A $25,000 contribution made to a controversial Republican political group from the Bayonne Medical Center has raised questions from a Bergen County lawmaker, who believes the funding was meant to help the group defeat legislation that would require privately owned hospitals to open their books up to the government.
“I believe BMC is lobbying against my bill.” – Sen. Loretta Weinberg
The legislation is now currently being considered in the state Assembly.
The legislation would require private hospitals to make audited financial statements and federal tax records public and give these to the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
Weinberg said the legislation came about over the concerns that public money might be diverted to cover excessive compensation to private hospital executives.
“These hospitals might be private,” Weinberg said, “but they get a lot of funds from Medicaid and Medicare programs.”
Daniel Kane, chief executive officer for the BMC, said the hospital already complies with all the applicable laws in regards to Medicaid and Medicare.
“We file all the same documents that a not-for-profit hospital does,” Kane said. “Whatever those hospitals report, we report, as well.”
But Weinberg’s law goes beyond the mere reporting of public financial information. It would also delve into business finances, something not usually required of any other private business.
Local union officials support the legislation, and some local officials – including some former hospital officials – say that the creation of a board to provide community oversight over the BMC is largely an empty gesture, with members either prohibited from speaking about inner workings at the hospital or denied critical information.
Weinberg said not-for-profit organizations have to fill out federal forms that disclose key information about administrative costs, including how much key personnel earn, whereas private hospitals currently do not.
“I believe the BMC is lobbying against my bill, which is their right,” she said. “When it was passed by the Senate last week, it had overwhelming Democratic support. Only one Republican – Diane Allen – voted for it. But none of the Republican senators said anything about it. They just voted.”
Was the donation tied to legislation?
Kane disputed Weinberg’s claim that the $25,000 donation to Reform New Jersey Now was geared to defeat the legislation. He said the donation had nothing to do with the legislation, and that this was one of a number of donations made to organizations involving the healthcare industry.
Weinberg, however, said Reform New Jersey Now was not involved with the healthcare industry, and that is a way for Republican interest groups to get around campaign contribution limits.
“There is nothing in their literature or their mission statement about healthcare,” Weinberg said.
Reform New Jersey Now consists of a group of New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie supporters who raised money last year and funded Republican candidates against some key Democrats in several districts in New Jersey.
The group is in support of enhancing Christie’s program to lower property taxes in the state. Weinberg said the group has funded mailings and robocalls.
Getting Christie to answer their call
Those still associated with the BMC support Kane’s assertion that the contribution was not tied to specific legislation.
But several key sources inside the BMC agree with Weinberg, and said that the donation to Reform New Jersey Now was likely made to put the BMC in good light with Gov. Christie.
“The owners have a number of projects that they will need to get approvals for,” one source said, supporting Weinberg’s contention. “What they want is to be on the list of phone calls the governor will take when the Medical Center calls him.”
Oddly enough, one of the key political advisors to the BMC is former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), who was instrumental in bringing Kane to Bayonne as executive director prior to the hospital being purchased by private owners in 2007.
One source in the BMC said staff members from Torricelli’s office advised BMC where to donate, confirming a claim Weinberg made.
“Robert Torricelli knew Dan Kane from working with other hospitals,” this source said. “He [Torricelli] met with the old Board of Directors even when Robert Evans was executive director, giving them all recommendations about transparency. The board did not listen to him. When Evans left, Torricelli gave the board Kane’s resume.”
This source said the strategy behind the donation to Reform New Jersey Now is to make Christie aware of the BMC.
Weinberg said she also believes that the donation was designed to smooth the way for state approvals for the new hospital acquisition.
“They are going to have to go to the state for approvals if they want to buy the hospital in Hoboken,” she said.
The disclosure of the contribution came only after significant arm-twisting by state Democrats, who wanted to know where Reform New Jersey Now was getting its funds, Weinberg said.
“We finally got a list just before Christmas,” Weinberg said. “Bayonne Medical Center was on that list for $25,000.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.