In Michigan’s gubernatorial Democratic primary in August, voters will get to choose between two competing visions for health care.
Former executive director of the Detroit Health Department, Abdul El-Sayed, has a simple plan: cover every Michigander in one public program with single-payer health insurance. His opponent, former Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, does not support single payer and rather wants to continue to build on the Affordable Care Act.
Insurance giant Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan isn’t leaving things to chance, and has decided to weigh in heavily against El-Sayed’s candidacy.
On official Whitmer letterhead, bluesPAC, the company’s corporate fundraising vehicle, blasted out an invitation for a major fundraiser on March 7th. “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plays a major role in Michigan’s economy and the health of Michigan’s citizens,” it notes. “The vibrancy of Michigan’s economic climate is driven by public policy put forward by our state’s Governor; and we believe Gretchen Whitmer will be a great leader for Michigan.”
The invite is signed by Lynda Rossi, executive vice president of strategy, government and public affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan.
Blue Cross spokeswoman Helen Stojic confirmed to The Intercept that the Whitmer campaign paid for the mailer, but did so in coordination with bluesPAC. “The letter was paid for by the Whitmer campaign. bluesPAC gave one-time permission to this campaign to use addresses of bluesPAC members to invite them to the event,” she wrote in an e-mail.
She insisted that bluesPAC does not host fundraisers on its own but that the event is instead hosted by its officers. “This event is hosted by the officers of the bluesPAC, not bluesPAC,” she told us. “The officers believe her background in the state legislature has provided her with a good understanding of the state’s needs, including concern about the health of Michigan residents. The officers provided an opportunity for bluesPAC members to attend the event.”
Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told The Intercept that corporations are prohibited by law from directly donating to state candidates in Michigan. Instead, he said, they often solicit their employees to donate in order to demonstrate political influence.
“Blue Cross Blue Shield, their PAC is one of the ten largest PACs in our state. They are one of the PACs that gives broadly to candidates on both sides of the aisle. They’re a very active force in politics,” he noted.
“While bluesPAC does not formally endorse candidates, it periodically provides its members an opportunity to directly support candidates for elective office,” Blue Cross spokeswoman Helen Stojic told The Detroit News. “And this is one of those opportunities.”
The health insurance firm touts itself as Michigan’s “largest health insurance company“; it lists a client base of 4.5 million Michiganders as well as 1.6 million people in other states.
Annie Ellison, communications director for Whitmer’s campaign, offered a short statement to The Intercept pointing to her work on Medicaid expansion.
“The campaign has built support from a large, broad coalition of people who are ready for a governor who will fix the roads, connect Michiganders to good-paying jobs, and put people first,” she said. “As Senate Democratic Leader, Whitmer brokered the deal with a Republican governor to expand health care to 680,000 people through Medicaid expansion because she’ll work with everyone who wants to solve problems, and take on anyone who stands in our way to increase access to quality, affordable health care for every Michigander.”
Adam Joseph, a spokesperson for El-Sayed, said the case demonstrates why their campaign is not taking corporate PAC money.
“One of the biggest problems in Michigan is that Lansing politicians are putting corporations over real people. They’ve bought and sold government,” he told The Intercept. “So we’re not going to wait around for corporate politicians to finally start doing the right thing. We’ve taken a clear stand on Medicare for All, and we don’t take corporate PAC money because it’s time to stand up to the insurance industry that has profiteered on sick Michiganders for too long.”