Polis Investments in Health Care Company Draw Fresh Criticism

April 5, 2012
By

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) continues to face questions about investments in health care companies he made as a member of a panel crafting the ObamaCare law (Photo by Jeffrey Beall)

WASHINGTON — At a bill signing ceremony Wednesday, President Obama threw his support behind legislation that would curb lawmakers from possessing stocks in industries they oversee.

“We should limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries that they have the power to impact,” the President said at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

While members of the executive branch are required to divest their holdings in companies their job might affect, members of Congress are not similarly bound. One such member is Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) whose multi-million dollar investments in a health care company in 2009 received fresh new criticism from congressional watchdogs.

“The notion of lawmakers buying or selling stock in companies that are affected by legislation they’re overseeing is problematic,” Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said in an interview.

“It seems inappropriate,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an interview.

A Polis spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Polis sat on the House Education and Labor Committee while the panel oversaw the sweeping health-care reform bill. He voted against the bill in committee in July 2009, telling media outlets he objected to the bill’s surtax on high-income earners and a payroll tax. He voted for more fiscally moderate versions of the bill in November 2009 and March 2010.

As Congress considered the Affordable Care Act, Polis bought between $7 million and $35 million in equity in a privately held company, Bridgehealth International. As a medical tourism business, Bridgehealth stood to benefit financially from an increased pool of customers seeking to reduce their health-care costs.

Polis made seven separate investments in Bridgehealth in 2009. Several of his purchases coincided with key advances in the health-care bill.

On March 5, President Obama held a health summit at the White House with key health care leaders; on March 9, Polis purchased $1 million to $5 million in equity in Bridgehealth. On July 17, the Education and Labor Committee passed the health-care measure; on September 4, Polis bought between $1 million and $5 million in equity in Bridgehealth.

Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the conservative-leaning Hoover Foundation, was among the first who described Polis’ financial dealings in Throw Them All Out, his popular 2011 book on financial shenanigans in Congress. Schweizer said he disagrees with those who argue Polis made his investments with no more information than the public.

“This is a really poor excuse. Bridgehealth is a privately held company, and so he used his information from his work on the committee to make these investments,” said Schweizer.

The Denver Post ran an excerpt about Polis’ financial dealings from Schweizer’s book this January.

In an op-ed the paper published days later, Polis did not defend his investments in Bridghealth in 2009. Instead, he explained his previous investment in the company, saying he had co-founded it in 2007 and had loaned it money to avoid layoffs. And he redirected Schweizer’s criticism, saying he had “not purchased stock in any publicly traded company since” he entered Congress.

Yet Schweizer did not criticize Polis for purchasing stock in a publicly traded company, only a privately held one. Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics said Polis’ redirection of the criticism is commonplace. “It’s done all the time. It’s frustrating when a person won’t answer a charge, but it’s certainly not unusual,” she said.

After Schweizer’s book was released, and a subsequent “60 Minutes” special on its findings appeared, legislation sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) designed to bar members of Congress from trading on insider information garnered more than 200 supporters, including Polis. Obama signed the bill into law Wednesday. Among other provisions, the law will require members of Congress to report their stock transactions to the House or Senate’s clerk’s office within 45 days of making them.

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