Gov. Kate Brown netted a $5,000 campaign contribution last month from the Centene Corporation, the Missouri Fortune 500 company behind the controversial takeover of Trillium Community Health Plan.
The $109 million sale of Agate Resources, the parent company of Trillium, made overnight millionaires of its investors, and the sale was predicated on the investment potential of Centene to siphon tax dollars away from providing healthcare to poor people in Lane County, including Eugene.
The St. Louis company is rumored to have its eyes on other coordinated care organizations, including Umpqua Health Alliance in Roseburg..
Centene’s generous support for Brown casts doubt on the ability of Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and other state healthcare leaders to reform the coordinated care organizations away from a for-profit model and toward a non-profit structure built on community control.
In her response, Brown campaign spokeswoman Liz Accola Meunier said tersely: “Contributions to Governor Brown's campaign have no bearing on her actions as governor.”
Brown supported campaign finance reform as Secretary of State, but has waffled since empowered as governor. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, derailed attempts to dilute the gusher of special interest cash that fuels Democratic campaigns and helps the party maintain power.
But the unlimited largesse of campaign contributions threatens to distort public policy in Oregon as politicians may feel less accountable to their constituents than their large campaign donors, who give not out of a sense of civic duty but as a tacit quid pro quo.
The governor, who was appointed in February 2015 after Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned, has raised $674,000 since the May 17 primary election, while her Republican opponent, Salem oncologist Dr. William “Bud” Pierce has raised $577,000 during that same time.
Brown’s campaign has been fueled by a mix of union, tribal, corporate and individual donations, while Pierce has funded roughly half his campaign through his own wealth and the rest from small individual donors.
Brown received $50,000 from the Oregon Education Association -- the state teacher’s union; $30,000 from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and $23,850 from the Democratic Governors Association.
The Coalition for a Healthy Oregon, an alliance of physician and hospital groups who manage the coordinated care organizations, has been fractured, with the Salem doctors backing Pierce, one of their own, while the All Care Physicians PAC in southern Oregon is sticking with Brown, giving her $20,000. In addition to its Medicaid program, All Care has a lucrative contract with the Public Employee Benefits Board in the Medford area.
Corporate interests supporting Brown include timber giant Weyerhaeuser and AT&T with $5,000 each; Coca-Cola, Facebook and Bank of America with $2,500 apiece; pharmaceutical giant Merck with $1,500 and French drug company Sanofi-Aventis with $1,000.
Despite the corporate support, this week Brown endorsed Measure 97, which slaps corporations with a 2.5 percent tax on Oregon revenues for companies with more than $25 million in sales. Pierce opposes Measure 97 despite a pittance of campaign funding from large corporations.
Additionally, the Oregon Nurses Association gave $3,500 since the primary and the Low Income Dental PAC -- financed by the dentists of Advantage Dental -- supported Brown with $1,000.
Brown has raised $160,000 since May 17 in donations of $1,000 or less, primarily from regular Oregon citizens.
Pierce, who had already put up more than $700,000, reported another $263,000 in donations from himself and his wife, Selma. The Salem physicians’ PAC, Doctors for Healthy Communities, earlier gave him $50,000, but in recent filings, Pierce reported primarily small individual donations along with $100,000 from three sources -- Bonaventure Senior Living, $50,000; Mountain West Investment Corp., $25,000; and Salem developer Larry Tokarski, $25,000.
Chris can be reached at [email protected]