The 11 Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen. Johnny Isakson, of Georgia, the ranking member, sent a letter to Sebelius seeking “details of a fundraising scheme in which she has solicited funds from the health care companies she regulates to help launch Obamacare.”
“Soliciting funds from the very companies or organizations that the Department of Health and Human Services regulates could be a serious conflict of interest,” the letter said. “Companies and organizations should never be pressured for money because it sends the message that contributions are necessary to secure favorable regulatory decisions — creating a ‘pay to play’ environment — or to avoid regulatory reprisals. This is even more pronounced in this instance because the individuals that you were allegedly contacting to solicit donations head up the same entities who may have bid to participate in the marketplace exchanges.”
Two House committees immediately launched investigations into the secretary’s fundraising efforts. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and five other panel members dispatched a letter to Sebelius on May 13 notifying her that it is probing reports that she is soliciting donations from private companies.
The letter notes that HHS holds sway over health insurance companies since the department can grant “approval to qualify for the health exchanges established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act so that they may attempt to sell their services to the public when enrollment begins in a few months. Your agency also has the power to review the insurance rates that providers wish to charge.”
Upton also sent a letter to 12 companies with ties to the healthcare industry, including Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, and United Healthcare, to determine if they were solicited by the secretary.
The House Ways and Means Committee also is weighing in, seeking information from Sebelius about her activities and maintaining that she is “scrambling to find funding from sources the law did not authorize.” The lawmakers, led by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said there exists a “clear appearance of a conflict of interest.’’
“Your fundraising from groups that may apply to receive federal grants…creates the appearance that giving the money to meet Obamacare’s funding needs will result in more favorable consideration for a grant application,” the letter said.
But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, stepped up to defend Sebelius, telling reporters on Thursday that “there is a responsibility to do outreach.” The secretary was responding to “hundreds of millions of dollars spent during the debate misrepresenting, mischaracterizing — I don’t like to use this word lying — about what was in or not in the Affordable Care Act.”
“And so, no, I don’t have any problem with her (Sebelius) doing that,” she said.
Meanwhile, Think Progress, a publication of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, maintains that Alexander, one of the most vocal Sebelius critics, raised private donations in support of education reform while serving as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
According to the report, Alexander raised the money after Congress refused to fund Bush’s America 2000 initiative, an effort that eventually failed.