Quality Software Services Inc., the company that built the data hub for Healthcare.gov, won its huge contract after its parent, UnitedHealth Group, enlisted two so-called super-lobbyists. These men are Democratic power-brokers: They have raised significant amounts of funds for Democratic causes and campaigns, and they maintain lots of friends in high places.
One of them, Jeff Forbes, has worked on behalf of UnitedHealth regarding Obamacare implementation since at least January 2011, first for Cauthen Forbes & Williams, and then for Forbes-Tate. Between the two firms, UnitedHealth has spent $600,000 for Forbes’s efforts since 2011.
Forbes has a history with some of the health law’s major players. According to his official bio on the Forbes-Tate website, he served as a senior adviser to President Obama for the New Hampshire campaign in 2008. Since 2009, Forbes has visited the White House at least seven times, according to the visitor logs — sometimes for tours, but at other times for small meetings with Obama-administration staffers, including Chris Dawe, health-policy adviser to the National Economic Council and a former staffer to Senator Max Baucus.
Like Dawe, Forbes is a Baucus alum; he served as the senator’s chief of staff from 1999 to 2002 and went on to work for the Senate Finance Committee. As even Mother Jones has noted, the revolving door spun then, too: “In 2003, Forbes was Baucus’ lead staffer on the Senate Finance Committee working extensively on the Medicare prescription drug bill,” writer Jonathan Stein complained in 2008. “Baucus, then the top-ranking Democrat on the panel, was one of the bill’s central architects. In late November, just five days before the Senate took the final, key vote on the bill, Forbes quit. Six weeks later, he was registered to lobby for two drug companies and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobby representing the nation’s biggest prescription drug companies.” In that context, it’s worth mentioning that Baucus was later instrumental in writing and passing Obamacare.
And then there’s the fact that Forbes has raised a lot of money for Democrats. In 2010, he co-founded Commonsense Ten, a liberal super PAC that has since changed its name to Majority PAC. Many of its biggest donors are union groups, and, according to OpenSecrets.org, Majority PAC spent $33.8 million against Republicans during the 2012 election cycle.
Since 2009, Forbes has co-hosted fundraising parties for seven Democratic political candidates. He has personally given $469,520 in campaign contributions since 1991, the money going exclusively to Democratic candidates and groups, according to InfluenceExplorer.
The other super-lobbyist is Steven Elmendorf — of the firm Elmendorf Ryan, on which UnitedHealth has spent $1.35 million since 2010. Elmendorf personally spent $146,400 in political contributions during the 2012 campaigns, more than all but five other lobbyists in the United States. Since 1991 he has given $672,328 in campaign contributions, almost exclusively to Democrats. He’s also one of the top bundlers in the U.S., having raised at least $200,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to InfluenceExplorer. And since 2009, Elmendorf has hosted 13 fundraising parties for Democratic candidates.
Furthermore, Elmendorf – like Forbes — has been a frequent visitor to the White House. Logs show at least 39 visits to the White House since 2009. In the course of those visits, he had small meetings with several top policy and economic advisers to the president.
National Review Online’s look into UnitedHealth’s lobbying choices comes days after the New York Post found that the company’s executive vice president, Anthony Welters, was also “a top campaign bundler,” and that he and his wife were “top donors.” Furthermore, OpenSecrets.org reports that there are “revolving door” concerns about every single one of the 40-plus lobbyists who have advocated on behalf of UnitedHealth over the past two years.
Of course, lobbying and political contributions have long been a part of government contracting, and the revolving door has long been in continuous motion. But as Healthcare.gov struggles, it becomes harder to believe these companies were chosen strictly because of their competence.
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.