The top advocate for expanding medical welfare in Maine confirmed Tuesday that he has returned to his position with a major beneficiary of Maine’s medical welfare programs and will return again following the conclusion of the 126th Legislature.
In June, The Maine Wire reported exclusively on the potential conflict of interest for Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick), who has emerged as the top proponent of a Democrat-backed plan to expand Medicaid, the medical welfare program known in Maine as MaineCare.
Eves said in June that he was on a leave of absence from Sweetser and Sweetser officials said he had no guarantee of returning to his job.
But the House Speaker’s office confirmed in an email Tuesday that Eves resumed his work as Director of Business Development for Sweetser in July and will return to his position once the second regular session concludes next spring.
The confirmation followed The Maine Wire’s exclusive report Monday which revealed emails suggesting Eves was no longer on a leave of absence.
“The Speaker was on a leave of absence in June and will be on one again when we resume session,” said Communications Director for the Speaker Jodi Quintero.
She further clarified that Eves’ leave of absence “is only for the time the Legislature is in session.”
“He will return to a leave of absence in January for the duration of the session,” she said, implying that Eves will be back at Sweetser once the second regular session ends.
Although Sweetser files its taxes as a private school, it describes itself as a social services agency.
Sweetser CEO Carlton D. Pendleton, who according to tax documents makes nearly $300,000 per year, has previously said his school is 80 percent dependent on Medicaid and Medicare funding. According to an analysis of tax documents, expanding Medicaid as Democratic lawmakers have currently proposed could potentially boost Sweetser’s taxpayer-funded revenue stream by more than $20 million annually.
In response to an earlier Maine Wire story, Pendleton posted the following statement on Sweetser’s website:
“An article online today inaccurately portrays our relationship with former employee Mark Eves. Just to set the record straight – we are succinctly stating that Mark Eves is not employed by Sweetser… Just like all others providing healthcare services, we receive funding from government sources and any attempt to draw lines between current legislation and a relationship we have had with a former employee is simply untrue.”
Eves, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2008, became a director at Sweetser in October of 2011.
While simultaneously working for Sweetser during non-leave of absence months, Eves has advocated for MaineCare expansion at the State House, in newspaper editorials, and on the Legislative Council.
In a July 21 op-ed for the Bangor Daily News, Eves said Gov. Paul LePage “senselessly vetoed” the first attempt to expand welfare and vowed to introduce the bill again next year. And, at a Sept. 17 press conference with Assistant Senate Minority Leader Ann Haskell (D-Portland), Eves urged the governor to “stop making excuses” and accept the Democrat plan to expand MaineCare.
Both of these activities were undertaken while the Speaker was actively working as a director at Sweetser.
Eves employment with Sweetser also coincides with his chairmanship of the ten-person Legislative Council. In October, when Eves ignored Joint Legislative Rules to guide another MaineCare expansion bill through the council’s screening session, he was actively drawing a paycheck from a major MaineCare beneficiary.
Yet Quintero insists there is no conflict of interest concerning Eves’ strident advocacy for legislation that will greatly enhance the flow of tax dollars to his former, current and future employer.
“There is no conflict of interest and never was,” she said.
“The shamelessness is just breathtaking,” said Rep. Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst), who opposed the first attempt to expand MaineCare and has been a persistent critic of Eves.
“Say Speaker Eves gets his way and we tie ourselves to the caboose of the Obamacare train wreck with another Medicaid expansion. A month or two later he’s back at Sweetser helping tens of thousands of able-bodied young adults get Medicaid-funded services from Sweetser, courtesy of John Q. taxpayer,” he said. “How is that not a conflict of interest?”
Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said he is “deeply concerned” about the appearance of a conflict of interest surrounding Eves’ push to expand eligibility for medical welfare.
“After the Speaker’s statement about his work with Sweetser last session became an issue, why did the Speaker go back to work for Sweetser without saying anything publicly?” said Savage. “Will the Speaker recuse himself from the welfare expansion issue now? What assurances do we have that the Speaker is acting in the best interest of Maine taxpayers, and not for his employer?”
“I think the people of Maine deserve answers to these questions,” he said.
A poll released Tuesday by the Democratic firm Pan Atlantic SMS Group showed that only 50.6 percent of likely Maine voters believe MaineCare should be expanded.
Maine Wire Reporter