Contra Costa Times Examines Interaction Between Strategist, Administration Officials on Health Care, Other Issues
The Contra Costa Times on Friday examined interactions between Bob White, a political strategist and officials of the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), as well as White's potential influence on policy issues, including state nurse staffing rules and Medi-Cal reform.
According to the Times, White is classified as a strategist rather than a lobbyist, meaning that he does not "directly push for changes in state policy." As a result of that classification, "White has an advantage lobbyists don't" have in that he is not required to disclose the corporate clients of his consulting firm, California Strategies. The legal distinction allows White to "go to bat for [clients] by taking advantage of narrowly defined state lobbying laws to influence the Schwarzenegger administration," according to the Times.
White's "business dealings are raising questions about whether his close relationship to the Schwarzenegger administration is tilting major state decisions in favor of his clients," according to the Times. Such a relationship "could pose a political conundrum for Schwarzenegger, who ran on a pledge to bring a new level of integrity to the state Capitol," the Times reports.
Four days after Schwarzenegger was elected governor, White had dinner with California Hospital Association President C. Duane Dauner and then Schwarzenegger campaign manager Pat Clarey, who now serves as the governor's chief of staff, according to the Times.
The Times reports that White worked with CHA to address the state nurse staffing rule, which CHA opposed.
Dauner said the group did not discuss state nurse staffing rules at the dinner.
Schwarzenegger ordered a delay in compliance with the rules, but a state court reversed the order.
The governor's action on the nurse staffing rule "has proved to be one of the most politically charged issues of the Schwarzenegger administration."
In another instance, White had lunch with Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshe and Kathryn Lowell, then an executive at consulting firm Maximus, around the time Maximus' $200 million contract with HHSA was set to expire.
HHSA spokesperson Nicole Kasabian Evans said the state decided to extend the Maximus contract for one year in March 2004 and a state official approved the contract extension three days before the lunch. Two weeks after the lunch, the Department of Health Services gave final approval to the contract.
Maximus also has a contract worth $400 million to administer Healthy Families and the Access for Infants and Mothers program. In addition, Schwarzenegger's proposed fiscal year 2005-2006 state budget includes policy changes that would increase Maximus' work in the state, according to the .
Lowell said there was no connection between the contract renewal and the lunch. "It wasn't even part of the discussion. There's no linkage," she said.
Maximus has since disclosed that it is being investigated for possibly defrauding the federal health care system, the Times reports.
Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said, "White's previous role with both [Gov. and U.S. Sen. Pete] Wilson (R) and Schwarzenegger suggest that when he's hired as a consultant it is for much more than just providing strategy; it's for providing access." She added, "He provides his clients with specific access to administrative and elected officials that he has developed relationships with. That ought to fall within the scrutiny of coverage of rules by the Fair Political Practices Commission."
White released a statement saying that his firm takes "seriously our responsibility to our clients and to the public to strictly adhere to every applicable law and reporting requirement" (Nissenbaum, Contra Costa Times, 5/20).