A Democratic political consultant with ties to Senate majority leader Harry Reid has secured some of the most lucrative contracts in Reid’s home state.
Throughout the last year, Andres Ramirez, a former Reid aide, has won $2.5 million in grants to help sign people up for Affordable Care Act insurance in Nevada.
Ramirez’s wife Jackie, who is listed on the award notice as the fiscal contact, was also a Reid aide for nearly ten years.
Ramirez runs the Ramirez Group, a Nevada-based political consultancy. Know Your Care, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit that promotes the Affordable Care Act, hired the Ramirez Group as its representative for Nevada.
But Ramirez insists the award was competitive.
“Senator Reid had nothing to do with awarding us the contract,” Ramirez tells National Review Online. “We competed fairly with the other navigator programs.”
On July 3, 2013, the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange awarded Know Your Care a grant worth $1,027,665 to “provide Navigator and Assister program activities.” According to officials at Silver State, this grant included $36,084 of exchange fees. The rest of the grant came from federal funds.
But Know Your Care never received grant funding because on July 19, Ramirez changed the primary grantee for the award from Know Your Care to the Ramirez Group. Officials with the health exchange have said this decision has primarily to do with ensuring the labor laws and tax policies that applied were local; Know Your Care is based in Washington, D.C., and the Ramirez Group is based in Nevada.
Also, when Ramirez changed the grantee name, he listed Jackie Ramirez as the new fiscal contact for the grant.
The previous fiscal contact had been Tanya Bjork, an executive director at Know Your Care. According to Ramirez, Bjork left Know Your Care to pursue other opportunities. Her LinkedIn profile says she is now a partner at Capital Navigators Inc., a state-level lobbying firm in Madison, Wis.
In 2005, Bjork pleaded no contest to charges that she altered records and illegally solicited campaign funds while she was chief of staff to former Wisconsin state senator Brian Burke.
Know Your Care did not respond to an e-mail inquiry requesting an interview, and Tanya Bjork also could not be reached for comment.
On April 23, 2014, Silver State gave notice of another grant awarded to the Ramirez Group, this time for $1,563,054. This grant is entirely funded by the federal government, according to officials at Silver State. The grant is set to expire on February 15, 2015. This grant makes the Ramirez Group the largest navigator-contract grantee in the state so far this year.
Ramirez began his political career as a legislative aide to Reid. After working on Reid’s staff for a year and a half, he joined the Washington office of Nevada governor Bob Miller as a deputy director, promoting the state’s legislative agenda in Congress. The U.S. Strategies Corporation, a lobbying group, hired Ramirez as a Legislative Affairs Specialists after Miller’s retirement. In addition to political consulting, the Ramirez Group also specializes in public relations and community outreach.
When asked if there was a possibility that some of the grant money could leak to other areas of the business, Ramirez responded that “all government contracts in Nevada are part of the public record.”
“The state doesn’t give us all the grant money upfront,” adds Ramirez. “We submit reports of our work activity and costs, and request funds to cover those costs which have already been incurred. The state then evaluates those requests, and pending adequate documentation (receipts and such) then they issue a reimbursement of funds. The opportunity for me to use funds from this project on other activities does not exist.”
— Alec Nixon is an Agostinelli Fellow at National Review Online.