Pamplin Media Group

As spending on lobbying increases, transparency remains murky

FIRST IN A SERIES

SALEM — Businesses, special interest groups and governments have increasingly invested in lobbying Oregon lawmakers and other state officials over the last nine years. And based on spending data from the state, those groups appear to have concluded lobbying is a good investment: reported annual spending on lobbying increased 15 percent from 2007 to 2015, when adjusted for inflation.

EO MEDIA GROUP" class="caption" height="156" src="http://portlandtribune.com/images/artimg/00003547057341.jpg" style="margin-top: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP

EO MEDIA GROUP" width="116" />Yet despite the millions of dollars involved, it’s nearly impossible for Oregonians to get details on how lobbyists spend that money to achieve payoffs for their clients, because Oregon law allows lobbyists and their clients to disclose little information about how they influence state laws and spending.

The Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau categorized lobbying spending in Oregon by industry and sector using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks spending on lobbying by industry at the federal level. In total, groups spent more than $251 million on lobbying during the past nine years, according to state data.

The health care sector — whose ranks include nurses, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and doctors — reported spending the most on lobbying from 2007 through 2015, a total of $36.5 million. Next was the business sector, which spent $30.8 million, followed by finance, insurance and real estate interests that reported spending a total of $27.3 million on lobbying during the same period.

Restrictions on lobbying

Unlike several other states including Idaho, Oregon does not require lobbyists to disclose the specific bills or executive branch actions they seek to influence. Oregon lobbyists are only required to disclose food, drinks and entertainment purchased for a specific lawmaker or other state official if the cost exceeds $50 on a single occasion, and lobbyists do not have to report individual expenses reimbursed by their clients.

Until this year, the only way to know how much lobbyists and their clients were spending to entertain Oregon state officials was to request a copy of the paper reports filed with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

The agency launched a new electronic filing system for lobbyists late last year, but that system is not displaying certain spending details due to technical glitches. Even if the system were working correctly, however, it would likely provide only a small sample of lobbyists’ activities. Of the $35.9 million in reported spending last year, only $93,189 was explained in detailed reports.

These minimal reporting requirements contributed to Oregon receiving one of the lowest rankings in the nation for transparency in lobbying activity.

Last summer, the Sunlight Foundation evaluated how all 50 states track spending on lobbying and created a scorecard ranking the states. The foundation awarded Oregon an F grade, meaning lobbyists and their clients face fewer disclosure requirements than in most other states.

Most of Oregon’s neighbors received higher grades, from an A in California to a C in Idaho.

Emily Shaw, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation who was involved in the project, said the goal was to evaluate how much information states collected about lobbyists’ specific activities and the costs of those actions.

“People should be able to find out who has come to influence their laws,” Shaw said. “That’s not to say there needs to be any particular restriction on lobbying in a particular situation. But for good public awareness of what’s happening in these processes, we need good information about what lobbyists are doing, and when.”

Pete Quist, research director at the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Montana, agreed that it is important for states to require lobbyists to disclose more about how they influence lawmaking. The institute is collecting information about state-level spending on lobbying across the nation. “The lobbying piece isn’t analyzed as much in the media as it should be,” Quist said. “What we see a lot of public discussion about is the campaign contributions.”

'So easily evaded'

Oregon lobbyists have resisted efforts to require them to disclose more details of their work, most recently in 2015 when they won passage of a bill that allows them to avoid reporting spending to lobby other lobbyists, for example to build a coalition for or against an issue. The 2015 bill — which easily passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown — extended the disclosure exemption through mid-2017.

Dan Meek, a public interest attorney and co-chair of the Independent Party of Oregon, said this exemption is a major reason the public cannot find out how lobbyists use much of the money their clients report spending. Still, Meek said he remains more concerned that Oregon has no campaign contribution limits because political donations do not have to be reported as gifts, even if they are connected to lobbying efforts.

“Lobbying regulation in Oregon is really of secondary importance because it can be so easily evaded,” Meek said.

The extension of the lobbying reporting exemption last year provided another example of how lobbyists avoid revealing their impact on Oregon’s laws.

Lobbyist Marla Rae, who served on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and worked for the Oregon Department of Justice and former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, advocated for the bill during legislative hearings on behalf of the Capitol Club of Oregon, a professional organizations for lobbyists. However, the Capitol Club did not report spending any money on lobbying last year and Rae does not appear to have registered to lobby on behalf of the group.

In an email, Rae explained that the Capitol Club did not have to report spending any money on lobbying because she volunteered her time to advocate for the bill. Rae wrote that she did not spend enough time working on the issue — the threshold is 24 hours in a quarter — to trigger the state’s requirement to register as a lobbyist for the group.

Bill Cross, the Legislative Committee chair for the Capitol Club, said the group still wants a permanent reporting exemption for lobbying other lobbyists, partly because it is burdensome for lobbyists to track the information.

“I’m sure we’ll be pursuing some sort of way to adjust that because the value of that information just doesn’t seem apparent to us,” Cross said.

Cross said it would also create a lot of work for lobbyists — with minimal benefit to the public — if lobbyists were required to report all the bills or executive actions they work to influence, because he sometimes tracks hundreds of bills during a legislative session. At the moment, no one is advocating for expanded lobbying disclosures in Oregon, Cross said. “I’m not aware of any issues, I guess, that have evolved in the last four or five years where other organizations have said, ‘Wait a minute, we really need to reform our lobbying disclosure laws because of problems with corruption or something,” Cross said.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or [email protected].

News source: 
Original site: 

Our Oregon exceeds signature milestone to put corporate sales tax on ballot

Union-backed group passes 88,184 needed to qualify for vote

SALEM-The union-backed Our Oregon has surpassed the threshold for signatures required to place a corporate sales tax measure on November’s ballot.

The campaign has collected 130,000 signatures and plans to submit the last batch to the Oregon secretary of state’s office Friday, May 20, for verification, said Our Oregon spokeswoman Katherine Driessen.

Only 88,184 signatures are required to place the measure on the ballot.

“Everyone is pretty thrilled, and it is a real showing of support for our campaign,” Driessen said. “Our volunteers are fanning out around the state and really talking to voters everywhere and feeling the goal of the campaign resonates with Oregon citizens.”

The next step for the campaign is to build support for the measure, she said. Supporters hope to see the $5.2 billion in biennial revenue from the tax will help offset a projected $1.3 billion shortfall in the next biennium and augment spending on education, health care and senior services.

“It's way past time that our schools, our health care, and our senior services get the funding they need. While volunteering and talking with Oregonians, it became clear that decades of underfunding had taken a toll on residents young and old,” Khalil Edwards, a volunteer signature gatherer, said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “Parents are frustrated by overcrowded classrooms, and seniors are wary of what their retirement might look like. That's what fueled me as I was collecting signatures — a better Oregon that values kids, seniors and every Oregonian.”

A business coalition with more than 500 members is strongly opposing the measure, saying the tax will drive up prices for consumers and small and medium-sized businesses.

"Our group will campaign vigorously against this ill-advised proposal," said Rebecca Tweed, campaign coordinator for Defeat The Tax On Oregon Sales. "We are confident that when voters become aware of its damaging consequences they will strongly reject it in the fall."

The Legislative Revenue Office is scheduled to report on the projected impacts of the corporate tax during legislative hearings Monday, May 23.

The report will examine the effects on state revenue, wages, private and public sector employment, prices and other economic indicators.

Often referred to as a gross receipts tax, the 2.5 percent levy would apply to certain corporations with annual sales exceeding $25 million. The tax would affect about 1,000 of Oregon’s 30,000 corporations, said Legislative Revenue Officer Paul Warner.

"We expect that the report is going to confirm what we've been saying for awhile now: that large and out of state corporation will pay this tax," Driessen said. She said the campaign, however, is open to new information and to striking a compromise with business leaders provided that the proposal raised enough revenue "to fund our badly underfunded services and focused on making corporations do their part."

But business leaders said the trickle-down effect of the tax - in the form of higher prices - will hurt consumers, employees and businesses of every size.

"Everywhere you have a gross receipts tax of this nature the consensus among economists is who pays it is you and me and small business and families, and we think that picture will be painted very vividly on Monday - that Oregon families are going to be paying this $5.2 billion tax increase," said Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association.

EO MEDIA GROUP" class="caption" height="156" src="http://pamplinmedia.com/images/artimg/00003546518141.jpg" style="margin-top: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP

EO MEDIA GROUP" width="116" />Gov. Kate Brown and Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, earlier this year declined to hold a special session to negotiate a more moderate alternative to the steep tax increase.

Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who proposed a smaller tax on corporations during the February legislative session, said Monday's report could spur lawmakers to take another look at offering an alternative.

"I think after Monday it will start to get real," Hass said. "I think there is a chance for a compromise, and I think there is an opportunity for sensible people to get together to look at coming up with an alternative to what is going to be a very contentious, divisive campaign."

Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, said in April that he is working on alternative to the tax measure but did not return repeated calls for details from the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau.


By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
503-385-4899
email: [email protected]
Follow us on Twitter
Visit Us on Facebook

News source: 
Original site: 

Oregonians who buy own health insurance face big hikes in 2017

New premium requests from insurers spell trouble for Oregonians

Oregonians who buy their own health insurance face a second straight year of hefty premium hikes that could boost coverage costs by nearly a third.

Insurers want to boost premiums by 15 percent to 32 percent next year, according to a summary of rate requests submitted recently to the Department of Consumer and Business Services.

The state’s two top insurers in the individual market, Providence Health Plan and Moda Health Plan, are both proposing 30 percent average rate hikes that, combined, would hit more than 160,000 people, or two-thirds of those who buy their own plans but are not on Medicare.

The rate requests would not affect people who are on Medicaid or who receive coverage through their employer.

The premium hikes don’t take into account tax credits available to those with qualifying incomes. Last year about 40 percent of Oregonians in the individual market used the health insurance exchange, HealthCare.gov, to receive credits that can be used to reduce monthly premiums.

State regulators will accept public comment and review the rates before issuing a final decision. But the trend is not a positive one for consumers. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act requires most people have coverage or face a penalty in tax time.

“For the next two months, we will analyze the requested rates to ensure they adequately cover costs without being too high or too low,” said Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali. “Our open process allows Oregonians to see everything we do and provide comments on the filings that affect them.”

For now, the specifics are daunting. Providence has proposed boosting its rates by an average 29.6 percent, coming on top of a 13.8 percent overall hike last year. As of February, Providence led the individual market with more than 100,000 Oregonians enrolled. A 40-year-old on a Providence silver plan pays $273 a month now.

Moda, meanwhile, has requested a market-leading average rate hike of 32.3 percent, coming on top of an average 25 percent rate hike approved last year. Moda reported about 60,000 members in Oregon’s individual market, and a 40-year-old on a Moda silver plan pays $307 a month now.

Health Net Health Plan of Oregon is the only insurer located in the state not to propose raising its rates. The firm is being sold to an out-of-state for-profit insurer, Centene.

Other rate hikes proposed by insurers range from about 15 percent by PacifiSource and Atrio Health Plans to 32 percent by Oregon’s Health CO-OP. The latter company, along with Providence, offered what agents considered some of the more attractive plans in 2016, with a $274 premium for a 40-year-old on a silver plan.

Driving insurers’ rate hikes last year were massive losses due to unexpected claims costs.

According to the state, people can search www.oregonhealthrates.org to submit comments and review rates.

News source: 
Original site: 

State rolls in more pot tax revenue than expected

The revenue department collects $6.84 million in January, February

Oregon’s Department of Revenue unwittingly marked unofficial “Weed Day” April 20 by announcing another better-than-predicted return in recreational marijuana revenue.

The state collected $6.84 million in taxes from sales of recreational pot in January and February — the first two months since a 25 percent tax on the product took effect. Tax collections exceeded state economists’ projection of $2 million to $3 million for the first year of taxation on the product.

The revenue represents nearly $27.4 million in sales by about 320 dispensaries since Jan. 4. Beginning Oct. 1, medical marijuana dispensaries were authorized to sell up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis flowers per day to anyone 21 or older under Oregon Health Authority’s early start program. No tax was collected on the product until Jan. 4. Medical marijuana remains tax-exempt.

The 25 percent tax ends when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over the recreational sales program later this year and will be replaced with a 17 percent tax.

It’s unclear how much of the tax revenue will be distributed to schools, drug, alcohol and mental health services, state police and cities and counties — the beneficiaries of the state’s legalized marijuana law, Measure 91. State economists first have to calculate start-up and regulatory costs associated with recreational marijuana before determining how much will be left over for beneficiaries. Distribution is scheduled to begin in late 2017.

April 20 is an unofficial worldwide holiday for smoking pot. The term — 420 — was coined by a group of high school students from San Rafael, Calif., who had a smoke-out in 1971 in the Point Reyes forest, according to the Huffington Post. The timing of the revenue department’s report on tax revenue last Wednesday was unintentional, said department spokeswoman Joy Krawczyk.

News source: 
Original site: 

Oracle dissed own work on Cover Oregon

Oracle can’t hide documents giving an unprecedented glimpse into what the massive software company really thought about the Cover Oregon website debacle, a Marion County judge has ruled.

Some of the emails the firm had attempted to keep secret don’t look great for Oracle and its years of labor on Oregon’s failed technology project, according to copies reviewed by the Portland Tribune.

“This implementation is so screwed up,” wrote a software engineer for the company after a visit to Oregon in November 2013, more than a month after the website was supposed to be up and running. “I’m really at a loss as to how they could design such a system.”

Some of the new evidence doesn’t reflect well for Oregon, either. For instance, Oracle is citing a document in which the state assured the federal government the website was ready to go 12 months before officials pulled the plug on the project, saying it was too broken to fix.

Judge Courtland Geyer’s ruling releasing the Oracle documents was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the company, which has been battling Oregon for nearly two years in a nasty court fight. The state seeks billions from the company over the $305 million health enrollment technology project that never launched, saying the company misled the state about the quality of its work.

In a Thursday hearing, the judge agreed with Oregon’s lawyers that the company had no legitimate reason to hide documents such as a developer’s email saying that without a software upgrade, the company was “rapoing (sic) the state of Oregon on something that will never work well.”

Oracle had blasted the state’s lawyers and the Portland Tribune after the newspaper published excerpts of the secret documents last month. The company’s top software architect had submitted a sworn statement saying why the documents needed to be confidential to protect trade secrets.

After Geyer’s ruling, however, the company issued a statement dismissing the excerpts’ significance: “This collection of one-off documents is the best the state has against a mountain of evidence, including publicly available documents commissioned by the state itself, that place the blame for the problems at Cover Oregon on state mismanagement, dysfunction and incompetence,” it said.

Oracle’s self-critique

But the newly released documents — 10 of which the judge ordered immediately released with a few redactions — don’t help Oracle’s case.

In October 2013, for instance, the documents show some company employees were alarmed at the poor and unfinished state of Cover Oregon and felt the company’s team on-site wasn’t responding with appropriate concern. This negative internal assessment came even as company executives were assuring the state that Oracle was fully engaged in Oregon and the website would be ready for the public later that month.

On Oct. 16, an Oracle senior vice president asked members of the firm’s “A-team” to help with the Oregon project, for a “no BS assessment” of the situation. One responded that issues the team had raised months before had not been addressed, and “major functional issues exist including basic functionality like communication between components.”

The Oracle team working in Oregon had “more or less ignored” the company’s software architecture specialists “and have very low priority on our recommendations and our needs,” wrote an A-team leader, Stefan Krantz. The team working in Oregon, he added, “is not understanding the ramification of the situation. ...”

Weeks later, the problems were elevated to Oracle’s top executives. A Cover Oregon technologist, in an email to an Oracle counterpart, blasted the company, saying “Oracle has failed in every single aspect of the project from project management, proper design and development all the way through delivery and deployment. Oracle should be embarrassed at ... what has been delivered at Cover Oregon.”

The email was forwarded to Safra Catz, Oracle’s CEO, who shared it with company co-founder Larry Ellison. Ellison, in a Nov. 16, 2013, email, told the company’s top software architect to address the problems. “l will give you whatever resources you need ... immediately and in quantity,” Ellison wrote.

But while Oracle has repeatedly claimed it had fixed the website’s problems by February 2014 — even putting a news release out to that effect earlier this month — an email chain shows that even as of March 15, 2014, the website was exhibiting a nearly 20 percent error rate in which users would be presented with a “Well, that didn’t work” message.

That particular error rate was fixed days later, the email chain said.

Did the state lie?

But not all the new information focuses on Oracle, which is why this case looks to get more complicated.

Even as Oracle was ordered to air more of its internal discussions, the company signaled that it would hold a microscope to Oregon’s missteps as well, citing what it called new evidence that the state misled the federal government over the website project in order to keep funds for the project flowing.

In August 2013, an update prepared for the federal government requesting further funding said the health enrollment website was “functional” and completed four months earlier, and only needed testing.

Asked in a deposition last month whether the state had completed a “functional” website in April 2013 as the document claimed, Oregon Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss replied “They did not, because it was not functional.”

Oracle is now using the information in a new federal lawsuit that seeks to knock out the state’s fraud and racketeering lawsuit against it. It says the state itself engaged in fraud by falsely claiming continued progress in order to receive federal funds.

Oregon’s lawsuit, the company says in its March 8 filing, is “essentially attempting to cover up serious breaches of its own obligations as a recipient of Federal funds.”

It’s not the first time the state has been accused of this. In 2014 the FBI launched an investigation after former state lawmaker Patrick Sheehan made a similar allegation. No findings have been announced.

So it’s clear the case soon could get messier, and nastier.

Last Thursday, Judge Geyer said he soon hopes to issue an order for the two sides in the case to mediate their differences rather than go to trial.

“I believe in this case it would be appropriate to require the parties to spend a day or two in good faith, in private, in the secrecy of mediation to see if there is an outcome that they can all live with.”

News source: 
Original site: 

Kaiser opens 400-employee 'contact center' in Hillsboro

To increase its presence in Hillsboro, and to consolidate all its redundant Portland metro area facilities, Kaiser Permanente Northwest has opened its Tanasbourne Regional Contact Center in North Hillsboro.

Kaiser’s newest 400-employee facility will house all of the region’s appointing and advice nurse services, as well as a physician-led virtual care team.

The opening of the contact center bolsters Kaiser’s Hillsboro services by combining efforts with the Westside Medical Center and the Hillsboro Medical Office.

“Bringing these services together in a single, state-of-the-art facility allows us to give our members a seamless experience whether they call for an appointment, health advice or a virtual visit with a physician,” said Belinda Green, Kaiser Permanente Northwest’s senior director of member relations. “We think of this not as a call center, but a service center that will ultimately enable a better connection between members and their physicians.”

Essentially, Kaiser is streamlining several services for new members to make previously tedious tasks — such as selecting a new physician, transferring prescriptions or setting up mobile access to personalized services on kp.org — possible in one phone call.

Additionally, the physician-led Regional Telephonic Medicine virtual care team has evolved to become an increasingly important point of access to care for patients.

The new facility will support that team with improved video and digital technology through a Mobile Health Partners program with Metro West Ambulance.

For this program, Metro West will dispatch paramedics for nonemergency visits to Kaiser patients’ homes, where the paramedic will facilitate video consultations with their Kaiser physician. Physicians stationed at the center conduct these and other telephone and video appointments. No in-person services are provided through the Tanasbourne center. Members who need to see a care provider or wish to speak face-to-face with member services should still visit a medical facility.

Formerly a Netflix call center, the new 49,000-square-foot Kaiser contact center is located in Hillsboro in part because the city’s advanced infrastructure met the contact center’s sophisticated technology and telephony requirements.

“The use of that space and addition of those jobs is a big positive for Hillsboro,” said city spokesman Patrick Preston. “It’s great to see Kaiser expanding its presence in Amberglen and Tanasbourne. We’re fortunate to have Tuality Health Care and Kaiser Permanente serving residents throughout Hillsboro, and to have great health care providers in the community.”

Along with bringing in Kaiser employees from six or seven or the other Kaiser facilities across the Portland metropolitan area, the new center will also provide ongoing career opportunities for Hillsboro residents. Currently, there are openings for a mental health therapist, three nurses and six call agents.

For more information, visit kp.org.

News source: 
Original site: 

Local United Way Loses its Largest Donor: Intel

As the season of giving comes to a close, one of the area’s dominant charities — United Way of the Columbia-Willamette — is making do without its dominant donor — Intel and its thousands of local employees and retirees.

Pages

Subscribe to Pamplin Media Group