COVID-19 Congressional Insider Trading Scandal
REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JAN 21, 2023
The 2020 congressional insider trading scandal was a political scandal in the United States involving allegations that several members of the United States Senate
who violated the STOCK Act by selling stock at the start of COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and just before a stock market crash on February 20, 2020, using knowledge given to them at a closed Senate meeting.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) initiated a probe into the stock transactions on March 30, 2020.
No charges were brought against anyone and all investigations into the matter are closed.
On January 26, 2012, Senator Joe Lieberman introduced the STOCK Act that would prohibit the use of non-public information for private profit, including insider trading by members of Congress and other government employees.
The bill was passed by the Senate with only Senators Richard Burr, Jeff Bingaman, and Tom Coburn voting against it.
The House of Representatives voted to approve of the bill and it was signed into law by President Barack Obama on April 4, 2012.
On January 24, 2020, the Senate Committees on Health and Foreign Relations held a closed meeting with only Senators present to brief them about the COVID-19 outbreak and how it would affect the United States.
Following the meeting Senator Kelly Loeffler and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, made twenty-seven transactions to sell stock worth between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000 and two transactions to buy stock in Citrix Systems which saw an increase following the correction.
Senator David Perdue made a series of 112 transactions with stocks sold for around $825,000 and bought stocks worth $1.8 million.
Perdue started buying around $185,000 in stock in DuPont, a company that makes personal protective equipment, on the same day as the Senate briefing up to March 2.
Additionally, John Hoeven of North Dakota purchased $250,000 in health science companies in January, five days after attending a briefing about the pandemic.
On January 31 and February 18, Dianne Feinstein sold stock in Allogene Therapeutics, with the estimated value to be between $1.5 million and $6 million.
According to Feinstein, the investment decisions are made by her husband, and are reported by her per Senate rules.
She states that “this company is unrelated to any work on the coronavirus and the sale was unrelated to the situation.”
Feinstein also reportedly provided documents to the FBI related to her husband’s transactions, in order to show that she had no connection to the decision.
On February 7, Senator Burr, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated in an open-editorial on how the government could respond to coronavirus that
“Luckily, we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus,”
However, on February 13, he and his wife sold between $628,000 and $1.7 million worth of stock through thirty-three transactions and on February 27, Burr stated that
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,”
at a Capitol Hill Club luncheon and his statement was later leaked in a secret recording.
On March 19, ProPublica published an article showing that Burr had sold stock shortly before the correction and Loeffler, Jim Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein‘s stock selling was also reported.
NPR asked Caitlin Carroll, Burr’s spokesperson, for a comment on the alleged violations and she responded with
and then clarified that
“As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”
Senator Richard Burr, the most prominent Senator implicated in the scandal.
He temporarily stepped down as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the investigation.
Tucker Carlson called for Burr to resign from the Senate and be prosecuted for insider trading on a segment of Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for Burr to resign and Representative Joaquin Castro called for an investigation into the stock selling.
Representative Doug Collins, who ran against Loeffler in the special Senate election in Georgia, criticized her by stating
“People are losing their jobs, their businesses, their retirements, and even their lives and Kelly Loeffler is profiting off their pain? I’m sickened just thinking about it.
On April 10, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox accused Representative Greg Gianforte, the wealthiest member of the House of Representatives, of insider trading by investing into the manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine.
At the time Fox was running against Gianforte for the Republican nomination in the 2020 Montana gubernatorial election.
Although several investments were made in Gianforte’s name for companies which potentially stood to profit from the covid-19 pandemic, such as Roche Holdings, Gianforte says all his investments are made for him through a blind trust.
On March 20, Burr requested for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his stock trading history and stated that he only used publicly available information to make his decisions. On March 30, the Department of Justice initiated a probe into the stock transactions in conjunction with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
During the investigation it was discovered that Burr had also sold around $47,000 worth of stock in OCI, a Dutch fertilizer company, before it suffered a forty-two percent decrease in its value in 2018. From September 5 to 8, 2018, Burr and his wife sold all of their stock in OCI, which at the time was experiencing its highest share price; a month later it failed to meet quarterly earnings expectations after the Trump administration granted exemptions to eight countries for sanctions placed on Iranian oil and petrochemicals.
On May 13, the FBI seized Burr’s phone, to investigate his communications with his stock broker, among other warrants, including one to search his personal iCloud account. On May 14, Burr told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would temporarily step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for the remainder of the investigation.
On May 26, the Justice Department announced that it had ended its investigation into Feinstein, Inhofe, and Loeffler. On January 19, 2021, the Justice Department closed its investigation into Burr.
Insider Trading: A Whiteout After Alleged Investigation
Your Congress America. @RandPaul @SpeakerPelosi @TeamPelosi @nytimes @WSJ @nypost @TheJusticeDept @USMarshalsHQ @FBI @MarthaStewart @IrishTimes @ComedyCentral @cnnpolitics @jim_jordan @JudiciaryGOP @JudiciaryDems @politico @thehill @washingtonpost @msnbc #txlege #WeThePeople pic.twitter.com/3d1SjMslvX
— lawsinusa (@lawsinusa) January 18, 2023
Lobbyist Monies Paid in 2022 by HCA Healthcare Inc. including Congressional Activity
After Jumping Over COVID-19 Hurdles, Labor Challenges Are Pressuring HCA Shares
Julie Utterback Senior Equity Analyst
HCA operates the largest network of hospitals in the United States, focusing on attractive geographic locations where it has the potential for leading and increasing market share.
While it has locations in nearly 20 states and headquarters in Nashville, its facilities are particularly concentrated in Texas and Florida, which represent over half of its bed count.
In those states, urban areas of focus include Dallas, Austin, Tampa, and Miami, and those geographic areas provide a good sense of the positive demographic factors that the firm aims to benefit from across the country.
About Stephanie Murphy
Stephanie Murphy is a businesswoman, policy expert, and former U.S. Congresswoman
In strategy and investment roles, Murphy worked with businesses across a range of industries. As an executive at an investment firm, she evaluated business opportunities and worked with management teams to navigate regulatory and business risk.
She provided strategic advice to senior executives at multinational companies while at Deloitte Consulting.
In addition, she was an instructor of finance at Rollins College and helped launch the social entrepreneurship program on campus.
Murphy was a national security specialist at the U.S. Department of Defense, where she received numerous awards for her service, including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service.
She helped to shape U.S. policy in the Asia Pacific by fostering cooperation in capacity building, disaster preparedness, special operations, and counterterrorism.
Murphy led the effort to set the Defense Department’s strategic direction and priorities for security cooperation and contingency planning. She also worked on budget and acquisitions for the U.S. Navy.
In Congress, Murphy was known as an effective legislator cutting through partisan gridlock to establish an exceptional record of legislative success. Murphy was consistently named one of the most effective and bipartisan members of Congress during her three terms (from 2017 to 2023).
She led the bipartisan effort to lift the federal gun violence research ban and created the tax benefit that enabled businesses to retain and rehire workers during the pandemic.
Murphy was a key player in delivering historic infrastructure and climate investments. She also carved out a role as a leading Congressional voice on trade and national security policy.
Murphy served as co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of House Democrats focused on fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, and a principled and pragmatic approach to legislating.
She also served as a Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus and on the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
In these roles, Murphy helped to shape the House policy agenda. In addition to her leadership roles, Murphy served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, Small Business Committee, and the historic Select Committee to Investigate the Jan 6th Attack on the Capitol.
When Murphy was a baby, her family fled Vietnam by boat to escape persecution by the country’s communist government.
After their boat ran out of fuel at sea, they were rescued by the U.S. Navy, who gave them the supplies they needed to make it to a Malaysian refugee camp.
A Lutheran Church in Virginia then sponsored the family’s passage to the United States, where Murphy and her family became naturalized American citizens.
Murphy was the first Vietnamese-American woman ever elected to the United States House of Representatives.
Murphy earned a B.A. in Economics from the College of William and Mary and an M.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. In 2022, Murphy received honorary doctorate degrees from her alma mater, William and Mary, and from Gettysburg College.
She and her husband are the proud parents of two young children.
HCA Healthcare (NYSE: HCA), one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers, today announced it has appointed Mitch Edgeworth as president of the company’s TriStar Division effective January 4, 2021.
Mitch Edgeworth Appointed President of HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Division
Edgeworth replaces Heather Rohan who recently announced her retirement after a 34-year career with HCA Healthcare. As TriStar Division president, Edgeworth will have responsibility for 17 hospitals and a number of other sites of care serving communities in Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
“Mitch has a strong track record of leadership in a variety of academic, community and multi-hospital settings,” said Jon Foster, president of HCA Healthcare’s American Group. “He is a values-driven executive with extensive knowledge of not only Middle Tennessee but the other communities served by the TriStar Division.”
A 23-year healthcare industry veteran, Edgeworth currently serves as chief administrative officer of the TriStar Division. Before joining TriStar in 2019, Edgeworth led Vanderbilt University Medical Center as chief executive officer for four years and served as chief operating officer there for three years prior to that.
Previously, Edgeworth led a multi-state region for Quorum Health Resources, where he was responsible for 12 hospitals in Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. Edgeworth began his career at Duke University Health System, serving in various positions before joining Tenet Healthcare, where he served in several executive roles, the final one of which was CEO of Doctor’s Hospital in Dallas.
Edgeworth has bachelor’s degrees from Lipscomb and Georgia Tech and earned an MBA from Duke University.
Rohan has been with HCA Healthcare for 34 years, serving in a number of executive roles. She started her career in the East Florida Division, serving as assistant chief nursing officer at Northwest Medical Center.
Rohan earned several promotions in nursing leadership positions, including CNO roles at University Medical Center and Cedars Medical Center, before serving as COO and CEO at several hospitals. After serving as CEO of TriStar Centennial Medical Center for four years, Rohan was promoted again to her current role as president of the TriStar Division in 2016.
“We have been fortunate to have Heather’s leadership within our company for more than three decades, and it has been a privilege to work alongside a leader who embodies our mission each day,” said Foster. “Heather has been an incredible asset for our hospitals and, most recently, for the TriStar Division and the Nashville community. We wish her well in her retirement.”
About HCA Healthcare
Nashville-based HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services comprising more than 2,000 sites of care, including 187 hospitals, surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom.
With its founding in 1968, HCA Healthcare created a new model for hospital care in the United States, using combined resources to strengthen hospitals, deliver patient-focused care and improve the practice of medicine.
HCA Healthcare has conducted a number of clinical studies, including one that demonstrated that full-term delivery is healthier than early elective delivery of babies and another that identified a clinical protocol that can reduce bloodstream infections in ICU patients by 44 percent.
HCA Healthcare is a learning health system that uses its more than 35 million annual patient encounters to advance science, improve patient care and save lives. Please click here to connect with HCA Healthcare on social media.
All references to “Company,” “HCA” and “HCA Healthcare” as used throughout this document refer to HCA Healthcare, Inc. and its affiliates.
The Lawson Group helps businesses improve their bottom line by providing consulting services that keep their employees healthy, safe and well.
Our trusted advisors bring peace of mind to our clients by helping them improve workforce wellness, create and maintain a safe workplace environment, and benefit from unique workers’ comp and self-funded health insurance programs.
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It’s your responsibly; it’s our business.
Located in Concord, New Hampshire, The Lawson Group (formerly the Scott Lawson Companies) has served nearly 5,000 customers nationwide since 1978.
The Lawson Group is online at www.thelawsongroup.com.
Question for Texas Congress
Is this the shocking standard you set for private healthcare lawyers in Texas @HCAhealthcare who are allowed to act with such unabashed hatred when litigating against citizens in civil court? @SenatorNichols @AngelaPaxtonTX @texasgov @GovAbbott #txlege https://t.co/Qc3bkUAdRt
— lawsinusa (@lawsinusa) January 20, 2023
Democrats: Medicare fraud is ‘fungus’ Scott will never get rid of
PUBLISHED: AUG 30, 2018 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JAN 21, 2023
Gov. Rick Scott is used to being attacked for the historic $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine slapped on his former hospital company, HCA Healthcare.
But in a new twist, he’s trying to turn his weakness into a strength by accusing his opponent of “stealing money from Medicare.”
In a state with one of the nation’s largest populations of seniors, those are fighting words. And they’re also false words.
Scott’s claim, leveled in a TV ad that recently played in heavy rotation, inaccurately states that Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stole from Medicare simply because the Democrat’s campaign hired consultants instead of full-time staff and therefore did not pay payroll taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security. The arrangement is perfectly legal and isn’t stealing.
The Republican governor’s decision to attack Nelson with one of Scott’s greatest vulnerabilities — Medicare fraud — marks a shift in tactics for Scott, who in 2010 felt the need to go so far as to run TV ads saying he took responsibility for the wrongdoing at Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. 20 years ago. This year, Scott says “I refuse to apologize for my success.”
But that success was marred by fraud.
The legacy of Scott’s leadership of Columbia/HCA — once the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain before it ousted Scott and settled the largest health care fraud fine in history at the time — underpins his political identity.
The company is the origin of his fabulous wealth, which has allowed him to pump $106.5 million of his own money into his campaigns, $20.6 million of which he has dropped so far on his Senate bid against Nelson. Some of his donors this year are old friends from Columbia/HCA.
And Democrats aren’t letting the issue go, either.
“Columbia/HCA is like a fungus he’ll never get rid of,” said John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster for the Senate Majority PAC, which supports Nelson. For voters, he said, Scott’s role in the fraud scheme is “a character thing. They believe he’s a sketchy guy who got rich defrauding people.”
In focus groups the PAC conducted in August in Orlando and Tampa — the major urban areas of the swing state’s I-4 Corridor swing area — undecided voters know about Scott’s Medicare fraud past and just don’t trust him as a result, Anzalone said.
But Columbia/HCA isn’t a kill shot.
Tens of millions of dollars were spent attacking Scott over the issue in his 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, his 2010 general election campaign and his 2014 reelection campaign.
And Democrats say they’ve learned a lesson:
Don’t make Columbia/HCA a core issue, but instead use it as a “catalyst” to discuss Scott’s trustworthiness and his record, especially on health care, a top issue for voters, Anzalone said.
After eight years in office, Scott’s post-HCA health care record also includes several measures Democrats see as a vulnerability:
opposing Medicaid expansion,
privatizing most of the state’s Medicaid program, proposing to cut nearly $1 billion in Medicaid spending in his 2017 budget,
opposing the Affordable Care Act
refusing to weigh in on a Donald Trump-backed lawsuit in which Florida is participating that seeks to do gut the landmark health care law, including its measure to protect people with pre-existing health conditions.
As Scott entered the Senate race, Democrats started with Columbia/HCA as jumping-off point.
In a 30-second digital ad in March, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee used the issue to discuss Scott’s honesty concerning his finances
and his decision to delete voicemails from a troubled nursing home where seniors died last year after Hurricane Irma knocked out its power.
A month later, the Senate Majority PAC followed up with its own 30-second digital ad that began with Columbia/HCA and then pivoted to Scott’s education, health and tax record.
Another digital ad from the group compares his term as governor with his past leadership of the hospital company.
Tellingly, though, one of Senate Majority PAC’s first paid TV ads didn’t mention Columbia/HCA and instead focused on Scott’s decision to veto health care money and refuse Medicaid expansion.
For Scott’s campaign, Democrats’ decision not to put real money behind Columbia/HCA is a sign that the issue has been litigated — and won — by Scott.
“We look forward to seeing their baseless attack ads on an old, tried and tired attack. And, as we can see from both races, the people of Florida have rejected this attack each time,” said Scott campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone, who declined to answer questions about Scott’s time at the company.
While it’s true that Scott has survived two general elections and a primary campaign that focused on the Medicare fraud in his past, Scott was damaged.
He has never received 49 percent or more of the vote — even in the general elections during blood-red Republican wave years.
This year, there’s more talk of a blue wave for Democrats. Scott is holding a small lead over Nelson in the polls, partly because Scott and his supporters are outspending Nelson by nearly 3-to-1 on television.
Scott’s supporters say voters are also rewarding the governor for presiding over a booming economy and for keeping his promises rather than punishing him for a decades-old scandal.
“When people look back on his governorship, I think where they will give him credit is how he handled Florida’s crises,” Bill Rubin, a longtime Scott friend and adviser as well as his lead lobbyist in Florida when Scott ran Columbia/HCA, told POLITICO in an interview.
While the company eventually pleaded guilty to 14 felonies, Scott was never charged with any crime, and he has maintained his innocence for years.
There’s no record Scott was even interviewed by federal agents in their probe of HCA.
While Scott did say in 2010 that he “took responsibility” for what happened, he denied knowing about any fraud.
“I feel like he’s a very honest, upstanding person in all aspects of his life. I think even with what happened, it was really a crazy period where lots of hospitals got asked stuff,” Rubin said.
Rubin is one of eight HCA executives and lobbyists — former and current — who worked under Scott and have so far contributed a combined $66,400 to his campaign directly or to the super PAC supporting him.
The company also contributed $10,000 through its political committee, the HCA Inc. Good Government Fund, to bring the total to $76,400.
Rubin chipped in $5,400. Scott’s largest contributor from that crew, David T. Vandewater, and his wife gave nearly $36,000.
Vandewater, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was Scott’s top lieutenant at Columbia/HCA, resigning with him in 1997, about four months after the federal government made its probe of the company public by raiding the company’s hospitals in El Paso.
In the aftermath, the company shed the name “Columbia” — Scott’s hospital company before it merged with HCA.
When the investigation first became public, Scott denied any wrongdoing.
At times, he has also blamed the Clinton White House for exacting political revenge on him for his opposition to then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s health care initiative, a claim that the Health and Human Services secretary at the time, Donna Shalala — a Democrat who’s now a congressional candidate in Miami — said wasn’t true.
A New York Times report at the time said investigators had gone through records from at least 50 Columbia hospitals, targeting Medicare charges, doctor-recruitment practices, referrals to home health agencies and blood lab work.
At the time of the raid, Columbia/HCA owned more than 500 home health centers and about 340 hospitals as the country’s largest for-profit hospital chain.
Scott was reluctant to cooperate with federal investigators, not responding to repeated requests for an interview with federal investigators in 1995 regarding accusations against the company, and he remained CEO and chairman of Columbia/HCA’s board.
But by July 1997, the hospital company had serious legal problems.
The federal government issued 35 warrants to search hospitals that were owned previously or at the time by Columbia/HCA and two companies doing business with the chain in seven states — Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma and Georgia.
Scott was forced to resign later that month, receiving at least $10 million in cash — including $5 million under a consulting agreement — and $300 million in stock and options.
At the time, Columbia/HCA was taking in $18.8 billion in revenue across 336 hospitals in 32 states and three foreign countries, according to a federal regulatory filing.
After Scott left, HCA abruptly ended the practice of doctor partnerships in its hospitals and began cooperating with federal investigators.
By 2003, the company completed what was then the largest health care fraud settlement with the federal government, ponying up $1.7 billion for a range of fraud settlements including cost report fraud and kickback payment to physicians.
It also pleaded guilty to 14 corporate felonies.
For whistleblower John Schilling, a Republican former employee who helped expose the fraud in Florida, Scott’s election represents a threat to Medicare because of his company’s systemic Medicare fraud practices when he ran it.
“I would be concerned that if elected, he may have an agenda to change the Medicare program in a way that would enrich the hospital systems on behalf of the American taxpayer,”
“I would also be concerned that his agenda could include eliminating or altering the Federal False Claims Act,” which protects whistleblowers like Schilling.
Longtime Scott ally Alan Levine, who worked for Columbia/HCA under Scott and has run private hospitals and government agencies overseeing hospitals in Florida and Louisiana, said he didn’t know about the company’s Medicare fraud practices at the time and would be surprised if Scott knew about the wrongdoing at the hospital chain.
More broadly, Levine said, the controversy had the unfortunate effect of obscuring Scott’s good legacy concerning health care.
Scott had not only the vision, but also the discipline to merge hospitals, make them more efficient and measure their performance and health outcomes in a meaningful way, said Levine, calling him a “change agent.”
“I learned from this,” Levine said. “And when I was secretary of [the state Agency for Health Care Administration] in Florida, Florida was the first state in the country to require hospitals to measure outcomes publicly.”
Levine has remained close with Scott throughout his governorship and has twice been appointed by him to the board overseeing the entire state university system.
As he did at Columbia/HCA, Scott made sure the board established a system of metrics, in this case performance-based funding for universities.
Last year, the University of Florida — a university that receives additional state money for meeting certain standards — was the first state school to break into U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 for best public universities.
Scott has also pushed a similar program for cancer centers in the state, tying funding to specific criteria.
“Rick Scott believes that if you measure, you will succeed, and if you don’t measure, you will fail,” Levine said. “I saw it work at Columbia/HCA. And it worked in Florida.”
‘Not business as usual’: Health lobbyists brace for Bernie Sanders
Sanders’ well-chronicled antagonism toward lobbyists has some concerned they’ll be unable to blunt criticism of their clients’ profits or corporate executive salaries.
PUBLISHED: JAN 3, 2023 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JAN 21, 2023
Health care lobbyists representing insurers, drugmakers and a range of powerful industry interests are steeling themselves for a Senate chair immune to their usual charms — Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont independent is set to take over the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next month. Leading the panel gives the Medicare-for-All proponent oversight authority over some of his policy priorities — drug pricing, workers’ rights and income inequality, and student and medical debt.
But Sanders’ well-chronicled antagonism toward lobbyists has some concerned they’ll be unable to blunt criticism of their clients’ profits or corporate executive salaries. They are anxious Sanders might seek to revive policies like importing drugs from Canada and other nations, an idea loathed by drugmakers.
Lobbyists also worry they’ll struggle to get traction on any push to make changes to a drug discount program involving pharmaceutical companies and hospitals or revisit association health plans after a Trump-era rule around them was voided.
“This will not be business as usual for K Street. It will be harder for companies to get in and make a case,” said Michaeleen Crowell, a lobbyist at lobbying and public affairs firm S-3 Group who served as Sanders’ chief of staff for more than five years. “The culture in the office is one where lobbyists are mistrusted, and they’re more likely to discount what they hear directly from companies.”
POLITICO spoke to more than a dozen lobbyists and lawyers about having Sanders at the helm of the HELP Committee, some of whom were granted anonymity to talk about the senator’s dynamic with K Street.
Multiple lobbyists representing health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, providers and health systems told POLITICO they’re going to have to “bank shot” their advocacy to get their messages across — lobbying other lawmakers on the committee and getting into the ears of progressive policymakers and left-leaning organizations.
“There are ways to get things passively on his radar if you know him well enough, if you know who he listens to or what he reads,” Crowell said.
Sanders’ office declined to respond to questions from POLITICO, including those about his relationship with lobbyists.
Lobbyists said another strategy could be working to insert favorable provisions into larger bills, lean on the panel’s House counterpart, the Energy and Commerce Committee, or go to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is stepping down as HELP Committee chair to head the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“It’s not status quo … we’re going to have to be creative with patient groups to get him to listen,” said a lobbyist with health system, health insurance and pharmaceutical clients granted anonymity to speak freely. “If I’m going to be completely honest, we’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Sanders has talked about working to boost access to care, lower drug costs, expand the health care workforce and raise wages, and possibly reach across the aisle. Sanders is also expected to push the jurisdictional bounds of the committee, potentially taking on issues such as the health impacts of climate change.
K Street will likely watch how often Sanders collaborates with the committee’s incoming ranking member, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), as the two have a history of working across the aisle. Although some lobbyists have floated policies around drug pricing and surprise billing as a possibility for them to find agreement, it’s not entirely clear if they’ll end up on the same page.
“There’s a good chance the committee becomes a one-legged duck, swimming in circles,” said a Republican lobbyist and former HELP Committee staffer granted anonymity to speak freely.
But if the two end up aligning on some issues, that could be a liability for some industry clients on K Street.
Jeff Forbes, co-founder of lobbying and public affairs firm Forbes Tate, said Sanders has a history of bipartisanship, particularly while chairing the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and will work to get stuff done — “the question is going to be what, and at whose expense?”
“Does corporate America have to worry? Of course they do,” he added. “Between a populist Republican like Cassidy and a left-wing chairman like Sanders, they’ll have plenty of anti-corporate areas of mutual interest.”
With the Senate majority comes subpoena power, and it’s almost certain that health executives will be called to testify before the committee — a reputational risk for corporations.
And conditions are ripe for the HELP Committee to beef up its hearings schedule: The panel has only a few must-do items next session — reauthorizing both pandemic preparedness legislation known as PAHPA and an animal drug user fee bill — and Democratic priorities aren’t expected to move, given the GOP-controlled House. This gives Sanders the runway to dig into any issue he wants.
Most senior members of Congress have relationships with K Street because lobbyists had worked for — or closely with — them while serving as Capitol Hill aides, have donated to their campaigns or otherwise have become close with their staff.
Sanders, meanwhile, isn’t rubbing elbows with executives and lobbyists at fundraisers and doesn’t have a “kitchen cabinet” of donor-advisers he talks with about policy, Crowell and others said. He’s sworn off all money from political action committees — even ones run by other senators and members of Congress — to his Senate campaigns.
Further, most of his staffers have a mix of experience working for him, progressive campaigns and nonprofits and share the aversion to downtown corporate lobbyists.
“The prospects of a Sanders-led HELP committee are refreshing and exciting,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist at Public Citizen who works on money-in-politics and ethics issues.
“The chairman will give everyone their due, including lobbyists representing the public’s interest, without being swayed by campaign cash,” he said. “Sanders’ new leadership position will help build some equity between the influence of the haves and have-nots, of which Public Citizen and other nonprofits more or less qualify as the latter.”
But one Democratic lobbyist who advocates before the HELP Committee, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the dynamic, said Sanders’ staff members rarely take people’s meetings.
“It’s hard to find a lobbyist [who] has had much success working with his staff. If the committee wants to be taken seriously on some very important issues, they’re going to need to be more open to talking with stakeholders — even ones [they] don’t like,” he said.
Not all lobbyists are so down on their prospects. Michael Strazzella, the leader of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s federal government relations practice, said he is optimistic about working with Sanders and his staff.
“He can be educated just like every other senator,” Strazzella said. “Influence is a strong word, to be honest, but I do believe that he is open to continuous education and understands the impact of new policies. … I don’t think he’s necessarily set in his ways about everything.”
Aside from his current staff, much of the dynamic with K Street will depend on who he brings in to work on the committee, several lobbyists told POLITICO.
Some hope it will be a departure from his traditional hiring patterns, but one lobbyist who has relationships with Sanders’ health care staff said he wants them to stick around.
“I just hope they stay because we at least know who we will be working with next year and can have conversations with them,” said the lobbyist, who was granted anonymity to speak about the relationship, in an email. “I worry about the staff changing some and not knowing any of the… players coming in and their approach to interacting with downtown.”