When Americans hear the word "pioneer," they think of the intrepid 18th and 19th century souls who journeyed into untamed territory in search of a better life.
Mary Beth Savary Taylor aspires to be a pioneer, but her vision is a little different. She wants to attain "pioneer" status in fund-raising for President Bush, an honor one earns by raking in $100,000 in political contributions.
That's a perfectly legal thing to do, and if it aids Savary Taylor's pursuit of happiness, well, it's a free country. The only problem is that Savary Taylor has a day job: the American Hospital Association's vice president of executive branch relations in Washington. That means she is one of the AHA's lead lobbyists with the White House and executive departments and agencies. So when she hosts a fund-raiser for the Bush-Cheney campaign at a Republican club on Capitol Hill (Oct. 6, p. 6) and invites a bunch of AHA members to the affair who happen to be in town for a national meeting of the group's regional policy boards, some people might think that the soiree amounts to an AHA endorsement of the administration and its health policies.
Oh no, Savary Taylor protests. She tells reporters Jeff Tieman and Tony Fong that the AHA and her day job have nothing to do with the gathering. It's a strictly personal pioneering effort. In an evocation of family life on the prairie, she says she personally sent out the invitations and her daughter helped stamp them.
Which is good, because the AHA's policy is to stay out of presidential campaigns and the Federal Election Commission prohibits associations from making direct contributions to federal campaigns.
Rules and rhetoric aside, this episode recalls a line from a Monty Python sketch: "Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more." With its lobbyist hosting the party, the AHA might as well have hung its flag outside the Capitol Hill Club and set off fireworks to spell out A-H-A over the Mall.
Of course, the AHA has several reasons to thank the Bush administration. CMS chief Tom Scully, an official in both Bush administrations, has eased emergency-care requirements for hospitals, launched Medicare coverage of risky lung reduction surgery (See related story, p. 40), lowered the threshold for hospitals to qualify for outlier payments, abandoned requiring hospitals to conduct patient-satisfaction surveys and eased the compliance deadline for electronic transactions.
On the other hand, some AHA members might not be thrilled to support the Bush campaign. This administration has made no secret of where it is coming from ideologically. It views most U.S. domestic policy in the 20th century as a mistake, including Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other healthcare programs. Its drug benefit privatization plan is only a modest reflection of this outlook. Hospital officials have to wonder if the administration's philosophy and the industry's long-term welfare are compatible and if tacit AHA support through one of its lobbyists is a good idea.
In the meantime, Beltway mavens are apologizing for or even applauding Savary Taylor's subterfuge. One calls it a "smart move." Others say that's politics, Democratic or Republican, in the nation's capital-the way the game is played.
Well, that's probably true. But here's a radical thought: If Savary Taylor wants to be a real pioneer, to go where almost no one has gone before, why not chuck this corrupt campaign finance system the way our forefathers shed the shackles of their former lives? Stop playing games and devote your spare time to working for meaningful campaign reform. Break up the marriage of money and politics, and create transparency in the political process. That kind of pioneering would ensure a better life for our sons and our daughters.
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