A Washington D.C. watchdog group is attacking Aetna for "surreptitiously" spending more than $7 million to influence elections.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has sent a letter to Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini asking him to stop using corporate funds to influence elections. The watchdog group, CREW, provides supporting material that includes an SNL Financial article, Aetna's state political contributions, a transcript of Aetna's annual shareholder meeting.
Take a look at page 25 for Bertolini's comments about transparency. Also take a look at page 31, which shows how much money it gave to two groups. The documents are here .
CREW says that last exhibit, the disclosure on page 31, is an Aetna filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. It shows a $3 million donation to the American Action Network Inc. and a $4 million donation to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The American Action Network is a 501(c)(4) that describes itself as encouraging and promoting "center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security." CREW calls the action network a "shadowy" organization that "broke both tax and campaign finance laws in its quest to influence the 2010 elections."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been against federal health care reform and says it is "working to reduce the burden of the new government health care law."
Bertolini responded, saying of the chamber and action network, "No funds were provided to these organizations for lobbying purposes; however, we have provided funds to these organizations for educational activities. Furthermore, amended filings clearly show the changes we made to the reports and are available to the public."
A full copy of Bertolini's letter is here.
Without question, Aetna is not the only insurance company spending money on politically active groups, and certainly many industries have big bank accounts that hand out huge sums for lobbying.
My question to blog readers: what do you think of this? Does this illustrate some loophole in how companies donate funds — as educational rather than political? Is Aetna unfairly targeted when other insurers, other businesses and other industries also spend money on lobbying, or for political ends?