Capitol Alert: Physical therapy group leader urges contribution ahead of vote
The leader of a major physical therapists network asked members lobbying against a bill in the Legislature to write campaign checks to key committee members ahead of next week's vote – a strategy one good government advocate said reinforces notions of corruption in the statehouse.
Physical Therapists Providers Network President Michael Weinper wrote in an email informing members of an upcoming Senate committee hearing that they can "help significantly" in the effort to defeat Assembly Bill 783 by attending a June 10 fundraiser the California Physical Therapy Association had scheduled in support of the California Republican Party.
"If you are unable to attend, please consider making a $50-$100 (or more) donation to the CRP or a specific legislator on the invitation, such as Senator Mimi Walters or Bill Emmerson, " Weinper wrote in a message containing the fundraiser invite, which is posted below. "Remember: these donations and your attendance at the hearing WILL IMPACT YOUR FUTURE."
The two GOP lawmakers mentioned in the email sit on the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, which is scheduled to hear the bill on Monday. Emmerson, of Hemet, is the committee's vice chair.
Weinper said his original intent was to urge members to attend the upcoming hearing, but that he ended up including his fundraiser invitation in the same message due to his "enthusiasm and passion" for the issue. He said he only realized his actions were inappropriate after he was informed by the California Physical Therapy Association, which has since canceled the fundraiser. "It was not my intent to buy votes, it never has," he said, adding: "Did I do wrong? Yes, but it was not done intentionally. It was inadvertent. I regret hitting the send button too soon."
Weinper said he did not send a follow-up or apology to members because "sometimes it's best to not make matters worse."
California Physical Therapy Association Executive Director Stacy DeFoe said the group was not aware of Weinper's message until after it was sent, but decided to cancel the event Friday over concerns that the message could create the impression of impropriety. She said the fundraiser was scheduled well before the committee hearing was set.
Derek Cressman, western regional director for Common Cause, said the fundraising plea "correctly describes the widely held perception that the California Legislature is corrupt and that making campaign contributions does in fact have a very large influence on policy outcomes." Cressman said such a scenario is especially problematic when it comes to legislation in which opposing interests both have a large financial stake.
"What the public wants is for a legislator to weigh those two competing interests against the broader public interest, and it's pretty clear that one of these narrow financial interests believes that making a campaign contribution is going to make a critical influence in the outcome of the bill," he said.
The bill, which would effectively reverse a recent California Physical Therapy Board decision prohibiting physical therapists from being employed directly by medical corporations, has pitted physical therapists who own their own clinics against physicians, chiropractors and podiatrists. It was approved by the Assembly 66-0 last month. Many of the Assembly Republicans named guests of honor on the the fundraiser invitation voted yes on the measure.
Opponents argue allowing physicians and others to employ physical therapists results in more in-house referrals, which they say presents a conflict-of-interest that increases the cost of care and creates unfair competition for physical therapist-owned clinics. They also question the legality of the hiring arrangements.
Supporters of the measure, who say it will protect jobs of physical therapists currently employed in such situations and streamline patient care, have significant financial clout themselves. The California Medical Association, which is a co-sponsor of the bill, has contributed $7,800 to the bill's author, Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, and Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee Chairman Curren Price, D-Inglewood. The group also contributed to Emmerson and Walters.
Editor's note: This post was updated at 1:01 p.m. with a comment from DeFoe.