A group of Maine reporters has received financial support from a pro-Obamacare organization to attend health care reporting workshops. The Maine Health Access Foundation, a pro-Obamacare organization that has been active in liberal health care issues since its state-mandated creation in 2000, provided scholarship underwriting for a number of Maine reporters from the Bangor Daily News, Portland Press Herald, Maine Public Broadcasting, the Associated Press, and other Maine news organizations.
Notable among the recipients of the scholarship are health care reporters from the state’s largest newspapers. Meg Haskell and Jackie Farwell of the Bangor Daily News have provided the bulk of reporting for the paper on Maine health reform initiatives, and have been accused by conservatives in Maine of tilting coverage against free-market reforms. Haskell received funding for health care reporting training from MeHAF in 2005, Farwell in 2012. John Richardson of the MaineToday Media papers, who has reported extensively on state health reforms initiatives, was the recipient of the scholarship funding in 2011.
The health care “fellowship” attended by the Maine reporters is a nine-day workshop held in Boston. Among the sessions held at the event was one called “States on the Edge” where a featured speaker was Trish Riley, former Maine governor John Baldacci’s health care chief and the architect of Maine’s failed government-run health care experiment – Dirigo Health. Reporters in the fellowship also had the chance to attend a Red Sox game as part of the trip.
The Maine Health Access Foundation was founded in 2000, as a condition of the purchase of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Maine by Anthem. As a condition of the sale, Maine’s Board of Insurance mandated that “At least $81.69 million of the sale proceeds paid for the business of Blue Cross must be immediately transferred to the Charitable Foundation as soon as the sale is complete.”
Several prominent liberal activists sit on MeHAF’s Board of Trustees, including Nancy Fritz, former Director of Homeless Initiatives at Maine Housing, and Sara Gagne-Holmes, the Executive Director of Maine Equal Justice Partners.The group came out actively in support of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2009. MEHAF Executive Director Wendy Wolf wrote in an ‘Open letter from MeHAF’s President and CEO’:
“MeHAF embraces this law as an unprecedented opportunity to advance our mission to promote affordable and timely access to comprehensive, quality health care, and improve the health of every Maine resident – particularly those who are uninsured.”
Wolf claimed Obamacare was “taking our country forward toward joining all other industrialized nations in providing a national plan to bring affordable health insurance coverage to millions of Americans, including 125,000 uninsured Maine people.”
MeHAF has provided millions in grant funding to a variety of health reform projects in Maine. Most of their funding has gone to local and statewide health care related efforts. However, included among those grants are substantial contributions to outspoken left-wing political groups.
MeHAF has granted $245,000 since 2008 to Consumers for Affordable Health Care, another pro-Obamacare organization that has actively opposed Republican-led health reform initiatives in Maine, and a member of the left-wing political activist consortium ‘Maine Can Do Better’, led by longtime Democrat political operatives David Farmer and Ben Dudley. MeHAF has also given more that $324,000 since 2008 to Maine Equal Justice Partners, another member of the Maine Can Do Better political coalition and active opponent of GOP-led reform efforts. As noted earlier, Maine Equal Justice Partner Executive Director Sara Gagne-Holmes is a Trustee of MeHAF.
From 2008 to 2010, MeHAF granted $50,000 to the Maine People’s Resource Center, an arm of the ultra-left-wing Maine People’s Alliance, an active supporter of Obamacare and vehement opponent of conservative health reform initiatives.
MeHAF has given more than $10,000 to Maine Initiatives, a shell organization used to distribute funding to a variety of left-wing political causes. Self-described as “Maine’s leading social justice organization,” Maine Initiatives features an extensive list of left-wing political figures on its board of directors and advisors, including Democrat State Senator Justin Alfond, Hancock County Democrat Chair Phil Bailey, Maine labor advocate Chris Quint, long-time environmental activist Brownie Carson, former Maine Democrat Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree, and U.S Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
The list of left-wing funding recipients is extensive: The Maine Transgender Association, Equality Maine, Natural Resource Council of Maine, and the Maine Civil Liberty Union. MeHAF has also funded the Maine Women’s Policy Center, another ‘social justice’ organization whose Board Chair, Peaches Bass, is domestic partners with former Maine State Housing Authority Director and long-time Democrat political operative Dale McCormick.
Michael Socolow, an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Maine, said typically the thing to do when there is a question of conflict of interest is to look to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
The Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics outlines some fairly clear lines reporters should not cross. Under the section titled ‘Act Independently’, SPJ advises that journalists should:
—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Socolow also added that he thinks the most important thing in regards to these fellowships is transparency. “As long as journalists disclose the source of their training, or any subsidy
involved in their reporting, then they are being honest with their audience,” Socolow said.
Larry Tye, who runs the fellowship program, doesn’t deny that he has some bias about certain aspects of health care. “I am up front on my biases, including believing that it is a good thing to give all Americans basic health care,” Tye said in an email to TheMaineWire. Tye also notes that the fellowship program has featured opponents of Obamacare as well as supporters.
Representative Jon McKane, who sits on the legislative committee on Insurance and Financial Services, the committee that works most of the health care insurance legislation, questions whether it was the best idea for these reporters to accept the scholarships from MeHAF.
“If a reporter does decide to take this fellowship offer from MeHAF, a group that has been openly pro-Obamacare, they need to be sure it doesn’t affect their coverage of health care issues in any way.”
“Obviously we have some huge health care issues going on right now in the state and the country, with the passage of state health reform last year and the monumental discussion of the constitutionality of Obamacare right now, it’s more important than ever that health care coverage isn’t biased.
“Hopefully these journalist fellowships that MeHAF has paid for don’t influence reporters one way or the other.”