Some recent but not well publicized articles suggests how big health care corporations are still enabling some of the worst aspects of health care and larger political economic dysfunction.
Introduction - Health Care Corporate Political Donations Become More Partisan and Ideological
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away big health care corporations in the US had an apparently straightforward philosophy of political giving. They gave contributions more or less equally to both major political parties. Apparently the theory was that the corporate giving would be remembered favorably by whoever won elections and got governmental power. Corporate contributions raised major concerns about their ability to purchase access and influence policy far beyond those of less wealthy groups and the public at large. At least, however, it was overtly non-partisan, and ostensibly not ideological.
However, things changed, and health care (and larger corporate) political giving became more partisan, and and more ideological. As we discussed here,
- In June, 2018, we first noted how the huge pharmacy chain CVS, had been secretly making contributions to America First Policies, an ostensibly non-profit organization. CVS claimed that it helped fund AFP because it supported tax reform. Actually, AFP acted to promote Trump administration policies. AFP encouraged repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and building a wall on the US southern border. These seemed at odds with CVS claims about its social responsibility.
- In September, 2018, we noted that big health care corporations often make high-minded public pledges about supporting patients' and the public's health, and sometimes social responsibility, but have been found to be covertly supporting policy initiatives that seemed to subvert these goals, using "dark money." The dark money groups they used to channel this money often had explicitly partisan leadership and direction, usually right-wing and Republican.
- In October, 2018,
we discussed important but incomplete revelations about corporate
contributions to such dark money groups that mainly favored again
right-wing ideology, the Republican party, and Trump and associates.
- In November, 2018, we noted that health care corporations funneled funds through dark money organizations to specifically attack designated left-wing, Democratic politicians.
- In March, 2019, we discussed a study of the personal political contributions of CEOs of large corporations. In the 21st century, the CEOs' contributions were increasingly partisan, that is individual CEOs gave predominantly or exclusively to one party, and for the vast majority, to the Republican party.
- In October, 2020, we discussed the apparent relationship between the support to Trump provided by large pharmaceutical corporations and his inclination to outsource his coronavirus pandemic management to them.
Corporate leadership's enthusiasm for Trump, his policies, and his associates seemed to arise from economic interests of the corporations and the self-interest of their top management, but without consideration of how Trump and associates' actions may have harmed larger corporate, social, or national interests. As discussed in a Washington Post article on January 8, 2021:
Business groups big and small largely stuck by Trump as he broke one norm after another over the past four years, including insulting immigrants, appearing to empathize with white supremacists in Charlottesville and clearing a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington for a photo op. They stuck by him still after he pressured the Ukrainian president in a bid to help his own election chances, after his impeachment, after he intentionally downplayed the effects of the novel coronavirus and last week after he was recorded pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to overturn the election results.
Even Trump supporters admitted the corporate leaders' extreme compartmentalization:
'It isn’t going to affect tax rates. How about monetary policy? Allow me to stay pure to my turf,' Art Laffer, a supply side economist who is close with White House economic officials and speaks to the president, said in a brief interview.
One observer described their thinking thus:
'Their attitude was: ‘Let’s take the big tax cuts and hold our noses for the obvious xenophobia and authoritarianism.’ It was a classic Faustian bargain,' said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. 'They should have known from the beginning.'
However, the Trump administration's actions and policies often seemed to directly contradict the stated values, visions and missions of health care corporations. For example, Pfizer declares its values to be:
customer focus, leadership, quality innovation, collaboration, respect for people, integrity, and performance
How would the value "respect for people" align with Trump's hostility toward immigrants, or sympathy for white supremacists? How would the value "integrity" align with Trump's pressure on the Ukraine to influence his election, or his pressure on officials in the state of Georgia to alter the election results in his favor?
Nonetheless, until very recently, hardly anyone seemed to notice that large health care corporations had changed their political giving so as to make its effects antithetical to the corporations' declared principles and values.
Trump's Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election Inspire A Few in Corporate Leadership to Rethink Its Political Support for Him and His Associates
Yet things apparently changed after Trump's attempts to overturn the election, including claims that he
actually won despite obvious evidence to the contrary, baseless legal
challenges to the election results that were almost all dismissed by the
courts, and an attempt by Trump supporters in Congress to challenge and
possibly override the election results in congressional proceeding. That crossed a line.
Within days, corporate leaders who had generally been quiet about Trump administration's actions and policies that ran counter to their organizations' stated goals and mission began to speak up. Several hundred signed a statement:
Congress should certify the electoral vote on Wednesday, January 6. Attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy.
Most of those who signed lead financial firms, but the list did include Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, a firm that had been one of Trump's favorites (see above).
Then, Trump's exhortation to his supporters at a rally to march on the Capitol while congress was debating Trump's supporters' challenge to the election results, which led to an insurrection and armed occupation of the Capitol building, which was eventually beaten back by law enforcement with significant casualties led some corporate leaders to rethink their positions.
The next day, per the Washington Post:
But what occurred Wednesday seemed finally to be too much. Trump staged a rally in Washington a short walk from where Congress was counting the electoral college votes, with Trump whipping up his followers with fabrications about election results and urging them to march to the Capitol to protest. Later, Trump appeared to sympathize with the mob and support the violent actions.
The National Association of Manufacturers soon after released an extraordinary statement from its president, Jay Timmons, saying Vice President Pence 'should seriously consider working with the Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to preserve democracy.'
At that time, one more CEO of a pharmaceutical company that had been one of Trump's favorites spoke up:
Alex Gorsky, the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement that he is 'devastated by this assault on what our country has stood for since its founding: free, fair and peaceful elections.' He said it is time to stand for unity, 'not face-to-face in conflict — and to chart our path to a better and healthier future.'
Furthermore, some large corporations, including health care corporations, announced a review or freeze on political donations through their corporate political action committees (PACs). Per the New York Times, January 11, 2021:
A flurry of companies have since reviewed political giving via their corporate political action committees.... Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boston Scientific... are taking a similar, targeted approach to donation freezes.
On January 12, 2021, StatNews summarized responses by health care corporations:
The list, so far, is short: the Blue Cross BlueShield Association, an insurer federation, said this week it would pause contributions specifically to candidates who effectively voted to overturn the results of the U.S. presidential election. Drug manufactures Gilead Scientific and Amgen, as well as BIO, the biotech lobbying group, said they would pause contributions to all candidates regardless of how they voted on election certification, according to spokespeople. UnitedHealth Group and Boston Scientific, the medical device giant, said the same.
Others, like CVS Health and the insurance lobby group America's Health Insurance Plans, were more cautious, saying they would review their future giving.
Many other health care corporations and lobby groups... have not responded publicly.
The article also noted:
Many of the GOP lawmakers who voted against certifying the Electoral College results are those whom the drug industry and other health care sectors have long viewed as allied.
The list included Republicans in Congress whom may be regarded as extreme supporters of Trump, eg Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Rep Andy Harris (R-MD).
I found one other report of a big health care corporation which changed its political donation policy in response to the attempt to overturn the election. Per the Kansas City Star, January 13, 2021:
Cerner Corp. will suspend political donations to Sen. Josh Hawley and other politicians who it determines helped to incite the violent mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol building last week.
The North Kansas City-based healthcare IT firm is the latest to seek distance from Hawley, a Missouri Republican, and others who have supported baseless allegations of voter fraud in the November presidential election.
A company spokesperson said:
'Effective immediately, Cerner PAC will suspend contributions to any candidate or official who took part in or incited violence last week in Washington, D.C.,' the statement said. 'Focusing on the health and well-being of the American people transcends partisan politics, and we will continue working with all elected leaders to advance policies that put the patient at the center of their care.'
I found another report of a big industry group which planned a "review" of its giving. The American Hospital Association announced on January 14, 2021:
The tragic events last week at the U.S. Capitol were an assault on our democracy. This prompted the AHA to begin an immediate review of our political giving practices to ensure they are guided by our Association’s vision and mission, as well as the democratic values we share as a nation.
But that was it, a total of six large health care corporations and three industry groups announced a pause or review of political contributions (apparently limited to those from corporate PACs) to some of the politicians who voted to challenge the election results. The Potter Report, authored by health care insurance whistle blower Wendell Potter, noted:
There’s been a lot of talk this week about big corporations such as Amazon, Verizon and Comcast deciding to stop giving money to House and Senate Republicans who voted to overturn last year’s election.
Guess which giants aren’t on that list? America’s big for-profit health insurers.
Over the past two election cycles, Big Insurance has donated to just about all the 147 House and Senate Republicans who voted against certifying the election. That includes Cigna and Humana, where I once worked, and Centene and CVS/Aetna. Plus, the industry’s lobbying group, the American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which represents a lot of nonprofit insurers and for-profit Anthem, says it’s suspending donations to those Republicans. And UnitedHealth says it will 'pause' its political donations. But let’s see how long these 'pauses' actually last.
So far, we haven’t heard a peep from AHIP or the other big for-profits, all of which have made huge profits during the pandemic, thanks largely to having lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle in their pockets.
Big Insurance donated more than $9 million to House and Senate candidates during the 2020 cycle. Among their favorites? Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who led the effort to overturn the election. All the big for-profits donated to Cruz, and all but CVS/Aetna donated to Hawley.
Note that no health care corporation announced changes in the donations by its top management. Certainly none even mentioned political contributions through dark money groups (like those that CVS had been revealed to be making, see above). So the attempt at overturning the election to keep Trump in office, first by quasi-legal maneuvering, then by an armed insurrection, had little effect on continuing underwriting by big health care corporations of the politicians who acquiesced to or actively supported this assault on the fundamentals of our representative democracy
Two Months Later, Health Care Corporations "Back to Bankrollling Insurrectionists"
Within months, some of the few health care corporations who paused donations again seemed ready to cozy up to anti-democratic politicians. As reported by the Daily Beast, March 24, 2021:
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, more than 120 corporations swiftly vowed to suspend campaign donations to Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 election....
But it took less than two months for Pfizer to break that pledge. Their PAC gave $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by one of eight GOP Senators who voted to decertify election results—Rick Scott of Florida—on Feb. 23.
In total, The Daily Beast identified four companies that appear to have gone back on their suspension of donations to GOP election objectors: AT&T, Cigna Health, Ford Motors, and Pfizer.
[Note that I had not earlier found notice that Cigna Health, a for-profit insurance company, had suspended donations.]
So as far as I can tell, while Trump is out of office, the big health care corporations that provided plentiful financial support for his initial election and attempts at remaining in office, through electoral and anti-democratic means, are back to supporting the political party that has become his personal sandbox.
It is increasingly evident that big health care corporations, despite their protestations of social responsibility and non-partisanship, now are actively supporting one wing, an extreme one, of the political spectrum. This raises big questions: cui bono? Who benefits?
It is obvious why a pharmaceutical company, for example, might want to defeat legislation that would lower its prices or raise its taxes.
It is not obvious why it would want to consistently support actions by one party, or by people at one end of the political spectrum, even if some such people seem generally "pro-business." After all, for years big corporations and their executives openly gave money to both US parties and their candidates, apparently in the belief that this would at least allow more visibility for the corporations' priorities no matter who was in power.
Now, the most obvious theory is that the new practice of secret donations only in right-wing, Republican, pro-Trump, and/or anti-democratic directions, which must be orchestrated by top corporate management, and which are not disclosed to employees or smaller corporate shareholders, are likely made to support the top managers' self interest more than the broad priorities of the corporations and their various constituencies. By virtue of being top management of a corporation, particular individuals can control political funds far beyond what they may be able to control as private persons, and to do so anonymously. This could present many temptations, but the rationales for particular managers directing their corporations' fund to particular politicians or organizations remain unknown.
Thus not only is more investigation needed, at the very least, "public" corporations ought to fully disclose all donations made to outside groups with political agendas. This should be demanded by at least the corporations' employees and shareholders, but also by patients, health care professionals, and the public at large. Furthermore, it is not unreasonable to ask that all organizations disclose all political funding which allows their leaders and managers to leverage their own political intentions.
Meanwhile we are left with the suspicion that top health care corporate management is increasingly merging with the Trumpist movement in one giant corporatist entity which is not in the interests of health care, much less government by the people, of the people, and for the people.