If you think the only people attending Democratic fund-raising "coffees" at the White House are Far Eastern businessmen and Wall Street financiers, you're wrong. A number of healthcare executives also met with Clinton administration officials.
Some of those executives are also big donors to the Democratic Party.
The issue of who came to the White House and when has become front-page news as Congress has begun inquiries into how the nation's political campaigns are financed. After questions were raised about meetings at the White House, called "coffees" on official White House documents, the Clinton administration released a list of everyone who came to sip java.
It should be noted upfront that, although federal laws prohibit solicitations at the White House, lawmakers haven't alleged that anything that occurred at any of the "coffees" was illegal. In fact, such quasi-fund-raising affairs are commonplace.
"This is the way business is done in Washington; it's no big deal," said Frederick Graefe, a healthcare lawyer and lobbyist with Baker & Hostetler in Washington. "There is definitely a difference in quantity. This administration may have done more of these, but everyone does it."
Donald Fowler, former co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the Boston Globe that there was no fund raising at the "coffees."
"They wouldn't get the message at the meeting," Fowler said. "Somebody would call them (later) and ask them. One would be naive to say that the call was purely coincidental."
Some of the White House meetings were policy-oriented functions. For example, on March 12, 1996, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton met with nearly a dozen doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals about children's health issues.
John Lewin, M.D., executive vice president of the California Medical Association, who attended the March 12 coffee, said it was strictly business.
"Coffee wasn't even available," Lewin said. "For me, it was not a campaign-related thing."
Richard Pollack, executive vice president of federal relations for the American Hospital Association, attended a coffee on Nov. 21, 1995. Pollack said the White House called the meeting for members of the Democratic National Committee's "Business Council," the name given to those who donate more than $10,000 to the DNC. The AHA also is a member of the Republican National Committee's "Team 100" for those who donate at least $100,000 to the RNC.
"I'm honored to know I'm on the list, but this wasn't anything out of the ordinary," Pollack said.
Other events had more of a fund-raising flavor to them, with attendance by DNC fund-raisers and finance personnel.
On Nov. 1, 1995, Humana Chairman David Jones met with the president, DNC co-chairmen Fowler and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), and a half-dozen other White House and DNC staff members. That day, Humana donated $35,000 to the DNC, according to Federal Election Commission records.
On four occasions-Jan. 25, 1996; Dec. 21, 1995; Dec. 18, 1995; and Dec. 15, 1995-Integrated Health Services Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Elkins, M.D., attended meetings with White House and DNC officials, including President Clinton and Fowler. From Dec. 20, 1995, to April 26, 1996, Elkins and Integrated, a post-acute provider based in Owings Mills, Md., made four contributions to the DNC of $50,000, $50,000, $50,000 and $75,000.
When contacted, Elkins said he had no comment on the meetings or contributions.
Several other long-term-care and subacute-care providers had coffee at the White House (See chart, p. 34).
John Foster, CEO of NovaCare, a King of Prussia, Pa.-based rehabilitation services company, visited the White House June 1, 1995, for a meeting with Vice President Al Gore and several DNC officials, according to the White House. Less than two months later, NovaCare donated $15,000 to the DNC, followed later by donations of $15,000 and $20,000.
A Foster spokeswoman said Foster was unavailable for comment.
InPhyNet Medical Management spokeswoman Margaret Pearson said her company's $10,000 contribution to the Democrats was unrelated to a fall 1995 visit to the White House by Marta Prado, the company's senior vice president and chief operating officer for managed care.
Pearson said Prado is "very active" in the Democratic Party and has visited the White House multiple times.
"We don't encourage or discourage officers or employees to support political parties, so whatever anyone does is on their own accord," Pearson said.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based physician practice management company recently agreed to be acquired by Birmingham, Ala.-based MedPartners.