WellPoint Refuses Further Disclosure of Toxic Political Spending
WellPoint executives hemmed and hawed at questions pertaining to political spending at Wednesday’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Health plan members and union leaders, who represent members with WellPoint health insurance, wanted to ask CEO Angela Braly why the company spends money to influence policy that contradicts their business model. Outside a group of people wearing white jumpsuits labeled “WellPoint cleanup crew” took care of the toxic money coming from the company’s political spending. They were denied entry to the hotel and had to leave the toxic mess upstairs.
“WellPoint and its subsidiaries give financial support to the anti-union governors of Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, who are trying to nullify the Affordable Care Act and roll back workers’ right to bargain for a better life,” said the organization Health Care for America Now.
The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, mandates individuals to purchase health insurance and thus providing millions of more customers to companies like WellPoint. Nonetheless, WellPoint’s CEO serves on the board of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a group that contributed $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fight against health insurance reform. This despite the company endorsing key provisions the chamber was against.
Three-quarters of their political contributions went to Republicans in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Chief architect of the Republican budget agenda, Paul Ryan, received $15,000 in the last two cycles alone. Ryan proposed a budget that would essentially do away with Medicare and has blasted Obama’s health care plan. WellPoint has spent $4.4 million dollars on campaign contributions since the 2006 cycle, according to records from OpenSecrets.
“They use our money to fund other organizations that are fighting collective bargaining rights, workers’ rights, and immigration rights,” said Michael Torres, AFSCME Local 3395 that represents Indianapolis librarians. Torres and others were able to ask questions during a question and answer session at the end of the meeting after everything had already been voted on. Not content with that, one person took to the mic and encouraged shareholders to vote against the board. Michael Pryce-Jones, of CTW Investment Group, wanted to speak to the shareholders about a few of the board members’ conflicts of interest. He was denied the opportunity and escorted out of the meeting by security. More on the group’s reasoning can be found here in the pdf and in a short interview with Pryce-Jones below.
As it stands, WellPoint does not have a committee to oversee its political spending. This can lead to serious conflicts of interest without proper oversight. It also serves as a cause of why WellPoint participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act when the company endorsed it.
One shareholder presented Braly with 15,000 signatures on a petition asking for more disclosure. The vote on greater disclosure took place prior to the open question and answer session. Shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the idea of greater disclosure but then again, most shares tend to be held by executives.
Between 60 and 70 people marched outside of the hotel chanting “WellPoint get off it. People over politics.” “This is what democracy looks like.” Meanwhile, a large balloon blimp calling for a stop to corporate greed floated above. At roughly 9 a.m., the meeting adjourned and executives walked out glaring at the protesters. Activist shareholders soon followed and led a march to WellPoint’s headquarters a couple blocks away. The insurance company has nearly 34 million customers, trailing only UnitedHealth Group, and runs Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates in 14 states.
WellPoint security locked down the building as protesters carried yellow tape declaring a quarantine of the area due to the toxic money that dropped from the balloon.
“They skirted around the issues,” said Dave Wallace, President AFSCME, Local 1117 in Los Angeles. “I wanted to ask why they are using our members premiums to fund legislation that will cause our demise.”
Over the last four years, Braly has received $21.63 million in total compensation while the stock price of her company has dropped three percent. No word on what they have received on their investment of $4.4 million to dozens of federal politicians but things look good for the company… just not for the people.
Photo by Aaron Krager