August 28, 2009

Think Progress does a little digging and finds a lot of right wing groups under the covers with AHIP, the health insurance lobbying association. Whoever would have suspected such a thing?

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that AHIP — the multimillion dollar lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry — has mobilized 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defeat the public option. ThinkProgress has learned that AHIP’s grassroots lobbying is being managed by the corporate consulting firm Democracy Data & Communications. DDC has made a name for itself as one of the most effective stealth lobbying firms. Earlier this summer, DDC was caught by reporters using a front group called “Citizens for a Safe Alexandria” to attack the Obama administration for seeking to prosecute Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Alexandria, VA.

According to the server-information hub, the AHIP grassroots outreach website is hosted on a server owned by DDC. Though DDC conceals the hosting of its other websites using a service called DomainsByProxy, ThinkProgress has obtained a list of the domains hosted on DDC servers. A review of this data shows that DDC maintains the grassroots outreach websites for large health insurance companies, but also for big tobacco and Koch Industries:

– (Altria)

– (Altria)

– (Koch Industries)

– (Aetna)

– (WellPoint)

– (Humana)

– (AHIP)

DDC is a firm that promises “high impact” outreach programs to not only influence the grassroots, but “change attitudes for the long term.” As the Washington Post explains, DDC pays over 500 contract workers to “spend much of their day telephoning people around the country and asking them to sign letters to Congress that press for legislation.” The firm helped orchestrate “grassroots” support for President Bush’s push to privatize Social Security, and helped manage online efforts for the right-wing attack group Freedom’s Watch. DDC is headed by B.R. McConnon, a former associate of Jack Abramoff’s lobbying partners, and a former employee of the Koch-funded astroturf organization known as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Citizens for a Sound Economy — which has also received funds from private health insurers in the past and played a critical astroturf role in killing reform under Clinton — eventually split, with one wing forming Americans for Prosperity in 2003, and another forming FreedomWorks in 2004. Both organizations, which are still funded by the Koch Industries empire, were instrumental in organizing the anti-Obama tea party protests, and have been spreading misinformation and anger at the current health reform effort. Americans for Prosperity’s anti-health reform front group, Patients United, has hosted speakers comparing the House health reform bill to the Holocaust.

Curiously, DDC servers also host anti-health reform letters from the Chamber of Commerce and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), as well as continual news updates about the reform debate. All three documents are under a subsection titled WellPoint.

Given the stealthy nature of astroturf lobbying firms, it is difficult to discern the extent to which DDC is managing AHIP’s efforts. UnitedHealth, another large insurer, was caught recently using a call center to direct people to a radical tea party anti-health reform protest outside of the offices of Rep. Zach Space (D-OH).

Already, the health insurance industry has flexed its muscle to water down reform. After spending millions on lobbying, advertising, and direct contributions to lawmakers, the Senate Finance Committee made a major concession allowing insurers to reimburse only 65% of medical bills (down from the 76% proposed requirement). And indeed, although AHIP has made grandiose promises of self regulation, many insurers have recently broke promises made by AHIP President Karen Ignagni. On June 16, despite Ignagni’s pledges of commitment, insurance executives from UnitedHealth Group, Assurant, and WellPoint specifically refused to “commit” to ending the controversial practice of rescinding coverage after an applicant files a medical claim.

With DDC’s stealth lobbying assistance, AHIP may well kill the public option too.

Update At the Wonk Room, Pat Garofalo reports that DDC also maintains an anti-Employee Free Choice Act website supported by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF). The IWF, which is running anti-health reform ads, is another Koch Industries-funded front group that for a five year period operated out of the same office as Americans for Prosperity. DDC not only serves the health insurance industry, but plays a vital role for the constellation of Koch front groups.

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