Thursday, August 18, 2022

Haunted by the Impunity of Rich Business Leaders - Will One Criminal Conviction make a Difference? The Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Pleads Guilty

 Impunity: an Introduction

We believe that unaccountable leadership is a major cause of health care dysfunction.  Impunity is an extreme form of unaccountable leadership.

We have noted that despite numerous legal settlements made by health care organizations of allegations like fraud, bribery, and kickbacks, almost never do top leaders who presided over these actions face any negative consequences.  Lack of deterrence caused by such impunity appears to be a major cause of  the epidemic of continuing unethical behavior, crime and corruption on the part of large health care organizations. How executives got to the point of having such impunity has never been clear.

But consider two important cases.  

Columbia/HCA CEO Not Held Responsible for Defrauding the Federal Government in 2003

 In 2010, we described the case of early dominant for-profit hospital system Columbia/HCA, which, after investigations beginning in the late 1990s, settled charges of defrauding the federal government.  The company paid a fine of $1.7 billion, a record amount at that time, but did not admit guilt.  More importantly, the company CEO, Rick Scott, was not charged with anything, suffered no negative consequences even though it was on his watch that the company was involved in apparently fraudulent behavior, and retired with a large golden parachute.  

Mr Scott then went on to be elected Governor of, then Senator from Florida as a Republican.  He is still in the Senate, and has become a big supporter for former President Trump.

In 2010 we wrote:

we have noted a parade of legal settlements involving and guilty pleas and criminal convictions by  health care organizations, (or often just subsidiaries conveniently available to take the rap).  As we have noted, resulting fines may be just be treated as costs of doing business by health care leaders.  Almost never have the people who authorized, directed, or implemented wrong-doing almost never suffer negative consequences.

Instead, they may just continue to haunt health care and society at large


as I have repeated seemingly infinitum, we will not deter unethical behavior by health care organizations until the people who authorize, direct or implement bad behavior fear some meaningfully negative consequences. Real health care reform needs to make health care leaders accountable, and especially accountable for the bad behavior that helped make them rich.

Purdue Pharma Executives Convicted in 2007

In 2007, we made quite a lot about criminal convictions for Purdue Pharma, and of three of its executives for the "misbranding" of Oxycontin.  (That was just the beginning of the legal problems for Purdue, and other manufacturers and distributors of "legal" narcotics and their contribution to the epidemic of narcotic abuse.)  At the time, we marveled that

At least in the Purdue Pharma/ Oxycontin case top company leaders were prosecuted, plead guilty, and will personally have to pay substantial financial penalties. Maybe this will convince the leaders of health care organizations that deceptive marketing practices may not be in their long term interests.

Of course, at the time we did not realize that Purdue Pharma was a privately held corporation run largely by the family that owned it, the Sacklers.  While the three executives had some responsibility for company operations, they were not as powerful as the top executives of publicly held health care companies, and so their convictions did not really end the impunity even of the top leaders of even one important health care corporation.

Trump Organization CFO to Plead Guilty of 15 Felonies Involving Tax Cheating in New York Court

Today, as the New York Times reported:

 One of Donald J. Trump’s most trusted executives stood before a judge on Thursday and pleaded guilty to 15 felonies, admitting that he conspired with Mr. Trump’s company to carry out a scheme to avoid paying taxes on lavish perks — even while refusing to implicate the former president himself.

As part of the plea deal with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, is required to testify at the company’s trial if prosecutors choose to call on him, and to admit his role in conspiring with Mr. Trump’s company to carry out the tax scheme. That testimony could tilt the scales against the company, the Trump Organization, as it prepares for an October trial related to the same accusations. 

This demonstrates that in 2022, it is still big news if an apparently top corporate executive is convicted of a crime involving his management of the corporation.  We have progressed so little.

In particular, we certainly have not yet progressed to the point at which the actual top leaders of big corporations are held accountable for their misbehavior.  The Trump Organization is a closely held private corporation.  Its top leader is generally acknowledged as Donald J Trump, and its other top leaders are likely his children.  None of them so far have been charged in this case.

Donald J Trump as leader of the Trump Organization had a very long record of impunity as leader of the Trump Organization (look here).  It is possible that had he been held to account for his earlier actions, we might never have run for President of the United States.  Trump as President was accused of a long list of conflicts of interest and corrupt acts (look here).  He has denounced the 2020 election, which he lost, as "rigged" despite no evidence in support of that.  He currently is under investigation for leading an insurrection to overturn the election and stage an auto-coup.


We are still haunted, now dangerously haunted, for our failures as a society to hold rich, top business leaders accountable for their actions.

When will we ever learn? Will be learn before it is too late?


Sunday, January 09, 2022

The New Business Coup? Increasing Evidence that Large Health Care Corporations are Funding Threats to Democracy

Introduction: Health Care Corporations' Political Contributions: From Bipartisan to Trumpian

 At one time, leadership of large health corporations were circumspect in their financial support for US politicians and political causes. They provided some funds directly to politicians and political organizations, but often amounts given to different parties and organizations with different ideologies were balanced. Presumably, the goal was to promote access to whomever was in power at any given time. 


With the rise of Donald Trump, things changed. Many leaders apparently went all in for Trump and his Republican supporters.  In June, 2018  we discussed how CVS channeled money to a "dark money group," that promoted Trump administration policies, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 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 how in the 21st century, health care corporate CEOs' personal political contributions were increasingly partisan, that is individual CEOs gave predominantly or exclusively to one party, and for the vast majority, to the Republican party. 

Some corporations paused some of their political giving after a mob whipped up by Trump at a January 6, 2021, rally violently stormed the US Capitol to try to prevent the certification of the 2020 election. However, within two months they started giving again in support of Republicans in Congress who voted not to certify the election (see this April, 2021, post, this July 7, 2021, post, and this September 7, 2021 post).

Now just after the anniversary of an insurrection that almost prevented the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results, there are new indications that leaders of big health care corporations are continuing to support Republicans in Congress who voted to overrule the results of that election.

Health Care Corporate Sponsorship of the Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has updated their report on corporate sponsorship of the politicians who wanted to overturn the election.  The January 3, 2022 version is entitled "The Corporate Insurrection: How companies have broken promises and funded seditionists." It described the "717 corporations and industry groups have donated over $18 million to 143 of the 147 members of Congress who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee."  It referred to the updated data about the largest corporate funders appearing in the current version of CREW's previous report.  The health care corporations that appear in this list of 80 are:

Pfizer                                        $71,000

Merck                                      $68,000

Eli Lilly                                   $42,000

Johnson & Johnson                   $38,500

Anthem                                   $32,500

Cigna                                       $30,000

CVS Health                            $30,000 

AstraZeneca                           $26,500

Humana                                $15,000

Blue Cross & Blue Shield         $15,000 

Keep in mind that these amounts only reflect corporate donations directly to members of Congress, their own leadership PACs, and to the national Republican campaign committees, which must be disclosed by law. They do not include any amounts given by corporate executives, or amounts given to various kinds of dark money organizations, which do not have to be disclosed according to law.  Thus they may seriously undercount the financial support given by health care corporations to support those who wanted to nullify the election. But at least these figures suggest that 5 large pharmaceutical/ biotechnology companies, 4 health care insurance companies, and one diversified pharmacy company continue to be strong supporters of legislators who were willing to do so.  

Furthermore, as noted in a January 5, 2022, article in Fierce Pharma, spokespeople for some of these corporations declared they were no longer worrying about whether politicians support democracy or tried to overturn an election, but only about whether the politicians support policies that would improve their corporate bottom lines.  For example, see this from Pfizer:

Pfizer’s PAC supports policymakers who value innovation and expanded access to breakthrough medicines and vaccines that change patients’ lives,

And see this from Eli Lilly: 

[the company] supports candidates across the political spectrum who understand the value of a vibrant pharmaceutical ecosystem to address unmet patient needs.

Billionaires Who Made Their Money from Health Care Corporations Who Supported the Attempt to Overturn the Election  

A January 6, 2022 article in Forbes listed the "more than 50 billionaires [who] donated in the second half of 2021 to legislators who voted against certifying the presidential election, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records."  Two the billionaires made their fortunes from health care corporations.  They were: 

- Phillip Frost, worth $2,500,000,000, described as "a long-time health care investor, inventor and founder, Phillip Frost now runs diagnostics-maker Opko Health." He "joined Key Pharmaceuticals in 1972, reformulated its asthma drug and sold the company in 1986 for $836 million." Also, he "founded Ivax, a generic drugmaker, in 1987. He sold it to Teva Pharmaceuticals for $7.6 billion in 2005"  Frost supported Sen Hawley (R-MO). 

- James Leininger, worth $1,500,000,000, described as having "made his fortune founding medical devices company Kinetic Concepts (KCI), which focuses on wound care." He also runs "Medcare Investment Funds, which manages $1 billion in assets." Leininger supported Rep Cloud (R-TX). 


 As we said before, most health care corporations publish high-minded aspirational statements that promise pluralism, support of the community, and of our representative democratic society. Data revealed recently and discussed in our previous three posts increasingly show that some leaders of  large health care corporations saw fit to direct contributions to politicians who promoted anti-democratic policies. Funding political leaders who would challenge election outcomes in the absence of very clear evidence of election irregularities seems to violate high-minded corporate pledges of inclusiveness.

Is it that health care corporate leadership just are more interested in making money than in bettering society, despite their aspirational mission statements? As we previously discussed, that is a plausible formulation.  For example, per the Washington Post in January, 2021,

'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.

Also, the quotes above support the idea that corporate leaders put their own bottom lines ahead of supporting the republican form of government that partially made their revenues possible.

On the other hand, maybe it is not just about money.  Again, as we said before, by virtue of being top corporate managers, particular individuals can control political funds far beyond what they would  be able to control as private persons, and to do so quietly and sometimes anonymously.  Corporate leaders may thus be able to promote their own interests through their corporations' political giving.  Those interests may go beyond just personal enrichment.   Some may also be interested in personal political power, or have other ways they might benefit from anti-democratic, authoritarian, even openly fascist national political leadership.  

Big industrialists have backed authoritarian and openly fascist regimes in other countries before, some to make more money, but in retrospect, some for darker reasons. (See, for example, this article on how German industrialists financially bailed out the Nazi party in 1932.)  

There was at least one previous instance in which US business leaders tried to effect a coup to oust a President they considered too left wing.  This was sometimes called the "business coup."  According to a Washington Post article from 2021, its sponsors included "included J.P. Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont and the CEOs of General Motors, Birds Eye and General Foods."  Their goal was to depose President Franklin D Roosevelt and 

install a dictator who was more business friendly. After all, they reasoned, that had been working well in Italy

The plot failed because the former military officer they chose to lead it informed the government.  So far, the attempt by now former President Trump and his followers to do something similar has also failed. That does not mean, however, that the next attempt will not succeed.


IMHO, all citizens need to wake up and  protect our republic.  Furthermore, all medical and public health professionals specifically need to take action to wake up and protect our republic specifically from self-interested health care corporate leaders.  Imagine what health care and public health might be like were they to exert near absolute control facilitated by an authoritarian they installed in office