Thursday, December 14, 2017
Business

Campaign money doesn't always buy happiness for big Florida donors

TALLAHASSEE — Health insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida gave more money to Florida campaigns than any other single entity in the 2012 election cycle — $4.8 million — and the company is already the largest contributor in the current cycle, a Times/Herald analysis has found.

Company officials say the contributions, which include $867,000 sent to Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature since January, are an investment in like-minded candidates as Blue Cross works toward implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

But when it comes to the company's top priority — the expansion of Medicaid to cover 1-million more uninsured Floridians — the health care giant's out-sized investment has fallen flat.

Legislators walked away from extending Medicaid coverage to Florida residents at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level after House leaders fiercely resisted the option. Blue Cross Blue Shield, doing business as Florida Blue, contracts with the state to run a Medicaid managed care program, which was expected to get $50 billion over 10 years through Medicaid expansion.

"With regard to Medicaid, we do have a difference of opinion with a lot of the folks we have supported in the past,'' said Jason Altmire, vice president of public policy government and community affairs for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. He said the company hopes to come back next session and renew the pitch for Medicaid expansion.

But Blue Cross Blue Shield is not the only company to invest heavily in the political process, only to have its top legislative priority thwarted in the past year.

Hospitals, nursing homes and the ill-fated Internet cafe industry all made heavy investments in the governor and legislators this year but went home empty.

Meanwhile, other large donors, such as U.S. Sugar, the Florida Optometry Association and the Florida Medical Association saw their political investments pay off as lawmakers passed long-sought legislation to make it easier for them to do business in Florida.

A common denominator for most of those turned away: the Florida House, where most of the initiatives of the top contributors went to die.

"I didn't keep track; I don't know if we were responsible for killing those bills or not,'' said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "If it goes against our principles — like Medicaid expansion — I don't care how much they gave. It has to be right for Florida."

By contrast, big contributors seemed to more easily move their agenda through the Senate.

A bill to make it more difficult to sue nursing homes for neglect was a top priority of the nursing home industry, which gave more than $1 million in the last cycle. The bill passed every committee in the Senate but was never heard in the House.

The Internet cafe industry started the session with high hopes after having donated more than $1.4 million to legislators over the last two years. The House had passed legislation last year to outlaw their machines, but the Senate resisted.

But things changed when authorities arrested the owners and operators of Allied Veterans of Florida, a purported charity organization that officials said secretly operated electronic slot machines across the state.

In other cases, top contributors succeeded by playing defense, fending off legislation they opposed.

Florida Power & Light, which gave $2.6 million in the 2012 election cycle and is the second top contributor this year with $717,000, succeeded in persuading legislators to water down legislation that would repeal the fee attached to electric bills that pays for controversial nuclear power plants before they are built.

Disney, which gave $2.7 million in the 2012 campaign season, persuaded lawmakers to pass a bill that would override efforts by Orlando officials to enact local wage and benefits laws.

And Blue Cross Blue Shield succeeded in persuading legislators to kill a proposal to eliminate a tax credit for the insurance industry and use the money to roll back increases in fees for drivers' licenses and auto tags, a proposal that would have cost Florida Blue policyholders $35 million a year, Altmire said.

Both Florida Blue and FPL are among the top contributors who have also steered money to Scott's political committee as it awaits important decisions from the executive branch.

Two weeks after Scott announced his support for Medicaid expansion, Blue Cross Blue Shield sent his political committee, Let's Get to Work, $237,500.

Shortly after the Public Service Nominating Council announced its schedule for selecting the candidates for the Public Service Commission (Scott can appoint two seats), FPL sent $250,000.

And Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance, which was given $52 million to take over 60,000 policies from Citizens Property Insurance in a controversial deal, sent the governor $110,000.

Weatherford said top contributors don't always win.

"What most people want is an opportunity to tell their story,'' he said. "They're making an investment in you. You're not making an investment in them."

Comments
Soccer store opens on Gunn Highway, just in time for the World Cup

Soccer store opens on Gunn Highway, just in time for the World Cup

Even though the United States Men’s soccer team didn’t qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, that hasn’t diminished local fans’ excitement about the upcoming international event.Ariel Martinez, owner of Best Buy Soccer and Lacrosse, has already receiv...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa chamber names first companies for minority business accelerator

Tampa chamber names first companies for minority business accelerator

TAMPA — Four firms in marketing, construction and secure cash logistics will be the first to go to through a new Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce program designed to help black- and Hispanic-owned companies grow their businesses through two years of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Two Tampa-area widowers whose wives died of ovarian cancer are suing Johnson & Johnson, joining nearly 5,000 other plaintiffs across the country who blame their illness on the daily use of the pharmaceutical company’s talcum powder.Bryan Isa’s wife T...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FCC votes down Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules

FCC votes down Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules

NEW YORK — The Federal Communications Commission has voted on party lines to undo sweeping Obama-era "net neutrality" rules that guaranteed equal access to internet.The agency’s Democratic commissioners dissented in the 3-2 vote Thursday.The FCC’s ne...
Updated: 3 hours ago
From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

You don’t have to stare at a greeting card to picture a bustling old main street lined with decorated shops and lampposts. Historic small-town shopping districts are easy to find, and more charming than Walmart. Beyond the downtowns of St. Pet...
Updated: 3 hours ago
American Social booming on Harbour Island

American Social booming on Harbour Island

HARBOUR ISLAND — Downtowners, conventioneers, hockey fans, concert-goers and anyone hungry for waterfront dining are discovering American Social Bar & Kitchen on Harbour Island. Panoramic views, accessible boat slips and walkability to Amalie Arena a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
A healthy dining option opens in Downtown Tampa

A healthy dining option opens in Downtown Tampa

SOUTH TAMPA— Vale Food Co., a health food restaurant, hopes to make its mark on the bay area foodie scene with the opening of its first location in Tampa.In 2014, Sunny Ilyas was a Florida State student trying to find an affordable, healthy meal for ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Tampa Bay is above average in minority homeownership

Tampa Bay ranks 22nd among the nation’s 45 largest metro areas in the percentage of minority homeowners. According to Abodo, an online apartment marketplace, 46.2 percent of minorities in the bay area own their homes, which have an average value of $...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Seafood variety comes to Westchase

Seafood variety comes to Westchase

WESTCHASE — Tony Bartolo is well aware of what Westchase locals say about the location of his new restaurant, The Seafood Exchange. The spot in Westchase Town Center is notorious for a continual string of unsuccessful restaurants that have opened and...
Updated: 5 hours ago