House Speaker will continue work for major Medicaid expansion beneficiary

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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.

sweetser speakerEves serves as Director of Business Development for Sweetser, a 501(c)3 non-profit that is heavily reliant on Medicaid and Medicare funding.

[RELATED: Emails raise questions on House Speaker’s ties to major Medicaid beneficiary…] 

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.

[RELATED: Lawmakers spar over Speaker’s potential conflict of interest…]

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.

[RELATED: Medicaid expansion means millions for House Speaker’s boss…]

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.

Republicans disagreed.

“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.

Steve Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
serobinson@themainewire.com

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I have zero tolerance for political whores, on either side of the aisle. But do tell, who is the ALEC whore this year who is shaping legislation behind closed doors…anyone?

  2. Now we know two things… Eves is a liar, along with his puppet master at Sweetser. Eves should immediately resign as speaker as this revelation confirms a huge conflict of interest. But he won’t because of the Democrat mantra of do as I say, not as I do.

  3. Well the republicans have absolutely no credibility here about Medicare fraud! What about a pharmacist who, for over FIVE years, overcharged for items purchased through Medicare to the tune of 3.6 million dollars at his store, and when caught pleaded the amount down to 1.6 million dollars and then paid back less the 500,000 dollars and then claimed bankruptcy! Never was made to pay back the rest of the 1.1 million dollars even though he got a very cushy state job as speaker of the house for the republicans! You want to talk about conflict of interests or dishonesty? Then how about not letting white collar thieves plead out ANY amount that they have stolen and make them pay back EVERY cent they owe (like the state makes us peons do) and not reward them with cushy, high profile and LAW MAKING jobs, eh? You can start there! Make Mr. Nutting pay back the 3.1 million dollars he stole from us taxpayers and pocketed without doing even a day behind bars!! And stop throwing rocks when you live in a glass house!

  4. You all thought former Speaker Nutting was the “cat’s meow.” And we all knew what an unrepentant sleaze bag he was. So you clowns can get off your high horse and go find something worthwhile to do. And as I said earlier, I have no tolerance for political whites, so shame on both Speakers. The thing is we all keep perpetuating this BS because it’s so important for “our side” to win. As a democrat, I do believe Mr Eves has more than a conflict of interest, but also some real ethical issues. He should be removed if he won’t step down, by his own party members…

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