In a story posted late on a Saturday night, the Topeka Capital Journal issues out a report on potential illegal lobbying, state fund direction and more that has been going on under the Brownback administration. This investigation all leads back to a lobbying firm - Parallel Strategies - made up of former Brownback administration members, and whether this organization illegally used pressure and influence peddling to influence policy, including the way in which Medicaid expansion in Kansas was handled.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is exploring whether confidantes of Gov. Sam Brownback operated influence-peddling operations in Kansas pivoting on personal access to the Republican governor and top administration officials.
The Topeka Capital-Journal learned the months-long inquiry involves Parallel Strategies, a rapidly expanding Topeka consulting and lobbying firm created in 2013 by a trio of veteran Brownback employees who left government service to work in an environment where coziness with former colleagues could pay dividends.
Of concern to the FBI were behind-the-scenes financial arrangements related to Brownback's privatization of the state's $3 billion Medicaid program. The governor's branding of KanCare handed to three for-profit insurance companies exclusive contracts to provide Medicaid services to 380,000 of Kansas' disabled and poor.
What the Topeka Capital Journal has discovered though is more, regardless of the legal outcomes is damning for the way in which the Topeka state house has operated.
You see, there was talk about how Kansas would fight back against the feds by refusing medicaid and privatizing it. This as a strategy to 'save money' seemed silly, since Medicaid was not a for-profit enterprise, and a for-profit enterprise would need to.. well, make profit on top of helping the individual.
The FBI also has looked into activities of individual legislators and lobbyists unaffiliated with Parallel Strategies.That's right. Play ball with us or bad things may happen.
KanCare, launched in January 2013 and expanded in February, is arguably the most far-reaching reform of Brownback's first term.
Kensinger was the governor's chief of staff during formative construction of KanCare, but quit two months before contracts were signed with AmeriGroup Kansas, United Healthcare of the Midwest and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene. These contractors now employ as lobbyists one of Kensinger's partners at Parallel Strategies, Kensinger's former lobbying partner and a one-time Brownback deputy Cabinet secretary.
Questions center on whether Brownback representatives pressed companies or organizations to hire specific lobbying firms or whether entities that showed inadequate deference were targeted for political or financial punishment.
But hey, this is just a lobbying firm made up of former Brownback appointees, right? That's all this is, right?
The election of Brownback in 2010 triggered realignment of Topeka's political apparatus following eight years under Democratic Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. Election night successes by conservative Republicans, according to one former Kansas GOP official, fueled an operational philosophy best captured by the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils."Straight from the administration.. we are not interested in working with you.. in fact, we won't tolerate you. Period.
In 2012, Brownback's red-state overhaul entered an advanced phase when he took a prominent role in a series of contested Republican Senate primary races. In a maneuver rare by Kansas standards, Brownback embraced a slate of GOP challengers and worked against incumbent Republicans opposed to pieces of the governor's agenda. Ten Republicans seeking re-election were ousted.
"They're ruthless," said Steve Morris, a former Senate president who lost re-election to a GOP candidate backed by the Brownback machinery. "I served with (Govs.) Joan Finney, Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. None of them, to my knowledge, did that."
Within days of the August primary, high-ranking members of the Brownback administration began informing political advocates that campaign contributions to moderates or Democrats would no longer be tolerated.
"That is the sinister part of the Brownback folks," said Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat. "They punish. They can make it very cold for you. I think that's bad for democracy. At some point, it's going to blow up."So, would something like this blow up?
Parallel Strategies picked up a pair of unlikely clients in the Kansas Association of Realtors and the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.That's right. Someone who lobbied against Brownback's plan found the Governor's office reach out to his clients and demand that he be FIRED. The client then went on to become a client of... that's right, the new consulting/lobbying firm run by former employees of Governor Brownback.
Luke Bell, a lobbyist with the Realtors association, engaged in vigorous fights during the 2012 and 2013 sessions against Brownback's proposal to eliminate the home mortgage tax deduction.
"It is an example of very poor policy to eliminate a deduction that encourages home ownership and provides tax relief for middle-income families," Bell said.
Bell's advocacy became such a thorn in the administration's side that pressure was applied to get him fired. His association eventually consented to a legislative compromise — the tax break would be phased down to 50 percent by 2017.
On heels of that deal, the association hired Parallel Strategies for the 2014 Legislature with the goal of repealing a mortgage registration fee charged by county governments. A bill is pending in the Statehouse, and Bell said he was optimistic it will pass next week during the closing days of the annual session.
As it relates to KanCare, the three Medicaid contractors reinforced their lobbying operations by hiring individuals who are no strangers to Brownback.So, seriously, how agressive was this strategy to bash people who bash KanCare?
Scott, a partner in Parallel Strategies, was added in January by United Healthcare. Gary Haulmark, a former deputy Cabinet secretary in the Brownback administration, resigned from state government in 2013 to represent Amerigroup. Sunflower employs Hickam, who ran a lobbying firm with Kensinger from 2004 to 2010.
"I believe it is wrong for people as closely connected to the seat of power to be in a position of lobbying for pay," said former Sen. Dick Kelsey, a Republican who represented a district south of Wichita. "I still have a problem with the pay-to-play concept."
Kelsey said Brownback officials had a political interest in tamping down complaints about KanCare until after the November election. There is an aggressive behind-the-scene campaign to minimize public criticism about denying access to treatments, placing administrative hurdles on providers delivering care, and to delaying payment of contractors.
Angela De Rocha has taken time to respond - at time in fairly bitter and condescending ways to those who dare question issues with Kancare.
Here, at this article, you can see the Director of Aging in Kansas take to the talkback forums of the Topeka Capital Journal to rebut and argue with the article's data.
At one point, she argues for more red tape:
KDADS will not provide a rubber stamp as has been done in the past. We are seeing an increase in the number of people applying for the Traumatic Brain Injury program who are clearly not eligible for the program, but could be served by another Medicaid program.This last year the local alternative paper (and later, the KC Star and CBS affiliate) covered the case of a Prairie Village man who had prior received direct care through a CDDO program that provided him full time nursing for his condition. This service was ended under the new KanCare restrictions. She responded in this way:
“…on November 15, Bullers sent the state a signed form that allows officials to discuss his health information with the media. But Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, did not return a call seeking comment about Bullers’ health.So, a new car or ability to live?
In an earlier interview, de Rocha offered an analogy for Medicaid recipients upset by KanCare’s reduction in services. She says it’s as if she had been giving someone a new car every year and then suddenly stopped.
“Your natural response to that is going to be, ‘Why is she being so mean to me?’” de Rocha tells The Pitch. “That’s just human nature. It’s very difficult to take away something once you get it. People get used to it. They think that’s what you need.”
To Bullers, access to caregivers isn’t like getting a brand-new car, but rather is a life-and-death matter. If a tube feeding air from a respirator to a hole in his throat fell out while he was alone, he would have about three minutes to live. If that ever happened, there wouldn’t be enough time for paramedics to reach him.”
Anyway, this became the strategy of the Brownback administration, to demonize those who oppose them, fight for them to be thrown from office if they were elected, contact their private employers if they didn't work for Brownback and demand they be fired.. take to social media and other formats to scold those who disagree with them.
This also included completely falsifying information about those who advocated for those with disabilities.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization, was publicly rebuked in March by Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the state's aging and disability services agency. The Disability Rights Center has for years criticized as inadequate the funding directed at disabled Kansans.
De Rocha said the Disability Rights Center haphazardly added people to disability service waiting lists in the past "without much attention to accuracy or detail in order to provide a soapbox" useful for Nichols to "score cheap political points."
In response, Nichols said the Disability Rights Center has no role in adding people to the waiting list. Nichols said the outburst by de Rocha indicated a willingness to attach unsavory motives to the work of an organization attempting to advance public policy under the KanCare banner. Other nonprofit groups have experienced a similar backlash for speaking out, he said.
But what about Brownback's office for those with disabilities? How is that turning out?
Tom Laing, executive director of Interhab, an organization supporting people with developmental disabilities, said the group's two-year effort to block placement of DD clients in KanCare left him with political wounds. The level of political muscle brought into play by Brownback supporters was a surprise to some unfamiliar with Washington hardball, he said.That's right. We'll just start threatening organizations that service the disabled if they disagree with us. We'll impose a direct political cost on them.
The GOP-led Legislature ordered an audit of the state's community development disability organizations, the majority of which are represented by Interhab. The report by legislative staff members found 21 of 27 CDDOs had a potential conflict of interest because they were in a position to steer individuals to or from the CDDO's own service providers.
"I've never felt partisanship like it has been applied," Laing said. "You're in the governor's corner or not. Folks to whom this happened have an obligation to talk about it. I don't care what party it is. The greatest danger is refusing to call it out."
We have no idea how the FBI investigation will turn out, but there is a war going on in Kansas against those who need healthcare. Against those who are disabled. Against those who don't play by Brownback's rules.
If you aren't on his list of 'good guys', you're in deep trouble.
And there is something not right about that system.
Just waiting for the enemies list to come around with my friends names on it.