Priorities: Governing vs. Campaigning

By East Valley Evan

It’s that weird time of the political season when conflicts arise revealing where politicians’ priorities really are.

Yesterday, leaders of the Arizona House and Senate reached a deal on how to divvy up sections of Governor Ducey’s budget proposal. That deal will be revealed today.

Setting aside the details of the deal, it’s worth pointing out where leaders of both chambers are spending their time as this process unfolds.

Every legislator acknowledges that the most important part of their job is to pass a budget that establishes the financial priorities for the State of Arizona. It’s what voters elect candidates to do and it’s the epitome of responsibility for legislators once elected.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When it comes down to governing or campaigning, governing should always take priority.[/pullquote]

Citizens would think and expect leadership in the House and Senate to treat this constitutional obligation with the utmost attention. Apparently that obligation can take a back seat  if you’re a candidate for another office while holding down your leadership position in the legislature.

House Speaker David Gowan got it right (although he is avoiding interaction with members of the media these days) when he skipped a CD-1 candidate forum in Casa Grande Monday night. He stuck around the legislature to make sure the House wrapped up the budget deal.

It wasn’t the same on the Senate side. Senate President Andy Biggs was nowhere to be found in the State of Arizona. Instead, he is making the rounds in Washington, DC trying to raise money for his next government gig. According to the Arizona Republic:

Senate Majority Leader Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler — who was acting as Senate president while Andy Biggs was in Washington, D.C., Monday fundraising for a congressional campaign… 

Senate President Biggs who has become the professional career politician obviously feels the need to fly back to Washington, rub elbows with lobbyists and return home with a bundle of campaign cash.

Meanwhile, his colleagues in the House and Senate will work through the details on how best to spend Arizona taxpayer dollars.

It’s all about priorities.

~ He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10)

Democratic Party complaint against Mark Brnovich completely DISMISSED

Brnovich

Elections Complaint Filed Against Mark Brnovich Completely Dismissed

Today, the Office of the Arizona Secretary of State completely dismissed the frivolous elections complaint filed by the Arizona Democratic Party against Mark Brnovich, Republican candidate for Attorney General.

The office found that there was insufficient evidence in the Democratic Party’s politically motivated claim, and that Mark Brnovich did not qualify as a lobbyist.

A copy of the Secretary of State’s response and Mark Brnovich’s original response can be viewed here.

AZGOP to Fred DuVal: ‘What Were You Thinking?’

AZGOPBanner

AZGOP Chairman: Pay for Play Lobbying Scandal Involved Democrat Lobbyist Now Running for Arizona Governor

Robert Graham to Democrat Candidate: What Were You Thinking?

PHOENIX – Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, Robert Graham, today sent a fourth letter to the Democrat nominee for governor of Arizona asking for more information about the nominee’s career as a lobbyist, specifically about his involvement in a “pay-for-play” scandal involving lucrative government contracts in exchange for massive political campaign contributions in New Mexico.

“Your deep involvement in New Mexico politics – engaged with an incumbent governor who can best be described as “ethically challenged” – raises serious doubts about your judgment,” asked Robert Graham, Chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. “Is that the way you’ll do business in Arizona? Would a DuVal administration be another feeding frenzy for the politically-connected lobbying class, as it was in New Mexico?”

Letter Attached

Follow the Money…..

MIHSThe recent mental health contract awarded by the state to Maricopa County Integrated Health System or MIHS is raising eyebrows. MIHS, a government funded and owned entity, is on the cusp of receiving a 3-year contract that is potentially worth $3 billion dollars.

Any $3 billion dollar deal should be viewed as suspect by watchdog groups and taxpayers, but what makes this deal special is that MIHS is a government owned, property tax levying entity bidding against private providers.  In fact, MIHS currently collects nearly $60 million dollars in property taxes each year.  MIHS is even allowed to go into debt with revenue bonds that can be paid for through the district’s operating property tax levy without voter approval.

To secure the lucrative contract, MIHS teamed up with Aetna-owned Schaller Anderson, Medicaid provider Mercy Care Plan, Carondelet Health Network and Dignity Health.  Not surprisingly, private providers Magellan Health Services and UnitedHealthcare (both of whom bid on the same contract) have filed formal protests against MIHS and MIHS CEO Betsey Bayless.

MagellanWhy would the state award the largest contract its ever offered to another government entity in what appears to be a clear violation of the Arizona Constitution’s “gift clause?”  When you pull the thread and follow the money trail, it’s hard to not suspect corruption, cronyism, and a healthy dose of conspiracy.

MIHS was created by Proposition 414 in 2003 after voters approved the measure in a special election by a margin of 58% to 42%.  At the time, AZ Republic columnist Robert Robb called the establishment of a property-tax-supported hospital district “unnecessary and unwise.”  Robb even warned voters that “…special tax districts, focused on only a single service with independently elected boards, are bad fiscal policy.  Hard choices are good for taxpayers and make for more efficient government.”

Robb even called the publicity pamphlet and ballot question used to promote the measure “the most blatant case of government propagandizing I’ve seen in over a quarter century of Arizona elections.”  Bold statement for a columnist who typically calls it as he sees it.

The lobbying firm responsible for the passage of the ballot referral legislation at the Capitol also ran the ballot campaign.  Phoenix-based HighGround public affairs is run by consultant Chuck Coughlin, Brewer’s campaign advisor and a man who has been referred to as Arizona’s “shadow governor.”   According to their website:

“Our team was the principal public affairs and lobbying team for the legislation that authorized the creation of the new Maricopa County Hospital District on behalf of Maricopa County.  Following the successful passage of the legislation, HighGround was retained as the principal campaign consultant for the Yes on 414 Committee.”

Fast forward to 2008.  HighGround is once again rewarded for their work and is retained by MIHS with their first lobbying contract.  Today, HighGround works hand-in-hand with Betsey Bayless who was hired as MIHS’ CEO in September 2005.

BaylessIn February 2013, Bayless was given a 33% pay raise, an extra $125,000 per year, bringing her annual taxpayer-funded salary to a whopping $500,000.  This despite a poor rating issued by a national accrediting group, the Joint Commission, which found widespread record-keeping problems and other flaws that posed risks to patients’ safety.  This even despite the fact that Bayless has already announced she’s leaving her position at the end of 2013.  Two of MIHS’ board members even voted against the pay raise, saying they opposed raising the pay of a CEO who is leaving in less than a year and working for a public hospital.

“It really rubs me the wrong way that we’re spending this type of money,” board member Elbert Bicknell said. “Don’t get me wrong. Betsey is a smart … woman, and she’s done a hell of a job from 2005 to now. But a ($125,000) raise in a year when we give our janitors maybe a 1 percent raise or lay off people? It just doesn’t make sense.”  Dissenting board member Sue Gerard commented: “I think having that kind of salary is totally inappropriate.”

Could the pay raise have anything to do with the fact that it was widely speculated that MIHS was going to be awarded the enormous mental health contract?  Was this Betsey’s “swan song” on her way out the door?  Possibly.

But where this story gets really tangled is when one considers the ramifications of the state adopting Governor Brewer’s Medicaid expansion proposal.  Again, the value of the contract could increase an additional $1 billion dollars if the state accepts federal Medicaid dollars.  Who is running the campaign in Arizona for Medicaid expansion?

If you guessed Chuck Coughlin and HighGround, you’re correct.  Serving as Coughlin’s wingman is Peter Burns, a former Brewer budget advisor.  Perhaps that explains the governor’s complete flip-flop on this issue from less than a year ago.  The Wall Street Journal went as far as to describe the governor’s flip-flop as a “political 540°” and “a case study in the political pressure and fiscal gimmicks designed to get states to succumb.”

The New York Times sums up the magnitude of political forces and financial incentives behind this coordinated effort:

Recently, 40 lobbyists, representing at least 110 groups pushing for the expansion, among them hospitals, health care associations and business organizations, huddled in the executive wing of the State Capitol to update the governor’s advisers on their progress and hone strategies.

The Wall Street Journal goes further, discussing how “Ms. Brewer was nonetheless besieged by health-industry lobbying, especially from hospitals that want more government money and the insurers that administer Medicaid.”

There is something wrong with the State of Arizona climbing into bed with private business to give away billions of dollars in public funds.  When those decisions are tied to the largest health contract the state has ever awarded and possibly the biggest expansion of federal government our state has ever seen, tax-paying citizens are owed an explanation and deserve transparency.

Aside from the arguments of whether accepting federal Medicaid dollars related to the full implementation of Obamacare is good or bad policy, the one thing that is clear is that the consultants, lobbyists, and hospital administrators pushing the plan stand to make millions of dollars in profits.

Money makes people do strange things, indeed.

Did Matt Salmon lobby for pork?

We know Matt Salmon lobbied for Obamacare, but did Matt Salmon also lobby for pork? 

Matt Salmon continues to leave many unanswered questions about his role in lobbying for “access to and coverage of specialty pharmaceuticals” in Obamacare. Mr. Salmon lobbied on behalf of two multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies that are members of PhRMA, a group that spent $150 million to help pass Obamacare. These two companies were loyal clients of Mr. Salmon’s, following him from Policy Impact Communications to Upstream Consulting the lobbying firm that Mr. Salmon founded.

Now we learn that during this same time, Matt Salmon entered into a $300,000 lobbying contract to bring pork barrel stimulus money to the city of El Mirage. At a town hall meeting the Mayor of El Mirage explained to residents why the city hired lobbyist Matt Salmon, “$300,000 is also a drop in the bucket compared to the stimulus funds that other cities…receive. The reason they receive that money is because every other city has a lobbyist firm…has representatives that work for them at the state and at the federal level getting money to bring back to their city…we all hear of them as pet projects, those sorts of things.”

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