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June 23, 2011 5:07 PM Tricky Dick Gephardt

By Sebastian Jones

Earlier this week, former Democratic congressman Dick Gephardt penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post that attacked a key pillar of President Obama’s healthcare reform bill. What the online publication didn’t disclose is that Gephardt is a lobbyist representing the very corporate interests gunning to kill the program.

In the piece, Gephardt said he was concerned the program in question, an important Medicare cost-cutting panel called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), was “unelected” and “unaccountable” and would “have devastating consequences for the seniors and disabled Americans who are Medicare’s beneficiaries.” These arguments are cut directly from the talking points of industry groups that pay Gephardt—like PhRMA, which is now engaged in a full-throated campaign to kill IPAB.

The arguments also happen to be inaccurate. In addition to his hand-wringing about the payment board’s unaccountability, Gephardt also makes the bizarre claim that IPAB will prevent delivery reforms in Obamacare from being implemented. In reality, the board’s recommendations can be overruled by Congress, and its members are subject to Senate confirmation. Moreover, many believe that IPAB represents the best hope of spreading the most effective pilot programs and delivery reforms included in the healthcare bill—much to the consternation of the industry status quo. (More on all these policy questions can be found in my latest piece for the Washington Monthly, which takes stock of IPAB and the various groups now scrambling to smother it, including a coalition of Democrats with heavy ties to the healthcare industry who are working to repeal the measure.)

All of this brings up some uncomfortable questions for the Huffington Post, which initially ran Gephardt’s article with the minimal (and mostly meaningless) disclosure that he is “CEO of Gephardt Government Affairs”: why would the Huffington Post run Gephardt’s op-ed? Why would it not disclose his status as a lobbyist (explicitly, as in, “Dick Gephardt is a lobbyist”)? Why would it not mention his vested financial interest in the very topic he is writing about? Why would it allow a lobbyist to use the publication as a conduit for industry propaganda?

Whatever the reasons, the Huffington Post has helped one of Washington’s smoothest operators score a public relations coup for his corporate clients—by helping them reach a quadrant of the left that normally wouldn’t give them the time of day.

Even in a town as full of mercenaries and shills as Washington, Dick Gephardt is a special case. Just a handful of years ago, the then-Congressman touted himself as a friend of unions and a universal healthcare crusader. During his failed 2004 presidential bid, he was a man who stood against “the status-quo apologists” and “the special interest lobbyists running amok.” Today, he’s at the helm of his very own lobbying firm, working for the likes of PhRMA, Goldman Sachs and the coal company Peabody Energy. Even when compared to his many peers who have made trips through the revolving door, the list of issues on which Gephardt has been paid to reverse his position is very long indeed.

As I pointed out in this 2009 profile Gephardt’s real value as a lobbyist is his ability to approach and solicit support from progressives in ways that big banks, the pharmaceutical industry or coal companies could not dream of doing on their own. Even if he fails to win over liberal constituencies, Gephardt’s agitating pays for itself by muddying the waters and sowing confusion in liberal ranks. This was what has made his sellout so complete: he is not simply putting a price tag on his ideals, he is selling the reputational capital he spent years accruing among progressives and using it to manipulate the people who have come to trust him. This is precisely what Gephardt is up to once again, this time by aiding the healthcare industry in its efforts to kill IPAB.

When we talk about lobbying, it is easy to forget that when someone like Gephardt signs up to represent a client his job is not simply to show up in Congressional offices or make pit stops at political fundraisers. His task is to try and shape the broader political conversation on an issue, and this means trying to get quotes and op-eds into newspapers, making appearances on cable news, and coordinating and participating in roundtables and conferences. The less information is provided about Gephardt’s actual stake in the issue at hand, the better for his clients. That way the lobbyist seems more like a concerned elder statesman and Democratic loyalist than the hired gun he is.

After I contacted the Huffington Post yesterday, Gephardt’s op-ed was amended with an editor’s note saying he “has clients in the healthcare industry.” A link was also provided to his firm’s website, where “highlighted” clients are listed. Sorry guys, but that’s just not nearly good enough. Your readers deserve to know that Gephardt is a lobbyist and that he is paid to lobby against the specific issue he is writing about. Giving people a link to a site that lists PhRMA as a client does not in any way explain that PhRMA is a leading opponent of IPAB, and that we are in the midst of a highly organized campaign by groups like PhRMA to repeal IPAB.

It is a pity the Huffington Post is allowing itself to be a tool for K Street, making its job all that much easier. Scanning the comments below the piece, it’s clear that Gephardt’s muddying of the waters is working, primarily, I would guess, because those readers have not been informed of his vested financial interest in the program’s demise. It’s even more of a pity when you consider that the Huffington Post’s reporters have produced some of the finest pieces about lobbying and influence in Washington. I asked the Huffington Post for an explanation of why the editors posted the piece and whether they would take it down given the facts I’ve listed above. I’ve yet to hear back from on those questions, and will update you if and when I do.

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Sebastian Jones is an editor at the Washington Monthly.
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Comments

  • Mitch on June 23, 2011 6:22 PM:

    This is just another fine example of the "Liberal" media hard at work. Progressives and Democrats always get a free ride from the media and never have to back up their statements. The entire media establishment practically worships the Democratic Party.

    /end sarcasm

  • Dan Tyker on June 23, 2011 7:41 PM:

    Gephardt led the charge to upend Howard Dean in 2004. His underhanded tactics then helped me understand his fundamental lack of principles. I'm not surprised he's carrying corporate water today.

  • Karl Trautman on June 23, 2011 9:55 PM:

    Great piece. I was unaware of this before I read this article.

    I think, in the long run, his effectiveness will diminish because he will be further away from the days when he championed many liberal causes. His 'reputational capital', it seems, is shrinking. However he can slow down reform in the short-run. So I hope more people become aware of this development.

  • exlibra on June 23, 2011 11:02 PM:

    Huff Post has changed; it's not as it used to be. Now, it got a lovely load of lolly and a commensurate pile of marching orders.

  • Rich on June 23, 2011 11:33 PM:

    I've always been a selective reader of HuffPost. Ariana has always been an opportunist. Ditto Gephardt. He was a slime back in the 80s when he ran for the Dem Presidential nomination.

  • David Schantz on June 24, 2011 9:36 AM:

    Good job Mr.Jones. Gephart has always been a crass opportunist throughout his career. Shame on the Huffington Post. Hold their feet to the fire until they plead guilty. Mr. Fineman your turn!

  • TCinLA on June 24, 2011 3:57 PM:

    I guess people here are surprised because they don't know what a scheming PoS Arianna Stassinopoulus Huffington is. If there's a "liberal" (I use the word advisedly in her case) less trustworthy than Arianna, I'd be hard pressed to think who it might be. Having first met the lady 30 years ago, I've done everything I could ever since to avoid knowing her better, and she has always lived down to my expectations of her conniving opportunism. That HuffPo does this is completely "in character" with its leader.

  • Felicia on June 25, 2011 1:41 PM:

    Huffpo always sucked, but since AOL bought it's gotten worse.

  • JW on June 25, 2011 6:03 PM:

    It's simply Gephardt being Gephardt. He knew the 2003 Iraq war was engineered by wicked forces, yet nonetheless took counsel of his presidential ambition and endorsed it.

    The man is a pissant.

  • Brian H Reck on June 25, 2011 8:17 PM:

    Gephardt actually makes an argument in his Op-Ed that provides support the the necessity of the IPAB. He starts with the usual hypothesis that the IPAB will "set payment rates for some treatments so low that no doctor or hospital or other healthcare professional would provide them." He follows with the argument that since Medicare historically has "served as the baseline for health-care spending in the United States," there "is the very real risk that private sector insurance payments will follow Medicare payments' downward trend." Now, if a goal of ACA is the reduce the cost of medical care, including Medicare, by slowing the inflation of medical costs, it seems to me that reducing the amount paid for medical procedures by Medicare and private health inusurance would be a good start. Of course, the overall impact on the availability of medical care will depend on how the IPAB fulfils its mission. Considering current state of medical care availability and inflation, it is not a stretch to expect the IPAB to improve both.

  • Ron Chusid on June 26, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Pretty much everyone in politics gets some of their money from the health care industry--including both those who support and oppose the IPAB. This is getting pretty low when you resort to specious arguments such as attributing any criticism of the IPAB to corporate interests. The IPAB does have its flaws. As you might recall, there was a time in which those of us supporting health care reform preferred the House bill to the Senate bill. One key difference was that the House bill did not have the same flaws with regards to an independent advisory board.

  • hank on June 27, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Huffington Post publishes garbage on medical and scientific issues.

    Look at the pandering to the antivaxers, which has gone on for years. http://www.google.com/search?q=huffington+vaccination

    Huffington is way out there at the fringe.

    Don't go there.

  • Slack on July 08, 2011 6:56 PM:

    I have always wondered how Deadwood Dick Gerhardt got to be speaker of the House. He is excremental.

  • Clawhammer Jake on July 09, 2011 4:42 PM:

    Politicians always take care of themselves.
    First.
    Last.
    Always.

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