Debate over strict limits on hospital sales in Rhode Island was a top issue in the state's 1997 General Assembly session and a strong source of income for lobbyists.
Healthcare groups paid more than $240,000 to fight a bill that restricted for-profit companies looking to enter the Rhode Island healthcare market and gave state regulators sweeping powers over all hospitals. The legislation was enacted over Gov. Lincoln Almond's veto.
The firm that spent the most on lobbyists was the one that inspired the bill.
Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. paid about $104,000 to lawyers from the firm of McGovern, Noel & Benik, and to lawyer Thomas Hanley. It also spent more than $425,000 on advertisements to sway public opinion. The ads are not considered a lobbying expense under Rhode Island law.
The Nashville-based for-profit giant hoped to buy Roger Williams Medical Center in Providence but dropped the plan after the bill became law and the company became the target of a federal fraud probe.
Lifespan, Rhode Island's largest not-for-profit hospital system, spent about $80,000 on lawyers William Farrell, Joseph Walsh, Thomas Hogan and other lobbyists.
Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., which is seeking state approval to buy Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, paid about $52,000 to public relations specialists David Preston, Frank McMahon and John Longo.
Rhode Island relies on self-disclosure by lobbyists when compiling the reports. There is no way to verify whether a lobbyist reports all his salary and expenditures.
Louis DeSimone, legal counsel for the secretary of state's office, said he was surprised no lobbyists reported buying a meal worth more than $25 for a state lawmaker.
Several veteran lobbyists told the Providence Journal-Bulletin that dinners for legislators in hotels and clubs are no longer organized. "I think lobbying is more information-driven nowadays," said Joseph Walsh, a Lifespan lobbyist.
George Nee, Statehouse lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, said organized labor no longer pays for dinner for committee members.
Another lobbyist, who asked that his name not be used, told the Journal that a seasoned lobbyist would never reveal in disclosure reports that a lawmaker had accepted a lavish meal.