The Radioactive Donors In 2019? Healthcare

Money (And Hypocrisy) In Politics

By Steve Haner

The following is one of my “revise and extend” follow-up posts, this one adding detail to an exploration of the raging attacks on Republican efforts to offer alternative health insurance plans.  You can read the original post on the Jefferson Policy Journal.    

Not many months ago, it was a safe bet that by late October the campaign attack ads would focus on utility contributions. There is still time for that to appear. Dominion Energy clearly expected that, as evidenced by a full page, very defensive advertisement in Wednesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Then there is its most cloying television ad yet.

You’ve seen it, of course – the lovely young lady whose Daddy is a deployed Dominion employee. Instead of wearing a U.S. Army or Blue Star cap, she sleeps and poses for school pictures in his Dominion Energy hat. Now, how could a company engendering that kind of love and loyalty be misbehaving?

But the focus is not utility money. No, the 2019 bogeyman is insurance dollars, especially health insurance companies, and other healthcare providers.  Sometimes the attack focuses on both, so the attacker can run up the donation total over time into the hundreds of thousands of dollars to bolster the implication of corruption.

“Senator (fill in any name) took $200,000 from health insurance companies (or health care interests). That’s why (he/she) voted to allow them to deny pre-existing conditions.” Something like that is a common theme. Sometimes it adds a complaint that the miscreant voted against Medicaid expansion, ignoring how many of those “healthcare interests” were among the most vocal advocates for that. It’s October – truth is inconvenient.

So, did health insurance companies or other healthcare interests, especially the hospitals, give the bulk of their money to one party? Of course not – the partisan balance is quite typical of other business interests. Only members of one party, the Republicans, are taking that campaign hit. Both sides took, and will continue to take, the dollars.

You have to go to the second page of the Virginia Public Access Project’s “top donors” list for this cycle to find a health care entity, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. It shows $313,000 to Democrats and $304,000 to Republicans. There are twenty donor names per page, so more than 20 other entities gave more than VHHA.

A bit further down the page we find next the Virginia Dental Association. Its list is less balanced, $188,000 to Democrats and $308,000 to Republicans. Medicaid expansion did bring additional work for dentists, and there is a proposal afoot to greatly expand dental benefits under that program. But its dollars are probably being lumped into some of those health care interest groups totals.

Page three of the top donor list brings us to Planned Parenthood at $451,000, which considers itself a healthcare provider, but I doubt the Democrats counted them as tainted dollars. A bit further down is the hospital chain HCA, with a very balanced donation list of $185,000 for Democrats and $195,000 for Republicans. Page five has Roanoke’s Medical Facilities of America, with $102,000 to Democrats and $134,000 to Republicans.

You have to get to page six to find Anthem, the top insurance firm in this field. More than 100 other donors gave more. Its $212,000 would have been real money in past elections, but it’s a rounding error this year. It gave $76,000 to Democrats and $116,000 to Republicans.

VPAP dices the data another way, by industry, and on that healthcare as a whole shows as significant at more than $10 million, about $780,000 of that from the HMO’s and insurance plans. That is picking up individuals and many smaller firms that gave to only one or a few candidates, and it would take a while to do a partisan split. I’m sure some reporter for a mainstream outlet doing a fact check on the attack ads will run the partisan comparisons. Actually, that will never happen and the Democrats knew it.

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13 responses to “The Radioactive Donors In 2019? Healthcare

  1. You gotta love it — the Democrats have become the party of Big Money, but they’re successfully portraying the Republicans as the party of Big Money. As you say, Steve, they get away with it because the media never calls them out on their assertions.

    I’m still waiting to see the Republican ads saying Democrats are in the pocket of Michael Bills, a rich liberal Charlottesville hedge fund zillionaire….

  2. Ha. Bacon. For years it was mcglothlin and the kochs for the gop. Not one peep out of you!

  3. re: “in the pocket of Bills”… what exactly is Bill’s motive here? Does he have the same motives that other big money has, i.e. their own financial interests? What financial interests does Bills have that he is giving money to GA to protect?

    I still think we’re comparing apples to oranges. When Bills gives money what is he expecting in return to benefit him directly? When Dominion and others gives money – it’s explicitly for the purpose of their own financial interests, no?

    • He won’t say but it isn’t hard to guess. He is funding this through “Clean Virginia.” The push for renewable energy will require massive capital investments in wind and solar technology, and those companies are profit-driven. Third-party energy efficiency providers get paid, well. The push to allow competitive retail choice in Virginia will be a battle between various greedy companies over potentially billions in annual billings, with them very interest in removing business and profit from Dominion. The word altruism does not come to mind…. What companies and what investments are part of the giant hedge fund he manages? Can we find out?

      • re: ” The push for renewable energy will require massive capital investments in wind and solar technology, and those companies are profit-driven. ”

        Yes – but it’s Bills providing the money. Is he an owner of a business that will profit from it?

        If he is not then how can you compare Bills to, say Dominion – and claim they both have the same profit motives?

        isn’t that not a legitimate comparison with respect to motives?

        • You need to change your on line photo to the three monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil. Just to be sure you don’t see the world around you, hum something, too….

          • Oh there’s “evil” no question but comparing Bills to Dominion and other businesses in terms of money to influence the GA is two different things. Businesses see that money as an expense, an investment whereas Bills has no such expectation.

            Just be honest about it and admit that some money is directly about financial interests and other money is freely donated without any expectation of getting it back, much less a return on investment.

  4. How about we have some discussion about the need for money, and the apparent ease with which it creates major influence in VA legislation, instead of silly finger pointing at what looks like apples and oranges?


    Jane, I’ve been writing about the money-influence connection since the get-go on this blog and elsewhere, based on my own sad observations. This is all apples, and until Virginia makes some basic changes a fair number of them will be rotten. Donors at that level want something and expect to get it. Be it Farrell or Bills (or the healthcare donors I actually wrote about.)

    There is no “need” for the level of campaign funding we are seeing in VA. At some point the spending is 100 percent waste. The amount that is coming from out of state should disturb everybody on both sides, and I suspect will discourage traditional in-state donors, feeding the cycle for next time.

  6. re: ” Donors at that level want something and expect to get it. Be it Farrell or Bills (or the healthcare donors I actually wrote about.)”

    yes they both DO “want something” but one of them wants money and the other wants changes… to policies…

    Perhaps Bills actually wants something that will benefit citizens and Consumers and what Dominion wants does the opposite yet here we treat them both the same as if they both are after similar things.

    I don’t see Bills or organizations like him as after the same types of things that money from Dominion is after.

    Money for a cause with no expectation what-so-ever of getting any of it back is very different than money with an expectation of getting it back and then some in my mind.

    What Bills is after is NOT to line his own pockets! He has an altruistic motive – hardly what Dominion and other corporate entities have.

    so Steve – that “see no evil” thing… might want to think it over guy if one is truly blind to – not only the difference but the exact opposite – money to counter corporate money to influence legislation for financial gain!

    “Democrats and Republicans should represent their constituents and not powerful corporate interests, and Clean Virginia will be holding them accountable if they don’t,” Bills said in a prepared statement.

    Bills — a former Goldman Sachs vice president who went on to oversee the University of Virginia’s investment arm and start his own asset management company — gave $566,000 to Northam’s campaign.

    The promise of financial support for legislators willing to distance themselves from the energy giant comes during a critical policy battle over electricity regulation, signaling to wavering lawmakers that opposing Dominion may not be as daunting as it seems.

    Populist voices from both parties are pushing back against what they see as Dominion’s efforts to buy legislative influence that shapes how the company is regulated and how the state handles sensitive environmental issues such as pipeline construction and coal ash disposal. ”

    Bills is actually directly opposing money in politics. If the GA can’t or won’t do anything about it on a corporate basis – citizens SHOULD compete on the same basis on behalf of citizens and ratepayers!

  7. So, Bills is burning down the village to save the village, testing once again whether two wrongs do make a right. I don’t have to answer you further. No one but you thinks a couple giving a total of almost $3 million in one election cycle is behaving purely out of altruism.

    • The irony is the feckless hand wringing over Dominion’s influence – wishing “someone” in the GA would “step up” even as those on your side say it’s “free speech” – so you do nothing……… and someone comes up with the very strategy that goes around the GA and those “free speech” folks and disrupts the corrupt status quo.

      and we have those who oppose it … who admit they don’t have any other strategy – but they still oppose the one strategy that has a chance to change things.

      yes.. they DO want “something” – they want to stop corporate money influence… and the complaint is that they want “something”…

      lord. lord.

  8. In the bigger scheme of things – NOT having the money influence at all is the ideal we’d want but if we cannot get that – it makes ZERO sense to say that only Dominion can do it because if we let the other side do it also – it’s TWO “wrongs”.

    I see it as an imperative countervailing force until and unless we get that nirvana solution.

    and in the end if it’s that “second wrong” that actually causes the GA to act – after all these years it did not – then how in the world is that a “see no evil” scenario?

    I saw we SEE the evil and we also SEE that nothing has been done about it save some crocodile tears and faux hand wringing… If THIS is what it takes to turn it around – so be it!

    I’m open to all other strategies but the current one of stopping the Dems while letting Corporate money continue but we can’t let non-corporate money to challenge the system – then what exactly are we advocating? Wait – I get it… ” no more “other” money til we figure out how to deal with corporate money”… newsflash – that’s not working!

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