Hospital Leaders Help Fund Effort to Aid Democrats

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The New York Sun

Since Senator Grassley launched an investigation of not-for-profit hospitals, a political action committee funded by the hospital’s trustees and executives has given tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to try to regain a Democratic majority in the Senate, which would have the effect of ousting Mr. Grassley from his post as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The hospital claims that the political action committee is independent of it. “The PAC is independent of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. I have no information about it and would not be the one to provide information,” a spokeswoman for the hospital, Kathleen Robinson, said.

But federal election records show that the treasurer of the political action committee, William Polf, is the hospital’s senior vice president for external relations. And virtually every one of the 170 donations to the political action committee disclosed in the federal election records come from a NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital trustee, doctor, or employee.

That is raising some questions for Mr. Grassley.

“Senator Grassley has been and continues to look at the political activities of nonprofits, exploring what is and is not appropriate. The relationship that you describe between the hospital and this PAC raises questions for us,” a spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee, Jill Gerber, told The New York Sun.

The political action committee’s contributors include donors known as Republican-leaning activists. NewYork-Presbyterian’s chairman, John J. Mack, who is chairman of the investment bank Morgan Stanley, was a “ranger” who raised more than $200,000 for President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. Another NewYork-Presbyterian trustee, real estate executive Peter Kalikow, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican causes in New York.

Mr. Kalikow has given $20,000 and Mr. Mack has given $10,000 to the Teaching Hospital Education Political Action Committee, the committee funded by NewYork-Presbyterian trustees and employees. The political action committee, in turn, has been giving overwhelmingly to Democrats. An analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that of the committee’s contributions to federal candidates, 82% of the money went to Democrats, and 18% went to Republicans. That analysis omits $30,000 in contributions from the Teaching Hospital Education Political Action Committee to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which seeks to win a Democratic majority in the Senate. Those contributions were in 2005 and 2006, and would tilt the percentage balance of the committee’s giving yet further toward the Democrats.

The Teaching Hospital Education Political Action Committee also transfers $3,000 a year — $18,000 since 2000 — to a committee controlled by Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat. That committee, the National Leadership PAC, gives only to Democratic candidates, including some running for Senate. Its treasurer, Basil Paterson, is the father of David Paterson, a Democrat who is Eliot Spitzer’s choice for lieutenant governor.

Not all the Teaching Hospital Education Political Action Committee’s donations go to Democrats. Senator Grassley, a Republican, himself received a $2,000 donation from the committee in 2003, before he launched his investigation of the not-for-profit hospital industry. New York hospital industry officials have argued in the past that because New York City’s congressional delegation is overwhelmingly Democratic, it is natural that Democrats would receive most of the industry’s political contributions.

And it is possible that the hospital would support Democrats for reasons other than Mr. Grassley’s investigation. The hospital has various interests in Washington, from Medicare reimbursement rates and subsidies for training physicians to the budget of the National Institutes of Health, legislation about electronic medical records, and malpractice reform.

Mr. Grassley had a hearing Wednesday on non-profit hospitals, nationwide, disclosing that many of them pay their executives millions of dollars a year, reimburse their executives for country-club memberships, and pay for first-class travel for their executives and their spouses to luxury resorts — even as the hospitals sue uninsured patients to recover the costs of medical services provided.

Mr. Grassley said his investigation had shown there is “often very little difference between for-profit and non-profit hospitals when it comes to serving the community.” He said, “Some non-profit hospital executives enjoy the best hotels and great meals, all subsidized by the taxpayer. I find it especially troubling that executive after executive is having country club dues paid for by non-profit hospitals.”

The Grassley investigation disclosed that one NewYork-Presbyterian executive who has since left the hospital, Dr. Michael Berman, took a trip to Tuscon, Ariz., in February 2002 that cost the hospital more than $8,000 for first-class airfare for him and his wife and for accommodations at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. That trip was on top of Dr. Berman’s $3.4 million in annual compensation. The hospital defended the expenditures.

While NewYork-Presbyterian’s trustees and executives are giving through their political action committee to help Democrats take control of the Senate, the president of the Greater New York Hospital Association, Kenneth Raske, is hedging his bets. Mr. Raske, whose trade association represents the city’s hospitals, gave $1,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on March 24, 2005, the same week that the PAC funded by the NewYork-Presbyterian executives and trustees gave the DSCC $15,000. On July 31, 2006, Mr. Raske gave $1,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican counterpart of the DSCC, federal records show.The records show no similar contribution to the NRSC from the committee funded by the NewYork-Presbyterian trustees and executives.

The New York Sun

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