Do you have health insurance here in California?
If so, there’s a good chance you’re insured by one of WellPoint’s subsidiaries – Anthem Blue Cross ring any bells? It is the largest single private health insurer in the state of California.
Own a mutual fund? Got a pension?
If so, there’s a pretty good chance that you are an owner of WellPoint stock.
And if you are insured by and/or invested in WellPoint, that means that you are a major benefactor of some of our country’s most influential politicians, folks like President Obama and House Speaker Boehner.
Congratulations, I bet you didn’t consider yourself a Washington DC power player.
In the 2012 election cycle so far, WellPoint has reported giving upwards of $2 million to political candidates, political action committees (PACs), and organizations. Unfortunately, we may never know precisely how much more, because the above figures come from information that we have access to because federal law mandates its disclosure. Incidentally, the disclosed donations went to Republicans over Democrats at a ratio of more than 2-1. And WellPoint subsidiaries spent more than $21.5 million on lobbying during 2011. They will likely spend even more this year.
After the Citizens United ruling, there is a lot of money corrupting our political system that we can’t trace or quantify because large donors such as WellPoint are not forced to disclose it. We know little, for example, about WellPoint’s use of the popular trick of funneling money into the political system via third party organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). We do know that one of WellPoint’s directors gave $10,000 to ALEC earlier this year, but we don’t know how much more the company itself has given.
The majority of Americans believe that secret corporate money in politics is a bad thing for democracy, but what about the real life (and death) impacts on the millions of people who passively own part of the company or purchase its services?
While WellPoint is hurtling money into our political system, it is hurting its own customers by raising insurance premiums, canceling the policies of customers who become ill, and enlisting employees to fight proposals for health reform. These sorts of strategies to boost the bottom line endanger the company’s brand, but WellPoint keeps doing this kind of stuff because – so far – they have enough political and market power to maintain market share nonetheless.
Last year my firm filed a shareholder resolution requesting that WellPoint’s management fully disclose all corporate politicking, and the process by which those decisions were made within the corporation. The resolution received substantial support, but not enough to force them to change their ways – yet. Unless WellPoint cleans up its act, we plan to re-file the resolution this year.
If you are sick of your health insurer spending your money to lobby for causes that hurt your well-being, consider signing our petition and/or writing a letter to your legislators telling them that we need to close the campaign finance loopholes that allow for untraceable corporate money to flow into our political system.
Jack Ucciferri is Research and Advocacy Director and Associate Portfolio manager of Harrington Investments, Inc., a socially responsible investment advisory firm in downtown Santa Barbara. He serves as the Board Treasurer of the Fund for Santa Barbara and loves lawn bowling.