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reinhardt Donating Member (122 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-25-07 03:35 PM
Response to Reply #56
58. Soros is connected

Jan 20, 2005

Donors Seek Access to Politicians, Best Parties

By Keith Epstein and Guy Boulton

WASHINGTON -- Why would a Tampa company that manages health care for senior citizens and the poor contribute $100,000 to President Bush's glitzy inauguration today?

Could it be the political agenda ahead? Bush and many Republicans want more Medicare and Medicaid recipients enrolled in health-maintenance organizations, a core business of WellCare.

Or might the donation have less to do with profits than simple popularity among the company's executives for a president whose policies and views align with their own? They gave him tens of thousands of dollars during the campaign.

Who knows? It might even be someone's idea of healing wounds among Republicans irked by the company's affiliation with billionaire George Soros, who spent big bucks trying to defeat Bush.

Perhaps the company and its chief executive, Todd Farha, merely want to celebrate, schmooze or impress - just as legions of partying executives and lobbyists, including dozens from Florida, are doing in the nation's capital today.

Well Care, which gets all of its revenue from government dollars, won't say.

"We just do not, as a policy, comment on our government affairs activities," spokeswoman Donna Burtanger said this week.

Michael Sparer, a Columbia University professor who specializes in health policy, said the reason for such a company's contribution to inaugural bashes is obvious:

The politicians a business helps may very well help the business, in this case especially with the prospect of major changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

"That's going to be on the agenda in the next four years," Sparer said, "so it's certainly not surprising that large corporations that do a lot of work on Medicare or Medicaid with state and federal governments would have a huge interest in contributing.

"I'm sure they know it makes sense to keep their name out there and keep their visibility with friends in high places. That can help you at some point."

What's more, the inauguration is an opportunity to give as much money as a person or company wants. Unlike campaign contributions, there are no legal limits.

Money Well Spent?

Yet although $100,000 might seem princely to the common man, it doesn't buy much in modern Washington, especially when spent on an inauguration, lobbyists say.

"$100,000? Big whoop-de- doo," said Wright Andrews, former president of the American League of Lobbyists. "I've got clients and friends giving that much, and clients and friends giving a whole lot more, and it doesn't mean they're going to get great political clout for it.

"Dollar for dollar, if I was going to look at real political clout, I could spend $100,000 a whole lot better than for an inauguration."

Many Americans may view today's celebration on TV and think of it as a public event. The truth, however, is that most of the festivities are impossible for average Americans to attend. In fact, the most coveted parties are not even on the official agenda.

Some who are spending their way past security guards, barriers and throngs of commoners in the fortified First City today want only to gawk at the balls, mix with pols and hobnob with pals.

Or to impress the people they represent. Business types from Phoenix or bank managers from Peoria come to Washington and, thanks to their host at an association or law firm, feel as if they've gained entry into a rarified world.

"Part of it is to show you are a player," Andrews said. "If you're an association and a bunch of your members want to come to town, you'd better be able to get them tickets to the swearing-in and the balls.

"Many associations give money simply so they can be assured of tickets."

Vern Buchanan of Sarasota said he ponied up $100,000 simply for the social fun.

Buchanan, a major campaign donor to Bush, owns car dealerships, chairs the Florida Chamber of Commerce, managed finances for Mel Martinez' U.S. Senate campaign, and harbors political aspirations of his own.

This week, Buchanan sponsored a table for Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist at a private dinner in the Washington Hilton - one of three such dinners the president was to attend. Buchanan was entitled to 10 tickets.

On Friday, he'll attend a lunch with Vice President Dick Cheney.

The benefit of contributing is "being part of history; that's the biggest thing," he said. "You also get a chance to visit with a lot of friends. It's fun."

With Friends Like This...

Adding to the fun are stories such as WellCare's. The company's largest stockholder is Soros Private Equity Investors LP, an investment fund indirectly controlled by Soros, a fierce critic of Bush.

WellCare regularly points out that Soros Private Equity Investors consists of institutional investors, such as state pension funds and insurance companies.

But filings with the Security and Exchange Commission note Soros indirectly "may be deemed to have voting and dispositive power" over the fund's WellCare shares.

Soros Private Equity Investors bought WellCare in 2003, and its investment proved wildly profitable. The fund, which put little money down to buy the company, netted about $169.5 million in a recent stock sale.

WellCare's largest single source of revenue: Florida, where the president's brother Jeb is governor. For the nine months ending Sept. 30, the Sunshine State's Medicaid program accounted for 56 percent of WellCare's revenue from premiums.

In a state dominated by Republicans, contributing to the president's bash probably doesn't hurt. Given the profits, maybe even Soros himself wouldn't begrudge WellCare spending a little money on today's celebration.

Jeb is on the Tenet board now
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