Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Why Did CVS Health Betray its Charitable Giving Policy and Social Responsibility Agenda to Donate to a Sketchy Non-Profit Devoted to Trump's Agenda?

Many big health care organizations, including for-profit corporations, have high-minded mission statements, and proclaim their social responsibility.  Unfortunately, we have shown that many leaders of such organizations seem indifferent to these seemingly exemplary goals, and even exhibit mission-hostile management.

A recent example involving CVS Health provided an unprecedented example of mission-hostile management, or something worse.

Introduction: CVS Health and the Promotion of Social Responsibility

CVS Health is a huge corporation that runs a large chain of pharmacies, many of which contain MinuteClinics, touted as quick albeit limited sources of primary care, staffed by nurse practitioners.

It thus employees numerous health care professionals with strong professional values.  For example, the American Pharmacists Association has a code of ethics which includes respecting the covenantal relationship between pharmacists and patients, promoting "the good of every patient," acting with "honesty and integrity," serving "individual, community and social needs."

CVS Health proclaims its "social responsibility." This includes "keeping the planet in balance," and making "quality health care more affordable, more accessible and more sustainable."

CVS claims to act socially responsible by making charitable contributions for

improving health and health care nationwide. We support programs that improve access to health care services, provide chronic disease management and promote smoking cessation and prevention.

That seems fine and dandy, but then....

CVS Will Stop Funding America First Policies After Three of its Leaders were Revealed to Have Made Racist, Misogynistic, and pro-Nazi Remarks

CNN reported on June 1, 2018, that 

CVS Health said Friday that it would no longer donate to America First Policies, a nonprofit group that works to promote President Donald Trump's agenda, after CNN and other outlets reported racist comments made by staffers of the organization.

The details were,

[Carl] Higbie has a history of making racist, sexist, Islamophobic and anti-LGBT comments. Some of his more inflammatory statements were that the 'black race' had 'lax' morals and that Americans should be allowed to shoot undocumented immigrants crossing the border with Mexico. Following CNN's January report, Higbie resigned from his position as chief of external affairs for Corporation for National and Community Service, which manages volunteer services for the federal government. He joined America First Policies in March.

Higbie initially apologized for his remarks but later defended them and said they were taken out of context.

John Loudon, a policy adviser for the group, has also made inflammatory comments about Muslims and women, CNN's KFile reported in May, such as calling Barack Obama 'the Islamchurian candidate' and joking about 'crack whore Dem voter.'

In May, Mediaite reported that Juan Pablo Andrade, another America First Policies adviser, praised Nazis and said that, 'The only thing the Nazis didn't get right is they didn't keep f***ing going!' Andrade claims the video is out of context and he was quoting someone else. He has said he is looking for the full video, which would exonerate him.
One wonders if CVS Health had vetted America First Policies prior to making its contribution, since the presence in the latter's leadership of three such people suggest there just could be a bit of a corporate culture problem.

In any case, the CVS Health response came courtesy spokesperson Carolyn Castel:

Comments made by employees of America First Policies that were reported after we made our contributions are unacceptable to us. We have zero tolerance for discriminatory actions or behaviors, and as such we will not be making contributions to this organization in the future.

CVS Health's denial of further donations to America First Policies seemed admirable, but begged the question of why it made its initial donation.  In the Providence Journal, Brian Amaral reported on June 1 that  CVS justified its initial contribution to America First Policies as a way to “to support the tax cuts signed into law last year,” saying that it “supported this legislation and used the tax savings it created to invest in the growth and success of our employees,...”

However, that rationale seemed at best very loosely related to CVS Health's stated policy of making donations to improve health and health care.  I suppose that perhaps if tax cuts did lead to happier CVS employees, the indirect result would be better health care.  However, at least the purpose of the contribution did not seem in direct conflict with the stated goals of CVS charitable giving.

Nonetheless, the result of the CVS Health contribution to America First Policies seemed retrospectively a spectacular case of mission-hostile management.

But wait, there is more.

America First Policies Also Advocated Multiple Positions at Odds with CVS Health's Support of Social Responsiblity

As noted above,  CVS Health suggested that it supported America First Policies because it was dedicated to tax reforms that would result in increased CVS Health's revenues.  Their website does list "tax cuts that put America first," as one of its issues.

CVS Health's comments suggested that this is America First Policies' only issue.  It is not.  The America First Policies website lists advocacy on 13 other issues.

One is "repeal and replace Obamacare."  In particular,

America First Policies believes Obamacare is a disaster, burdening our country with rising premiums, unaffordable deductibles, fewer insurance choices, and higher taxes. Congress needs to repeal and replace this law, including rescinding the individual mandate and eliminating taxes that drive up costs,

This issue certainly has to do with quality and accessibility of health care.  However, whether most CVS Health employed health care professionals, or customers think that dismantling the Affordable Care Act would lead to better or worse, or more or less accessible health care is doubtful.  Certainly CVS Health management did not explicitly justify how supporting America First Policies was informed by the company's stated objectives for charitable giving that supports health and health care.

Another issue addressed by America First Policies is "securing our border."  In particular, the organization advocates for

a wall to stop illegal immigration and drug smuggling; putting an end to sanctuary cities; and deporting illegal aliens with criminal records.

These issues seem to have nothing directly to do with health care, or with the company's stated reasons for charitable giving.  Many people might argue that these objectives could harm the health care, at least of some immmigrant groups.

So far, it is not clear why CVS Health really chose to donate to America First Policies.

But wait, there is more...

America First Policies Appears to be a Partisan Political Operation of Dubious Legality

A Political Agenda from the Start

A few more minutes of Google searching reveals that America First Policies has an advocacy agenda that seems in direct conflict with the CVS committment to social responsibility, and that America First Policies does not in the least resemble the sort of charitable organization that CVS says it intends to fund.   Recall that CVS says that the purposes of its charitable giving are

improving health and health care nationwide.

We support programs that improve access to health care services, provide chronic disease management and promote smoking cessation and prevention.

Yet when America First Policies was started, initial coverage, like this AP report from January, 2017, per WJLA, said it was a political operation.

Six of President Donald Trump's top campaign aides have banded together to start a nonprofit called 'America First Policies' to back the White House agenda.

In addition,

'Some of the same like-minded individuals who put their energy into getting Mr. Trump elected are now going to be part of a grassroots group to go out there and help with the agenda, help the White House be successful,' [former Trump campaign digital director Brad] Parscale said.

Was it about improving health and health care?

America First Policies will conduct research into public policies and promote Trump's favored causes, such as dismantling and replacing President Barack Obama's health care law and changing immigration policies.
Again, many would argue such actions could harm health and health care.

For a Non-Profit "Social Welfare Organization," Doing Political Polling May be Illegal

In March, 2018, CNBC did a long investigative article on America First Policies political polling operation.

Last summer, America First Policies took an unprecedented step for a politically allied nonprofit: It started using three top polling firms from Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to produce a steady stream of Trump-focused polls, strategy memos and reports that continue to this day. The three firms initially put their own logos on the polling they did for the group, but over time the America First Policies logo gradually replaced theirs on some of the documents.

CNBC reviewed many of the polls it conducted. One example of an obviously political poll was

A September poll showed that America First Policies was exploring ways to defeat Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in a primary, a month before Flake, a Trump critic, announced his retirement.

Note that America First Policies worked closely with a political polling firm which was founded by a close Trump associate who now works in the White House, but somehow obtained an ethics waiver  allowing her to continue working with this firm.

The America First Policies polling effort operates as a network of coordinated groups, with two lesser-known firms, National Research Inc. and Baselice & Associates, working alongside a well-known Washington firm, The Polling Company, which was founded by former Trump campaign manager-turned-White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway.

When Conway sold her firm in September 2017, The Polling Company had already been working for America First Policies for more than two months, judging from the company's logo on polls that it conducted for the group in June and July.

Conway was granted a special ethics waiver last June so she could engage in 'communications and meetings' with former clients of The Polling Company without violating Trump's two-year ban on communications with former employers or clients. Conway has been called the 'Trump whisperer' for her ability to influence the often mercurial president. In a 2016 interview with MSNBC, she described herself as a 'discreet advisor' to Trump who was expected to use her data and strategy experience to help Trump craft his message.

CNBC interviewed ethics experts on the legality of what America First Policies was doing.

'AFP is doing the type of polling that would typically be done by a presidential campaign or a major party committee like the RNC or the DNC,' said Brendan Fischer, an election law expert at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. 'So even though they claim to be committed to a set of issues, the available evidence here indicates that they're operating as a polling shop for the president.'


Stephen Spaulding, a former special counsel at the Federal Election Commission and now director of strategy for the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause, agreed. 'There are ample grounds here to investigate whether America First Policies has been raising money that's subject to limits and disclosure requirements because it's being used for political purposes,' he said.

Finally, the article suggested that America First Policies was a way for wealthy donors, who could be individuals or corporations, to fund Trump's political agenda while hiding their identities and circumventing legal limits on direct political contributions.

'So you have a situation where large donors are contributing to America First Policies with the understanding that their secret donations are going to be seen as valuable by the president, because this group appears to work so closely with the White House,' said Campaign Legal Center's Fischer. 'And because these donors are secret, the public and Congress will never know if the White House later took action to advance a donor's interests.'

So it appears that CVS Health was one of those wealthy corporate donors who was secretly giving to a obviously political operation, possibly to be seen as "valuable to the president," which may be a way of saying to bribe the president?

America First Policies' Founders Included Shady Characters

The early AP article about the founding of America First Policies stated that the people involved included,

The group includes Trump's digital and data director Brad Parscale, onetime deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and two campaign advisers to Vice President Mike Pence, Nick Ayers and Marty Obst.

As the New York Times reported in February, 2018, Rick Gates pleaded guilty to the federal crimes of financial fraud and lying to investigators,

A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election after pleading guilty on Friday to financial fraud and lying to investigators.

The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman

Note that Mr Gates had previously been charged with many more crimes,

The deal came as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has been raising pressure on Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort with dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud unsealed on Thursday. Both men were first indicted in October and pleaded not guilty.

By that time, it was likely that Mr Gates was increasingly involved in America First Policies.  As of March, 2017, an article in Politico noted that,

Rick Gates, a former Trump aide who served as Paul Manafort’s deputy, is increasingly involved day-to-day [in America First Policies].
Also, Brad Parscale, the 2016 Trump campaign digital director, was involved with Cambridge Analytica's highly questionable operations on behalf of the campaign.  Per a New York Times article of March 17, 2018

Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.

A New Yorker article published on March 21, 2018 stated,

Cambridge Analytica contractors worked with Trump’s digital team, headed by Brad Parscale and Jared Kushner. Alongside all of them were Facebook employees who were embedded with the Trump campaign to help them use Facebook’s various tools most effectively—including the so-called 'dark posts,' used to dissuade African-Americans from showing up to vote. Did any of them know that the data that Cambridge Analytica was using to target voters, craft ads and blog posts, and determine Trump’s travel schedule came from millions of American Facebook members whose data had been taken without consent and sold for a million dollars—what Cadwalladr is calling a massive data “breach”? 


CVS Health says it donates to charity to improve health and health care, and that it has a social responsibility agenda to again improve health and keep the planet in balance.  Yet it secretly donated to a "social welfare" organization that explicitly was devoted to upholding the Trump agenda, founded by former Trump campaign officials, at least two with questionable ethics, one of which  pleaded guilty to federal crimes, and which ran a political polling operation that may have been illegal.  When its donation was discovered, and the racist sayings of two, and apparently pro-Nazi sayings of another of the organization's leaders were exposed, CVS then said it would not donate further.

Why did CVS Health donate to America Health Policies in the first place?

Given what transpired, at least CVS Health should immediately explain the reasons for this donation, and why it was made despite its obvious conflicts with CVS Health's stated policies and mission.

CVS Health should also disclose whether it has made any similar donations in the past, and what its policy on donations will be in the future.

Until such disclosures are made, we are left with further, exceedingly troubling questions.

Was this merely a case of severe and mission-hostile (mis)management?  However, it is difficult to believe that CVS Health managers did not know what the purpose of America First Policies was, and who its leaders were.

Was the donation to America First Policies an effort to cozy up to the Trump regime, arguably the most conflicted and corrupt presidential administration (look here), in hope of securing economic favors for CVS Health and/or its managers?

Did the donation somehow otherwise support top CVS Health managers' self-interest?  Given that President Trump has failed to condemn white supremicists and neo-Nazis (look here), and has recently proclaimed he is above the law, and thus called by editorialists a president who would be a king (e.g., here in the New York Times), are CVS Health managers closet monarchists, authoritarians or fascists?

Is this case unique?  Are other corporations that proclaim their social responsibility secretly funding groups like America First Policies?  Are these corporations thus covertly undermining not only patients' and the public's health, but the foundations of the American republic?

The frogs must figure out how to get out of the pot of now boiling water.

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