A Peek Inside a PAC

Update: Yes, the folks at the Commonwealth Future PAC, the subject of this post, are also behind the controversial ad accusing Martha Coakley of condoning child abuse, which debuted on October 1.

As reported last week in the Globe, the folks at the Commonwealth Future PAC have spent $3.6 million so far in the race for governor, rooting for Team Baker to beat Team Coakley.

Thanks to campaign finance disclosure legislation passed in August, which requires PAC’s to disclose their top five donors, we know that the top contributor to the Commonwealth Future PAC is the Republican Governors Association. (And if your speculations run up the food chain and you’re wondering who’s the top donor to the Republican Governors Association, that would be the Brothers Koch.) The Republican Governors Association donated $1.35 million of the first $1.37 million that the Commonwealth Future PAC collected — 98.5 percent. Here’s a funny story: the PAC tried to spin the Republican Governors’ hugely outsized donation by pointing out that “all the top five donors to the PAC, with the exception of the governors group, are Massachusetts residents.” As David Bernstein observed, this was like “bringing in a ringer for the corporate basketball tournament and saying ‘all the players on our roster, except Paul Pierce, are company employees.'”

Commonwealth Future Pac is spending much of its considerable cash on TV ads portraying Martha Coakley as a career politician without a plan. Among the plans she lacks is that perennial GOP crowd-pleaser, a plan to fix welfare. Coakley has done nothing about this problem, the ad intones, despite widespread evidence of abuse.

Those of us who live outside the closed information loop that is the Republican party these days understand that this “widespread evidence” is the story reverberating over and over again from the GOP echo chamber. And it’s a story impervious to facts.

First up, the $25 million annually in waste and fraud

CommFuturePAC
(If you’re thinking about looking up the Globe stories cited here, let me save you the trouble — nothing there.)

This $25 million myth goes back to a report that the Inspector General issued last year, which makes no such finding. The Inspector General looked only to see that all the documents necessary to demonstrate eligibility were in the case file. In just under nine percent of the case files he examined, one or more documents was missing. (In about three-quarters of these cases, the missing verifications pertained to school attendance or immunization records.) Extrapolating from this finding, the Inspector General identified “potential eligibility concerns” worth about $25 million. The report did not say that in these cases the families were in fact ineligible for benefits. On the contrary, it said expressly that the required verifications, once obtained, might prove that all these families were eligible.

Despite this careful explanation, the report was widely understood as having concluded that “$25 million in taxpayer money is going to welfare recipients who aren’t eligible” (see, for example, the Boston Herald, 2/15/13). Because, so often, self-righteous indignation at the victims of hardship is just a lot more fun than the truth.

Something that the Commonwealth Future ad doesn’t mention, for obvious reasons: in 2005, the Auditor’s office took a look at the records of Governor Romney’s welfare department and found that not all required verifications were included in recipient files — in fact, Romney’s agency got a lower grade than Patrick’s did. But beyond a tut-tut from the Globe editorial board about the importance of accurate paperwork, the 2005 report attracted no attention at all.

*****

While we’re on the subject of the Attorney General’s alleged indolence, let us note that in the past seven years her office has recovered more than $385 million in fraud committed by providers rather than recipients of services. That’s 15 times the value of the potential fraud identified in the Inspector General’s report.

A representative case from last year: Big Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson agreed to settle charges brought by the federal Department of Justice and 45 states that it had encouraged physicians and pharmacies — through direct payments and kickbacks – to prescribe and promote drugs for uses that had not been approved as safe or effective. Drugs like Risperdal, which J&J promoted to nursing homes to control disruptive behaviors like agitation and impulsiveness in elderly patients with dementia, while declining to disclose that the drug could also cause serious health problems — including an increased risk of strokes — in those patients.

Under this settlement, Massachusetts alone received $62.5 million in fines and penalties — and that is only a fraction of the money the state’s Medicaid program paid in false claims for Risperdal.

If a person in poverty is accused of taking taxpayer money, that’s a crime. If a corporation admits to taking taxpayer money and to putting elders at risk by drugging them, that’s just business.

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