Tag Archives: Lobbyists

Insurers’ naked greed triggers White House response

A message Thursday from Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius is unusual not just for its tough language toward health insurers, but because it exists at all. In a letter to the insurance industry’s lobbying and trade association, Sebelius flatly warns insurers to cut it out with blaming their double-digit price hikes on federal health reform.

I can’t remember seeing any kind of federal response to health premium increases, so a letter Thursday from Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius (thanks to Igor Volsky at Wonkroom for the tip) is unusual not just for its tough language, but because it exists at all. In a letter to Karen Ignani, president of the insurance industry lobbying and trade association, Sebelius warns insurers to cut it out with blaming their double-digit price hikes on federal health reform:

It has come to my attention that several health insurer carriers are sending letters to their enrolees falsely blaming premium increases for 2011 on the patient protections in the Affordable Care Act. I urge you to inform your members that there will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases.

Of course, it appears to be no accident that insurance companies are shoving out these increase notices just before the November elections, or that Ignagni herself, the industry’s top lobbyist, is writing the script for her members.  

Even as the health insurance industry is proving the need for regulation of rates, the industry is mounting a full-court press against any regulation.

Unfortunately, Sebelius and the White House don’t have much beyond tough talk in their arsenal. The letter uses the one credible threat at the administration’s disposal: exclusion of insurers that gouge their customers from the new state insurance exchanges in 2014:

We will … keep track of insurers with a record of unjustified rate increases; those plans may be excluded from health insurance Exchanges in 2014. Simply stated, we will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections [required by the ACA].

But 2014 is a long way away, and insurance companies are not even commited to the Exchanges, where it will be all too easy to see who provides the best value for the money.

All the more reason for states to get with it in regulating health insurance directly. Insurers aren’t the only cost problem, but it’s outrageous that they are blaming a new round of 18% or 20% premium hikes on the 1% to 2% cost of new patient protections. Of course, it was insurer greed that triggered the new protections from, for instance, arbitrary policy cancellations and exclusion of sick children from coverage.

At least we know the industry is taking Sebelius’ letter seriously because of the speed of its response. Ignagni snapped back with lots of fire and few facts that the insurance industry can’t be blamed for anything. No wonder insurance companies are as popular as used car salesmen. At least the car dealers don’t hold life and death power like the health care dealers and their chief salesperson, Ignagni.

One point in the insurers’ letter deserves a closer look:

Health insurance premiums are increasing because of soaring prices for medical services, the impact of younger and healthier people dropping their insurance during the weak economy, and additional benefits required under the new law.

Yes, lots of people are dropping their insurance because they can no longer afford it. Yet insurers are actually seeing the lowest level of medical inflation in years, and holding  tens of billions of dollars of surplus in corporate reserves that could temporarily quell premium increases. But no, they’d rather throw hundreds of thousands of patients to the wolves so they can enter the new era of health reform with the highest possible rates.

That’s greed at it most naked.


Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Yacht Party Member Equal In Value To An Empty Chair

As Robert notes in an update, OC Assemblyman and noted utility lobbyist spanker Mike Duvall resigned his seat effective immediately.

Looking past for a moment the hilariousness of the family values Republican bragging about his multiple mistresses, and the very serious allegations of sex-for-favors with lobbyists, which should be investigated by the Ethics Committee and state prosecutors, there’s a point to be made about the 2/3 requirement here.

Duvall’s resignation reduces the number of lawmakers in the Assembly by one.  Democrats now hold 50 seats, Republicans 28, with Juan Arambula as a Dem-leaning independent.  However, because you need 2/3 voting affirmatively to pass a budget or tax increases, not 1/3 voting negatively to block it, this changes nothing in Sacramento.  Duvall’s seat being empty is pretty much the same as him voting no on everything.  So unless Democrats can capitalize and win the seat (and I highly doubt it in that district), it’s not useful from a voting perspective.  

Just thought you should know, being a Yacht Party member is literally the same as not existing.

UPDATE by Robert: See the Courage Campaign’s press release, calling for the Attorney General to investigate this, in the comments.

Republican Infrastructure

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

Why are Republicans so successful, even though they only have a tiny minority representation in our state government? Read on.  

An invitation was sent for the upcoming California Republican Party Convention, which will be September 25-27 at the Rennaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, outside of Palm Springs.

Nestled at the base of the majestic Santa Rosa Mountains in the exclusive community of Indian Wells, the luxurious Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa is the desert’s finest oasis. Offering unparalleled service and all the amenities of a world-class resort, Esmeralda invites you to indulge your every whim.

[. . .] Spa Esmeralda is designed to nourish your soul. Marble floors, glass corridors and the sounds of a trickling stone fountain greet you. From that moment on, a transformation begins to take place.

Gaze at the alluring desert landscape from the tranquil Spa Garden and soothe away the day’s stress under a therapeutic waterfall spa. This is Spa Esmeralda. This is Paradise.


  • Spa with lush garden
  • Golf Club House
  • Lounge with live entertainment
  • Room Service
  • 36-Holes of Championship Golf
  • 3 swimming pools & Pool Bar
  • Fitness Center
  • Tennis
  • Concierge
  • In-room movies
  • Complimentary in-room coffee
  • Complimentary newspaper
  • Restaurants

Nice!  Where do they park their yachts in the desert, though?

I noted on the web page, “Special Thanks to San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for their generous support of the California Republican Party and the fall convention.” Sponsorship is solicited on the following terms:

$100,000 Official Convention Title Sponsorship
For organizations seeking maximum exposure and opportunities to network with Republican candidates for Governor, Congress and State Legislature, this Title Sponsorship opportunity is ideal, providing exclusive benefits. Title sponsorship of the California Republican Party’s fall Convention is limited to one partner with a speaking opportunity during the convention and a customized sponsorship marketing plan tailored to your needs which will include … Private meeting with all top state party leaders during convention.

There are also $50,000, $25,000 and $15,000 opportunities.

I especially was interested in The Workshops At The ’09 CRP Fall Convention, which are put on by various people including:

  • David Kralik, Silicon Valley Representative for Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions 
  • David Avella, Executive Director of GOPAC
  • Philip R Hinderberger: Senior V-P & Govt. Affairs Counsel, NORCAL Mutual Insurance Company
  • Larry Greenfield, The Reagan Legacy Foundation
  • Mackenzie Eaglen, Research Fellow for National Security Studies, Heritage Foundation

Some background on some of the above:

  • If you don’t know, a Senior V-P & Govt. Affairs Counsel is a LOBBYIST.
  • The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project was formed in 1997 as a project of Americans for Tax ReformGrover Norquist’s organization.  According to SourceWatch: “Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is ostensibly a group that pushes for lower taxes. It has close ties to the Republican Party and has frequently allied itself with the tobacco industry.”
  • Heritage Foundation is the premier right-wing, anti-government “think tank” located in Washington, DC.

So this is a luxury event, sponsored by corporations, with workshops from elements of the conservative infrastructure.  These are organizations that are supposed to be non-partisan, are often funded with tax-deductible contributions, exist outside of the party structure, but in this case are closely bound with the party itself.

These third-party groups lay the groundwork for elections by bombarding the public with corporate-funded messaging that is almost always anti-government and anti-tax, advocating the corporations replace government in our national and state decisionmaking.  Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to make the government “small enough that it can be drowned in a bathtub” and this is why his organization has demanded that office-seekers sign a pledge to oppose taxes in all forms.  They believe in “defunding” government, so that it cannot effectively regulate corporations. 

After enough of this drumbeat of anti-government propaganda, with no response from people who believe in demcoracy and community, the public doesn’t have much choice but to believe the only voices they hear, and turn against government and the taxes that support democracy.  

This third-party infrastructure is why conservatives have been so effective at strangling government in California.  It is funded by corporations and every Republican has take “the pledge.”  The corporations pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into our elections to put just enough of them over the top to keep the state from functioning. 

What we need is a progressive infrastructure of organizations that reach the public and explain progressive policies, creating acceptance of progressive values and demand for progressive solutions that help everyone, not just a select, wealthy few.

Click through to Speak Out California

A Warning About The Tea Parties

(These things are fairly ridiculous. Populist anger simply doesn’t emerge from high-falutin’ conservative think tanks.  If you have any pictures from any of these events, post them in the comments or shoot them to my email (brian at calitics dt com). – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

A number of people I have spoken with are planning to attend a “tea party” tomorrow, so I thought it might be a good idea to write about this.  They are not what they claim to be.  They are not “spontaneous” or “grassroots.”  They are another corporate-funded campaign to trick people into supporting more cut taxes for the rich.

The idea is supposed to have started on February 19, when Rick Santelli of CNBC “spontaneously” complained about plans (click link for video) to help people avoid foreclosure, saying this is the government “subsidizing the loser’s mortgages.”  Santelli called for organizing a “Chicago tea party” against helping people pay their mortgages.  But investigators starting finding clues that the on-air rant was not spontaneous, and signs that the campaign was organized by the right-wing, corporate-funded Freedomworks .  According to a March 2 New York Times story,

“Mr. Santelli’s televised commentary appeared spontaneous to viewers. However, the Internet domain name ChicagoTeaParty.com was registered in August 2008 — well before his commentary — but not used until afterwards.”

The events have been widely promoted by corporate-funded conservative PR professionals who specialize in “astroturf.”  This is a term for the use of money to create an appearance of widespread “grassroots” support.  Currently the corporate-funded conservative lobbying groups Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, are organizing the events and conservative media including talk radio and FOX News are widely promoting them.  Support appears to be coming from Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in the country.  According to the Think Progress blog post, Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests,

“This type of corporate ‘astroturfing‘ is nothing new to either organization. While working to promote Social Security privatization, Freedom Works was caught planting one of its operatives as a “single mom” to ask questions to President Bush in a town hall on the subject. Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed Freedom Works for similarly building “amateur-looking” websites to promote the lobbying interests of Dick Armey …

   Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, [a] former partner in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. The group is funded by Koch family foundations — a family whose wealth is derived from the oil industry. Indeed Americans for Prosperity has coordinated pro-drilling ‘grassroots‘ events around the country.”

The “tea parties” are promoted as a “grassroots uprising” against “high taxes.”  Tea stands for “Taxes Enough Already.”  However, 95% of Americans will received a tax cut in the next year if the upcoming Obama budget passes.  Only Americans with incomes above $250,000 will receive a small tax increase — and even then their taxes will be much lower than almost any time in the last 80 or so years.   This increase on the top incomes will help pay for some of the Republican-caused economic damage as well as reduce the budget deficits that the country has faced ever since the same income group received tax cuts after George W. Bush was elected.  (This is similar to the tax increase in first Clinton budget that led to the great economy of the 1990s and large budget surpluses.)

The other complaint from tea party organizers is that President Obama is “spending too much.”  The increased spending in the stimulus package and upcoming budget funds education, unemployment checks, efforts to ward off foreclosures and other programs designed to help bring us out of the recession and provide jobs.  These are programs that benefit regular people instead of big corporations and the rich.

So regular people who go to these corporate-organized tea parties are asking the government to undo their own tax cuts and reduce their own government services in order to keep taxes low for the very rich.  I wonder if people have really thought this through?

Visit Speak Out California and leave a comment

The Hidden Budget Process

Everything that is corrosive and broken about California politics can be seen in this incredible article by Kevin Yamamura.  In it, he explains that negotiations on the budget are being held by the Assembly and Senate leadership in secret, so as not to upset the critical balance needed to pass it.

Five Californians are trying to solve the state’s budget crisis, in part by keeping the other 38 million residents in the dark.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders have continued their negotiations behind closed doors for weeks, bypassing open legislative committees and offering the outside world few details as a precondition of their talks.

See, what happens is that the population of 38 million elects 120 representatives to go to Sacramento, and they vest all their power in the hands of four leaders, and they go off to run the state by themselves.  It’s such a brilliant program, not subject to personal ambitions or petty jealousies. Not at all.

Among the people the Big Five are hiding from are their own fellow legislators, and lobbyists:

They fear special interests will mobilize on every proposal they hear about, ramp up pressure on lawmakers and prevent any possibility of reaching a deal that could secure enough votes.

“Whether it’s education or labor or any of the other groups, when we get wind of something that has significant jeopardy for us, we fight against it,” said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of California school districts. “It’s a (lobbying) system set up to defeat the latest idea that’s been hatched, which makes it that much harder to get a solution.”

When they do reach a deal, legislative leaders intend to hide it as long as they can until a floor vote, for fear that lobbyists may undermine the agreement by persuading key legislators to vote against it.

Wow, there’s an honest lobbyist.

So let’s get this straight: budget negotiations are happening in secret, because if they were even remotely public, special interests would scuttle the deal.  And when an agreement is reached, they’re going to SNEAK IT ONTO THE FLOOR so no wayward lawmaker gets in his silly little head that he wants to read it.

The increased secrecy behind this year’s “Big Five” leadership negotiations has made interest groups nervous and has alarmed open-government proponents.

“The thought that to be able to solve this you have to ram it down members’ throats just to lock something up before a constituency finds it outrageous is evidence of how bad the process has gotten,” said Terry Francke of Californians Aware, an open-government advocacy group.

Yep.  Keep in mind that there has not been one Budget Committee hearing this year.  When a deal is reached, that committee will probably meet in the middle of the night and rubber-stamp the deal, moving to the floor as fast as possible to outflank the special interests who clearly run the state.

The Big Five process is absurd.  There are ways to decrease the influence of special interests, the biggest being full public financing of all elections.  The best practice is NOT to hide from them so that the legislative process is like a team of burglars trying to rob a jewelry store without being detected.  And the less people involved in any negotiation, the more possibility for eventual corruption through backroom dealing.

The entire brief for a Constitutional convention can now be “Read A-1 of the Sac Bee on February 4, 2009.”

Want to End Giveaways to the Wealthy? Ask the Governor to Sign AB 583!

The current plan to give $700 billion away to Wall Street – the same ones who got us into this mess – is a sign we need Clean Money public financing of campaigns more than ever.  Finance, insurance, and real estate firms have poured over $5 billion in contributions into politicians’ hands since 1990.  They’ve already been paid back by special interest giveaways many times over, and now they’re asking for over $2,000 from every man, woman, and child in the country.

Clean Money is the Only Way to Stop this Madness From Happening Again and Again!

Urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign AB 583, the California Fair Elections Act, to start ending special interest dominance of politics by sending him a fax right now:


By providing for Clean Money for Secretary of State candidates, AB 583 would let California show the rest of the nation that there’s a much better way, not to mention making sure that the elected official responsible for the very integrity of our elections doesn’t have to fundraise.

Once you’ve sent your fax, please make a call to the Governor as well.  It’s quick because AB 583 has already gotten so many calls that they had to make it one of only five bills (out of 875!) that have their own automated response option.

CALL 916-445-2841 NOW!

You’ll get an automated system when you call so won’t need to even talk to anybody. Do the following:

> Press 1 for English

> Press 2 to “Voice your opinion on legislation”

> Press 5 “about AB 583, regarding the Political Reform Act”

> Press 1 “to register your support”

The line may be busy at first because so many people are calling.  Keep trying until you get through – you should after a few tries.

The Governor said it best:  Special interests have a stranglehold on Sacramento.  Here’s how it works.  Money comes in.  Favors go out.  The people lose..

Remind the Governor of his chance to change that by sending the fax and making the call:


California Clean Money Campaign


Clean Money, Fair Elections Vote as Close as Can Be – Write and Call!

AB 583, the California Fair Elections Act, is likely to have its floor vote in the State Senate today and definitely by Sunday – two steps from the Governor’s desk!  But the vote is going to be a nail-biter.

Lobbyists and the California Chamber of Commerce are trying to kill the bill because it partially pays for the system by raising registration fees on lobbyists to the same level as they are in Illinois ($350 a year), though they’re really worried about not having as much access to elected officials because the $143 million they spend every six months lobbying won’t mean as much if candidates can get elected with public funds.

Let’s not let them stop Fair Elections!  Please send a free fax to your State Senator and to Senate leaders asking them to vote yes on the bill.  Over a thousand people have faxed already, but the more faxes they get today, the better:


Then call up your Senator and ask them to vote Yes!  The fax tool will show you’re their number.

This is the closest a Clean Money bill has ever made it to getting through both houses of the legislature in California, and AB 583 makes the perfect pilot project by funding Secretary of State races to make sure they never have to take money from the likes of Diebold or other private contributors.  So let’s make it happen!

California Clean Money Campaign


A Government Of The People, By The People… Or Not

The story of Sacramento lobbyists killing two bills to eliminate PFC chemicals from packaging is short, so you can go read it yourself.  It’s the same old story – legislation that is overwhelmingly popular and easily implementable is killed off by lobbyists for business and industry.  Regardless of the budget fight, that’s life in Sacramento.  And at the same time, legislators scurry to one fundraiser after another where the same lobbyists pat them on the head and hand them a check.  It’s nauseating, and anyone outside of a political consultant who thinks that the next governor race matters even a whit absent fundamental change of this aspect of Sacramento politics is dreaming.

And people power is the only thing that’ll kill it dead, not a kinder and gentler version of the same old politics that can’t change the state.

UPDATE by Brian: I’ve added the vote information for both bills in the comments.

Friday Linky Open Thread

I think these open threads are working out.  Hope you enjoy them.  Here are a few thoughts.

• This is a week old, but Nick Kristof’s column about Prop. 2 (the farm animal safety measure) is well worth your time.

• It’s still up in the air whether or not we’re going to have Alan Keyes on the California Presidential ballot in November.  There’s a lawsuit between two members of the American Independent Party over who should be their nominee.  It seems to me the very definition of “frivolous,” but as someone who deeply enjoys mocking Alan Keyes I have a dog in this fight, so do the right thing, Sacramento Superior Court!

• The Log Cabin Republicans, who I also like to call “gluttons for punishment,” rolled out their No on 8 campaign last week.  The website is Republicans Against 8.  It’s the libertarian thing to do to get government out of the bedroom, so hopefully they’ll sway some folks.

• This is absolutely revolting and someone needs to go to jail:

For hundreds of homeless people, posing as phony hospital patients provided them a clean bed and cash. For the hospitals that processed them, it meant a full patient-load and a paycheck from the government.

Now some of those allegedly involved in what authorities say was a massive scheme have been charged with billing government programs for millions of dollars in unnecessary health services.

A hospital CEO was arrested Wednesday after federal agents raided three medical centers. City attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office has also sued the hospitals, saying they used homeless people as “human pawns.”

It’s kind of the flip side of homeless dumping, or who knows, it was run in concert.  Either way, sickening.

• Jerry Lewis is trying to get a bunch of lobbyists to fund his Congressional portrait.  The worst part about this deal is that Jerry Lewis will have a Congressional portrait hanging in our nation’s capital.

Add whatever you wish in the comments.

The Rot At The Heart Of The State Political System

For a variety of reasons, this is a depressing day.  In California terms, it’s because, for all the progress we think has been made over the last few cycles, the situation is very familiar – the big money special interests rule Sacramento, and the “lawmakers” do nothing but chase money.

Yesterday, the bill which would phase out plastic bags in California by placing a $0.25 fee for their use in shops which failed to recycle them stalled in the State Senate (must have been that Bag Tax blogad).  Cost was raised as a concern – it would have cost a whopping $1.5 million dollars (on a $100 billion dollar budget) to implement!

Also yesterday, the proposal to make California the very first state in the nation with guaranteed paid sick days for every worker, a right held in most industrialized nations, failed in the Senate, also due to cost (this would have been a robust $900,000 a year to implement!).  The bill was at the top of CalChamber’s annual “job killer” list. (I should also mention that a recent Field Poll showed it having 75% support among Californians, which of course doesn’t matter).

So bills that would have a major impact on health, the environment and quality of life are quietly yet consistently killed.  Meanwhile, the “lawmakers” shuttle from one fundraiser to the next, sucking up to the people who really control the Capitol.

In just four days next week, at least 40 politicians and candidates are scheduled to hold fundraisers, soliciting donations over cappuccino, carnitas and cocktails, at cafes, art galleries and restaurants. Most events are within a few blocks of the Capitol and require a minimum donation of $1,000 to attend.

Lobbyists — whose clients’ interests are on the line in the Legislature — face so many opportunities to give to legislators’ campaigns that some are plotting a schedule and mapping a route.

“You run from one to the other,” said Craig Brown, a lobbyist who represents several law enforcement unions.

The result of all these payments is a lobbyist class which is free to designate what bills would or would not be too “costly” to implement.  They’ll pay top dollar to the lawmakers to make sure they don’t spend a lot of money.  There’s quite a disconnect there.

It’s no wonder that “lawmakers” don’t care about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vow to veto every bill until the budget is resolved.  The more bills have the potential of returning, the more money flows into candidate coffers from the lobbyists who want to stop the bills.  It’s a vicious, disgusting cycle which restricts progressive change at virtually every level.  Sure, they’ll let something like SB 840 slide through because they know Governor Backstop will veto it. But anything that might actually become a law – forget it.  Not unless the Big Money Boys wrinkle their noses in assent.

The big challenge for progressives and activists is to show a model that would break the cycle of lobbyist cash for access in Sacramento.  The low-dollar revolution has been nonexistent here, and without it you cannot credibly campaign in the state without help from special interests.  Until that time, we’ll continue to see consumer-friendly bills die in committee, lobbyists writing the laws, and the rest of us scratching our heads why we can’t make progress.

UPDATE: I should note that AB583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections bill which would establish a public financing system for the Secretary of State race as a pilot program, passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a party-line 9-6 vote and will now hit the full Senate floor.  Truly public financing is one of the only ways to break the vice grip that special interests in Sacramento hold on the government.