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Nixon draws big bucks from health care firms

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2009 - In the past two weeks, Gov. Jay Nixon has collected $72,500 in large donations of $10,000 apiece or more from six health care firms -- most of them insurance companies.

The largest is $25,000 donated on Sept. 23 by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas City.

The other contributors are: Travelers Insurance ($10,000), Medical Holdings LTD ($10,000), Cornerstone Health Care Inc. ($10,000), Benchmark Healthcare LLC ($10,000) and Missouri Professionals Mutual ($7,500).

Some of the donations - reported in filings to the Missouri Ethics Commission - were made as the Democratic Governors Association was collecting signatures from governors in favor of health-care reform, in an effort to lobby fellow Democrats in Congress.

The national political blog Talking Points Memo reported this week that Nixon is among six Democratic governors who so far have not signed the letter. Twenty-two others did.

The letter states, in part, "The status quo is no longer an option and we support getting health reform done this year."

Insurance companies generally have opposed most of the proposed changes; the letter doesn't mention the most contentious item, a proposed public option.

Update: Nixon communications director Jack Cardetti said Thursday afternoon that the governor "certainly agrees with most of the sentiments expressed in the letter, especially the firm belief that the status quo is simply not acceptable when it comes to health care."

"The governor has been making his case that Congress must address this issue in a smart way that lowers premiums for families, provides greater access to care, and doesn’t place unreasonable unfunded mandates on state governments during tough fiscal times," Cardetti continued.

Nixon didn't sign the letter because "... it does not address the need to prevent unreasonable costs from being placed on the states, which Gov. Nixon believes is an important issue in federal health care reform."

Nixon earlier has indicated concern about potential heftier health-care costs to Missouri's cash-strapped state government, depending on what health-care changes are passed by Congress. However, he also sought unsuccessfully earlier this year to expand Missouri's Medicaid rolls -- at no cost to taxpayers -- via an agreement with private hospitals in the state to kick in more fees that would be used to bring in more federal dollars. The state Senate approved the idea, but the state House rejected it.

As for the recent wave of health care contributions, Nixon allies point to two issues where he has split with health insurers: coverage of autism treatment (he wants it, the insurers don't) and his support of measures to require swifter insurance payments to medical providers (he wants it, the insurers don't.)

In any case, not all of Nixon's recent batch of large donations came from health-care companies. He also collected $13,500 from two other donors on Sept. 29: lobbyist John Bardgett gave $7,500 and $6,000 came from 4100 Forest Park Partners LP.

Nor is Nixon the biggest recent Missouri recipient of large donations, which must be reported to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours if the individual contributions are $5,000 or more.

The biggest recipient of large donations is Republican state auditor candidate Thomas Schweich, a St. Louis lawyer and Washington University professor.

Schweich has collected $77,000 within the past month from eight donors, who gave between $7,500 and $10,000 apiece. (His largest donation within the past three months was $25,000 in July from Clayton businessman Sam Fox, the state's most prominent Republican donor who recently completed a stint as the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.)

Schweich's Republican rival, state Rep. Allen Icet of Wildwood, filed a report this week disclosing that he received $25,000 on Monday from the campaign fund of the state House's Republican floor leader, Rep. Steve Tilley of Perryville.

A month ago, Icet collected $5,000 from the Missouri Leadership Committee, also based in Perryville and with ties to Tilley.

Tilley was recently elected as his party's next state House speaker, should it retain control of the chamber in 2011. (A hat tip to the Turner Report, which first reported the contribution.)

The large donations have been allowed ever since the GOP-controlled state Legislature acted last year to toss out the state's donation limits that had been in effect since 1995, and generally restricted individual donors to giving less than $3,000 to a candidate per election.

Nixon had been an outspoken supporter of those limits, arguing in favor of their retention in a 1998 case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But he had said when he ran for election for governor last year that he would collect the large donations if other candidates also were doing so.

The Democratic Governors Association was among the most generous, giving Nixon $600,000 in September 2008.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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