Living ‘DaVita’ loca: Federal charges shames no pols

On July 15, the U.S. Justice Department announced the latest in a long string of indictments against the giant dialysis company DaVita Inc. The latest two counts charge DaVita and its former CEO Kent Thiry with violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act through efforts to “suppress competition for the services of certain employees.”


This comes after the corporation has paid out over the last eight years nearly $1.2 billion in federal and state fines to settle 10 separate cases. According to the GoodJobsFirst.org Violations Tracker, this includes five cases that violated the False Claims Act, two wage and hour violations, an environmental violation, a kickbacks and bribery case, and a insurance violation.


Despite this record and the new indictments, none of the eight California House members who accepted DaVita donations this year expressed plans to return or donate the funds. They were Judy Chu (D-27th District), Lou Correa (D-46), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-23), Devin Nunes (R-22), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-12), Eric Swalwell (D-15), Norma Torres (D-35) and David Valadao (R-21). Neither they nor their campaigns responded to multiple requests for comment.


Last week, CalMatters noted DaVita also spent $135 million “to defeat two California ballot measures and donated $1.3 million to state politicians in the past decade.” The two failed ballot measures were last year’s Prop 23 to more strictly regulate dialysis centers and Prop 18 in 2018 that would have capped the amount dialysis providers could earn from commercially insured individuals.


In the CalMatters piece, one veteran political consultant was quoted saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some politicians give DaVita money back,” he said. “Taking contributions from an indicted CEO is the perfect script for an attack ad. Any donation would be considered radioactive.”


But this observation appears a tad antiquated as the amount of donations accepted from highly fined corporations continues to skyrocket every election cycle with little shame or repercussion for candidates. This was chronicled earlier this year in a two-part report by SactoPolitico. Last cycle the average incumbent California member of the U.S. House accepted donations from 11½ corporations fined at least $1 billion since 2000. (There were 83 corporations in the billion-dollar-fine club as of February.)


Philip Mattera, research director for Good Jobs First, a D.C.-based accountability research organization, called such corporations “recidivists” for their serial offenses. “These companies are involved in misconduct over and over again, and in many different areas,” he said.


In an exchange of emails, the consultant quoted by CalMatters clarified that a race needed to be competitive to trigger the chance of attack ads for accepting such donations. However, few recent examples of such corporate donations being returned can be found.

Take Sacramento County’s U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-7). He hasn’t accepted a DaVita donation this year, but since 2011, he has accepted the fourth-most DaVita money ($21,200) among members of California’s House delegation. And his elections in 2012, 2014 and 2016 were narrowly won by between 0.8 and 3.4 points. But in none of these races were donations from repeatedly indicted and fined corporations like DaVita an issue. (Bera also accepted $2,700 from now-indicted DaVita CEO Kent Thiry in 2018.)


Then there’s Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has accepted more than $200,000 from convicted corporate felon PG&E. The San Francisco-based energy company’s felony convictions were related to the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, which killed eight people. PG&E also settled for multiple major fires caused by its equipment that led to 117 deaths in the last decade. This included 84 from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise.


But these donations have not been made an issue in the recall election. Part of the reason may be PG&E donates to both parties, having given $500,000 to both the state Democratic and Republican parties, according to Sacramento’s ABC-10 affiliate.


This month, Toyota was publicly shamed for giving $78,500 this year to 46 GOP House members who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election – despite the intent of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection to stop this certification.


Toyota has since said it will suspend future such donations. However, no attention was given to other House members who are accepting donations from corporations like Toyota that support members of the so-dubbed “Sedition Caucus.” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) lists 318 corporations and industry PACs that have given $7.7 million this year to 133 House members who agreed with the insurrectionists that questions surrounding parts of President Joe Biden’s election was so serious as to necessitate delaying full certification of the electoral college results.


Plus half of the 20 top-giving corporations on CREW’s list have been fined more than $1 billion over the past 20 years. This includes Toyota ($1.4 billion) and ranges from PG&E’s $1.1 billion in fines up to $4.7 billion by Pfizer. But neither these corporations’ mammoth levels of repeated law-breaking nor their support for the “Sedition Caucus” has caused other politicians to say “thanks, but no thanks” to their donations.


So the lesson here? Perhaps it is short of robust media coverage and attack ads by a well-funded, simon-pure campaign opponent, one should not expect most politicians to stop accepting donations from future DaVitas and Toyotas. Or to put it another way:


“Sigh over the corporate sins, but love the corporate donor.”

See past related story about donations to California’s House delegation by the largest opioid makers and distributors.