Monday, May 08, 2006

 

Baker's Blue Ribbon Foundation



Baker Handed Out Blue Cross Premium Money to Promote Her Senate Campaign (20thsenatorial Exclusive)

20thsenatorial has received the following submission from R. Saunders. We have decided to print the article, because after significant fact checking we have determined that Mr. Saunders has really done his research and to not post the article would be a disservice to our readers.

We gave all the candidates advance notice on this article, and we will post their responses at the end of the article.

"The Bullsh*t Behind the Ribbon"

There's a new book on the market by author Stanley Bing, which soon will be climbing a best seller list near you. It's titled "100 Bullsh*t Jobs and How to Get Them." The book consists of short essays describing various jobs such as: Aromatherapist, New Media Executive, Feng Shui Consultant, and many more. All the jobs have one thing in common. As Amazon.com tells it, the "lucky individuals who 'work' in these positions enjoy the best lives imaginable -- they are paid well, they rarely break a sweat, and their professions are highly respected, because nobody really knows what they do." But this article is not a book review. This article is about a job that meets all of Bing's criteria and more, but somehow was overlooked and didn't make his list. This article is a case for job number 101: Executive Director of the Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation (BRF) is a charitable organization with a net worth in the neighborhood of $7 million. According to papers filed with the Pennsylvania Corporations Bureau, it was created on July 15, 2002 as a charitable arm of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Blue Cross, whose nearly half a billion dollar surplus (that's billion with a 'b') has been the subject of much debate and controversy in recent years, breathed financial life into the BRF by making an irrevocable donation of marketable equity securities valued at $7.49 million. That was followed up in 2003 with a donation of $1.025 million more. In other words, big Blue bankrolled little Blue.

The job of Director of the BRF as best can be determined, is to oversee an organization whose express purpose is to literally give away all of this money. With that as a job description, the person given the Directorship was sure to be a very popular person, and specifically, a very popular person in Northeastern Pennsylvania, the region the BRF was setup to serve. Spending many a day traveling around the region handing out free money was bound to make many a friend for the Director. Some might say a network of friends. Don't misunderstand. Since its inception, the BRF has done some wonderful things to, as their website tells us "produce measurable results and positive health outcomes" -- whatever that means. But clearly, and in all seriousness, those that have been recipients of BRF money have done wonderful things in the name of health care to enhance the quality of life for all of us in communities across Northeastern Pennsylvania.

On the surface the BRF appears to be a benevolent source for all that is good. Lurking below the surface, however, are two very troubling issues. The first involves the source of the loot, and the second involves the true motivation behind the person who was given the job as the BRF's first ever Director. The second question will be addressed first. For those who may not know, the person chosen to head the BRF, to travel northeast PA handing out giant bank checks, this champion of charity was none other than 20th district senatorial candidate, Lisa Baker. Baker was given the job as Director of the BRF in 2002. She held the position until late last year when she resigned in order to become a full time candidate for public office. According to tax returns filed by the BRF in 2003, Baker's first full year as Director, her yearly salary was $106,723.00. If Baker's true motivation for taking the job was indeed benevolent, she should be applauded. But certain facts suggest she had ulterior, and less-than-altruistic motives. These are certain facts other than the glaringly exorbitant salary.

Most startling is this little nugget: on March 31, 2000, Lisa Baker purchased the internet domain name, "bakerforsenate.com." At the time, Baker was one of several deputy chiefs of staff to then Governor Tom Ridge. Prior to that, she had held the position of chief of staff to State Senator Charles Lemmond, who in 2000 was rumored to be contemplating retirement. Based on her internet buy alone, it is clear Baker had designs on succeeding her former boss long before his public and official retirement announcement in September of 2005. Unfortunately for Baker, shortly after her 2000 website buy, her scheme seemingly began to unravel. A convergence of events would put her political ambitions on hold. In October of 2001, Ridge left Harrisburg for Washington to become Director of Homeland Security. Ridge's successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker, kept much of the Ridge staff, including Baker, but Schweiker announced he would not seek reelection in 2002. Lemmond however did seek reelection in 2002. Good thing for Baker she had not opted for the equally available "bakerforsenate2002.com." The Lemmond seat she coveted would not be open until at the earliest 2006.

In November of 2002, Democrat Ed Rendell was elected Governor, confirming what the polls had been predicting all summer. Suddenly, Lisa Baker was out of a job. Or was she? Contingency plans had been in the works. In the summer of 2002, just as Lisa Baker's political universe appeared to be collapsing around her, the BRF miraculously appeared on the scene. Prior to that date, the BRF simply did not exist. Coincidentally, prior to that date, Lisa Baker did not need the BRF to exist.

In life, timing is everything, and for Lisa Baker, the birth of the BRF couldn't have come at a more opportune time. It could be argued, in light of the timing of events, that the BRF was created exclusively for Baker by her friends in positions of power -- something of a golden parachute. Others have suggested that the BRF had its genesis prior to Baker's forced early departure from the executive branch of Pennsylvania government, and that Baker was specifically recruited to head up the BRF by the powers that be in Blue Cross. At the risk of getting into a chicken-or-the-egg discussion, this difference of opinion does deserve one comment. If in fact Baker was plucked from the service of government to fill the position of BRF Director, credit should be given where credit is due. Nobody is better at giving away other people's money than those in government. The Blue Cross execs therefore should be commended for looking to a career government bureaucrat to head an organization dedicated to giving away other people's money. Baker's hidden political motivation for taking the job as Director of the BRF, whether or not the position was created for her, can also be traced to events that predate her 2000 buy of "bakerforsenate.com."

To get the complete picture of her agenda, you must go all the way back to 1991. In 1991, Baker's former boss, Tom Ridge, was thinking about running for governor of Pennsylvania. At the time, he was beginning to make a name for himself as a member of Congress, but he had a problem. A large part of the electorate had no idea who he was. He was unknown in most of the state, including the population centers. Ridge was from Erie, a city so remote that he actually lived closer to Detroit and to Toronto than he did to Harrisburg. But Tom Ridge then, like Baker in 2002, had a plan. He directed Mark Holman, his then chief of staff, to leave Washington and set up an office in Harrisburg. There, just blocks from the governor's mansion, Holman became the executive director of the Fund for Pennsylvania Leadership (FPL), a political action committee that Ridge founded. A story written in 2003 for Erie's Times-News best explains the rise of their favorite son:

"The organization (FPL) in 1992 spent more than $50,000 on Republican races and county organizations in Pennsylvania. It made donations to 250 candidates in 56 of the state's 67 counties. Every donation had a purpose -- to get Ridge's name out there, and to start forming the network that Ridge would need to win the race for governor. Republican candidates for district attorney, sheriff, row offices -- they received anywhere from $250 to $500 from the Fund for Pennsylvania Leadership, and, indirectly, from TomRidge, potential GOP candidate for governor in 1994."

Ridge's plan of course worked, and the rest they say is history. The similarities between the FPL in 1992 and the BRF ten years later are, to say the least, eerie. Yet there is one critical difference - and that is, as was referred to above - the source of the loot. The FPL was a political action committee formed by Tom Ridge for Tom Ridge. There was no hidden agenda. The FPL's money essentially belonged to Tom Ridge. People gave to the FPL knowing full well the money would be used to promote the political ambitions of Tom Ridge. In stark contrast, the BRF's money belonged to subscribers of Blue Cross, not to Lisa Baker. People gave and still give money to Blue Cross to provide for their health care needs. Nobody ever gave a dime to Blue Cross for the purpose of promoting the political ambitions of Lisa Baker. It is undeniable that, as the face of the BRF for three years, Lisa Baker's political ambitions were being promoted, particularly in the 20th senatorial district. All of this went on while Blue Cross was raising its premiums at a rate faster than that of inflation, and year after year was banking massive surpluses.

It may surprise some to know that these are not problems unique to Pennsylvanians. Blue Cross plans with excessive premiums and ballooning surpluses have come under fire nationwide. What is surprising is that other states confronting this very same perfidy have proposed and implemented very different solutions.

In North Carolina, Blue Cross decided to reduce profit margins by 33% and cut back on the rate of premium increase. In New Jersey, premiums were reduced and rebates offered to subscribers. In December of 2003, Blue Cross of Tennessee refunded $67 million of its excessive surplus funds to its subscribers. And as this article is being written, state Attorney General Mike Hatch is investigating his state's $1.1 Billion Blue Cross surplus on behalf of the good people of Minnesota.

Tempting as it may be to launch into a discourse on the inequities of Blue's overabundance of green, further discussion in this area is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that while in other states excessive surplus funds were being returned to subscribers, here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, excessive surplus funds were being doled out to lucky BRF applicants by a smiling political opportunist named Lisa Baker.

Author Stanley Bing will be receiving a copy of the forgoing, so be sure to check back at Barnes and Noble sometime soon, and don't be surprised if you see a revised edition on display, a revised edition proclaiming, "101 Bullsh*t Jobs -- and How to Get Them."

R. Saunders

Sources:
1. Amazon.com
2. Pennsylvania Corporations Bureau
3.http://who.godaddy.com/whois.aspx?domain=bakerforsenate.com.
4. http://www.bcnepa.com/ceBRFoundation.aspx
5.http://www.goerie.com/risingson/running_for_governor.html

THERE ARE MORE SOURCES THAN THIS, just didn't have time to list them all.

Baker's Response


The idea that Blue Cross created a charitable foundation to serve as a political vehicle for me is preposterous. The Blue Ribbon Foundation was created to fund community prevention and wellness programs as a means to reduce the rising costs of health care. This model is being used by health insurers across the nation.

I, along with several other candidates, was recruited by Blue Cross to apply for the position of executive director. I was hired in April 2002 because of my experience managing the Commonwealth's Capital Budget program, as well as my knowledge of the communities of the region. All of this took place well before Governor Schweiker made known his decision not to seek reelection.

During my tenure, the foundation provided funding for many fine initiatives including obesity prevention, diabetes management and education, colorectal cancer awareness and prenatal programs. It's an enormous stretch to contend that these worthwhile projects were done for political gain or influence. The foundation's service area encompassed far more territory than the six counties of the 20th Senatorial District, and grants were awarded for projects impacting residents in each of 13 counties throughout northeastern and north central Pennsylvania.

Those who say that the person given the directorship was sure to be a very popular person are wrong. The job of informing more than 80 percent of applicants that their requests were declined was no easy task and, I assure you, did nothing to boost my popularity.

I've had aspirations of running for public office for the better part of my adult life. This has never been a secret. When the opportunity to run for state Senator presented itself last fall, I recognized the potential conflict of interest by remaining at the foundation, and I resigned my position immediately.

I believe in openness and accountability, and the foundation's records are public and available for anyone to inspect. Similarly, my Senate campaign is based on, and will continue to reflect, the qualities of fairness, honesty and integrity -- qualities essential in a Senator of the Commonwealth.


R. Saunders will be submitting a response to Baker's response in the next few days. He assures me that her response is factually incorrect.

Madeira's Response

"I was aware of my opponents preparations to secure this seat last May when I made my decision to run, but as I went around the District people told me that they wanted someone who is from the community, a business man and conservative leader who has always earned his living by serving others in the private sector. Someone who has always been transparent with the voters - in short - not a politician. That is why I am running. My opponent has worked hard to ensure her political future, but this year voters are looking for someone who has more allegiance to the voters than to power politics."

Sutton's Response

I always thought that the BRF was a division of Pabst. Someone should come up with a new jingle. I guess you want a comment.

"It would be interesting to see if any other applicants were considered to head the BRF. Also, upon looking at the Foundation Awards, I see why there are Baker signs in so many doctors' offices."

Comments:
Excellent reporting. You should hire this Saunders guy.
 
Another fine job, Norton. Lisa Baker should be ashamed of herself, but I guess she'd have to ask Ridge and Lemmond for permission.
 
Norton, my socks are still on - where's the story you promised? Should I start talking again?
 
Pabst Rules!
 
Lisa will win because I pull the strings that make that frumpy marionette dance.
 
Another A+ Norton. Can we see a sneak preview of the TV commercials too?
 
I am glad Bigus had the courage to bring out Baker's Blue Cross ties in his MANY newspaper ads....
 
Hey, I'll tell ya...Bigus has more signs, more newspaper ads, and has met more real people in the district than anyone in the last month. I met him when he came to my house...he sure seems like the real deal....doesn't seem like he will put up with the crap. Anyone willing to speak out against Baker and Blue Cross is alright in my book...has my vote
 
Carpinet, it makes sense that this article wouldn't shock you. You are familiar with all that is evil. She probably gave you money for your business through the BRF.
 
If only signs and newspaper ads could vote...
 
Carl, this is brilliant for a change, who wrote this piece for you?

Be careful not to drink the ethanol.
 
Hey Carpinet... fess up, was Lisa ever on your payroll?
 
The signs and the newspaper ads can't vote, but all of the people who read and see them can....I guess this, and other simple things, is all too complicated for you to comprehend. That explains why you are supporting....who?
 
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