country.
The problem? Bilirakis, a Republican running for re-election this year, wasn't one of the sponsors of the Interdict Act, which was signed by President Trump earlier this year.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass, sponsored the bill in the House. The Republican co-sponsors were: Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Vern Buchanan of Florida, Thomas MacArthur of New Jersey and Carlos Curbelo of Florida.
The 30-second ad features Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who said he has "hope" in "this healthcare crisis" because of Bilirakis' work to apprehend drug traffickers during the nationwide opioid epidemic.
"He's giving us the tools to do our jobs and getting traffickers off the street. Gus has taken on the big drug companies, and he's a leader for prevention and treatment for those who suffer," Nocco says in the ad, as the words "Bilirakis Interdict Act" and "Bilirakis DEA Enforcement and Authority Act of 2018" appearing on screen.
Towson Fraser, a campaign spokesman, told the Tampa Bay Times that Bilirakis "voted for the act ... he participated in hearings about the need for it and worked to support its passage."
Bilirakis also faced controversy with his co-sponsoring of the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. The 2016 bill strengthened the criteria that allowed Drug Enforcement Administration agents to stop shipments that contained drugs believed to be "an imminent danger," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Bilirakis faces Democrat Chris Hunter, a former federal prosecutor with the Justice Department's health care fraud strike force, in his re-election campaign for Florida's 12th congressional district.
A Hunter campaign spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that Bilirakis' ad represents a "pattern that reflects his indifference to truth and an attitude that he can say or do whatever he wants because he's never been held accountable."
Bilirakis has served in Congress since 2007 when he won an election to succeed his father. Before that, he was a longtime member of the Florida state House.