Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Colleen Hanabusa Broke The Law Selling Her Soul To Drug Lobbyists


Hanabusa and the crooked husband have their sites set on the U.S. Senate

Tuesday afternoon we looked at what a mistake it is to compromise ideals with craven corporate interests and the political hacks they finance. In fact we honed in particularly on health care reform and the corporate battle against it. We concentrated on Republicans, of course, but Matea Gold, writing for the Washington Post highlights the unfolding health care scandal swirling around one of Congress' most corrupt and conservative New Dems, Colleen Hanabusa, the EMILY's List and drug lobbyists' candidate to displace progressive Senator Brian Schatz in Hawai'i.
A senior aide to Rep. Colleen W. Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) told his colleagues late last month that the nation’s top drug lobby had agreed to run a campaign supporting the congresswoman’s challenge to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and wanted to coordinate it with her strategists.

Such an effort, described in an e-mail obtained by the Washington Post, could run afoul of campaign finance laws, which prohibit candidates and their staff from substantial discussions with interest groups about their independent political activities.

Officials with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Hanabusa’s campaign denied that the group had offered to run such an effort but acknowledged talks about a possible fundraiser for Hanabusa and about the state of the race in general.

Campaign officials blamed the e-mail on a misinformed staffer.

“He made inaccurate assumptions about the type of help PhRMA could provide the campaign,” campaign spokesman Peter Boylan said.

Matt Bennett, a spokesman for PhRMA, said officials there did not offer to do a campaign on Hanabusa’s behalf. But he said the group had “preliminary” discussions about hosting an industry fundraiser for Hanabusa through its political action committee.

He also said that a PhRMA lobbyist had spoken with Jennifer Sabas, a top Hanabusa campaign adviser, but that they had talked only about the state of the Democratic primary campaign in Hawaii.

“They discussed the race and what’s happening on the ground,” Bennett said.

Boylan echoed that, saying Sabas did not provide PhRMA with any information “that would constitute coordination in violation of the law.”

But Clay Schroers, Schatz’s campaign manager, said the arrangement the e-mail outlines “is a deeply troubling situation, and Rep. Hanabusa clearly owes the people of Hawaii an explanation.”

The e-mail was sent June 28 from the Gmail account of Hanabusa’s deputy chief of staff, Christopher Raymond, to Sabas, Boylan and Rod Tanonaka, the congresswoman’s chief of staff. The Post obtained it from a person who received a copy and requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the contents.

The message described a practice that is often suspected but rarely revealed: interest groups coordinating their putatively independent efforts with the candidates they are backing.

“As I’m sure you have heard, PhRMA has committed to pulling together an independent expenditure on CH’s behalf,” Raymond wrote. “Nick Shipley (Government Relations VP) and Bob Phillipone (Senior VP) are the leads on this and would like to be put in touch with folks on the campaign. After having talked with Nick about this a little more, and based on our discussion, I came to the conclusion that is it the three of you the he would like to be in touch with. I am going to give him your email address so he can be in touch. I didn’t feel comfortable giving out your phone numbers.

“Should you be contacted by Nick or Bob please know they are good democrats,” he concluded.

Boylan said that soon after the e-mail was sent, Raymond and other staffers were reminded that it was inappropriate to communicate with groups about independent expenditures.

...Election-law experts said the kind of direct coordination described in the e-mail could violate campaign finance regulations if PhRMA ended up paying for an expenditure supporting Hanabusa’s candidacy. While groups can contribute up to $5,000 directly to a candidate through political action committees, they cannot have “substantial discussions” with a candidate or candidate’s staff about independent political activities.

“That most certainly, without a doubt, treads into very dangerous legal waters,” said Paul Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that advocates for stricter campaign finance rules.

Other campaign finance lawyers said it is difficult to prove illegal coordination, an area of the law that the Federal Election Commission has long struggled to define. Nonetheless, campaigns typically have strict rules barring interaction with independent groups.

...Hanabusa shares PhRMA’s opposition to proposals that would require drug companies to provide rebates for medications that low-income beneficiaries obtain through Medicare.

Schatz, the incumbent senator whom Hanabusa is challenging, takes the opposite view. In April, Schatz co-sponsored legislation by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) to require such rebates.

“Senator Schatz stands by his position because it’s the right thing to do for Hawaii, and how that may influence outside groups is simply not a consideration for the senator,” Schroers said.
Hanabusa is generally considered one of the two or three most corrupt politicians in Hawai'i and it is widely known that her husband has been a bag man for interests hoping to bribe her. Between the inability to shy away from her corrupt nature and her conservative stand on Choice and health care reform, she's a perfect patsy for the drug lobbyists seeking to weaken and destroy the Affordable Care Act. Blue America has endorsed Brian Schatz for reelection. If you'd like to help keep Hanabusa and the drug lobbyists out of the Senate, you can make a contribution to his campaign here.

Last week the Honolulu Civil Beat highlighted the policy differences between Hanabusa and Schatz in regards to Big Pharma. Schatz is co-sponsing a bill in the Senate which would reduce federal Medicare spending and cut the overall federal debt by making drug companies pay a rebate to the federal government.
Among its supporters is the AARP, which argues the rebates are preferable to other Medicare cost-cutting measures like raising the co-pays or increasing age requirements for Medicare recipients.

However, Hanabusa, who is running against Schatz for his Senate seat, has opposed the idea, signing a letter last year saying drug companies would pass on the cost of the rebate to consumers.

...Rockefeller’s proposal, supported by Schatz, would alter the way outpatient prescription drugs are handled for people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. Before the Medicare Modernization Act of 2006, people who qualified for both programs had their medication covered through Medicaid. Drug companies paid the federal government a rebate to keep down federal Medicaid costs.

Under the 2006 law, people got their drugs through Medicare, Part D. The changes affected about 32,000 Hawaii residents who are eligible for both programs. Under the new system, the recipients can sign up for a private prescription health plan. In theory, drug companies offer health plans a discount on the cost of medicine instead of a rebate. Those discounts lower the amount the federal government pays the health plans to subsidize the cost of offering the drugs. The drug companies, meanwhile, still offer rebates to the federal government in order to be made available to Medicaid patients.

But a Kaiser Foundation report noted that drug companies are giving smaller discounts than what they used to pay in the form of rebates, “which means that Medicare pays higher prices than Medicaid would for low-income enrollees," the report stated.

In the context of calls to reduce the federal deficit through reforming entitlements, Rockefeller’s plan would make drug companies pay the higher rebate amount for Medicare recipients. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the move would save Medicare $137 billion over 10 years.

The AARP’s Romasco told the Senate committee Thursday that they should cut drug costs instead of changing age requirements or raising co-payments.

“We should focus on efforts to hold down costs, not efforts that simply shift costs in the form of higher premiums or copayments for beneficiaries,” Romasco said.

Schatz, in a statement supporting Rockefeller’s bill, said, “The bill will save more than $140 billion for taxpayers. This is a balanced, common sense approach that will generate savings while protecting Hawaii’s seniors, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to get it passed.”

As expected, drug companies are lobbying against the measure. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has already spent $5.3 million on lobbying Congress this year-- the fifth largest of any group.
Nor is this the first time Hanabusa has been a shill for the drug lobbyists. In June 2011, she voted for passage of the Republican bill written by the Pharma lobbyists meant to overhaul the U.S. patent system, changing how patents are awarded, reviewed and challenged. It would change the basis for awarding patents from a "first to invent" to a "first to file" standard. According to an analysis in Wired last March, "the majority of the cost of a patent remains in the fees associated with having it written up by a qualified lawyer, and opponents worry that first-to-file will favor big companies that can afford to apply for more patents, more quickly."

Generally speaking, Members of Congress who take legalistic bribes from Pharma voted for this and those watching out for the public good, voted against it. Hanabusa and most of the corrupt New Dems and Blue Dogs joined the Republicans and other corrupt Democrats in backing it. Members better known for their integrity and their concern for regular working families-- like Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ron Paul (R-TX), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mke Honda (D-CA), Donna Edwards (D-MD), John Conyers (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA)... even Nancy Pelosi-- voted against the bill.

Again, you can contribute to Schatz's campaign here.

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