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Jarrett Renshaw: Owners of Bayonne Medical Center spent $350K on lobbyists and political campaigns in past 2 years, records show
- Categorized in: Featured News, Hoboken Lawsuits, Hoboken University Medical Center HUMC HOLDCO, Municipal Hospital Authority
Owners of Bayonne Medical Center spent $350K on lobbyists and political campaigns in past 2 years, records show
September 27, 2011 Jarrett Renshaw - The Star-Ledger
The ownership group of Bayonne Medical Center may be as well versed in the art of Trenton politics as it is in medicine.
Facing legislative calls for increased oversight of for-profit hospitals as it pursues a controversial deal at Hoboken University Medical Center, the group has spent more than $350,000 in the past two years on political campaigns and high-powered lobbyists to make their case at the Statehouse, records show.
The Bayonne hospital paid Rosemont Associates, a lobbying firm that employs former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) to help convince the chairmen of the state legislative budget committees to support an $11 million earmark to ease the sale of the Hoboken University Medical Center, records show.
The ownership group of Vivek Garipalli, James Lawler and Jeffrey Mandler want to buy the Hoboken hospital for $65 million and convert it to a for-profit hospital, with the bulk of the proceeds going to retire $52 million in city-guaranteed debt. The $11 million earmark will pay of the interest on the bonds.
Without state taxpayers, the interest payments would be left to the buyers or the city to pick up, putting the sale in jeopardy.
"The meeting was no different than any other. We hold a lot of meetings with people come budget time," said Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), head of the Senate Budget Committee, when asked about his contact with the lobbyists.
Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said he never met with Torricelli but did meet with another lobbyist from the firm, but said he did not discuss the earmark.
In records filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, both lobbyists indicate they met with Sarlo and Greenwald to support "prepayment penalty for bonds related to Hoboken University Medical Center."
The earmark, sponsored by two state lawmakers from Hudson County, was not included in Gov. Chris Christie’s original budget, but was added when Democrats sent their own spending plan to the governor’s desk. Christie blocked almost all of the Democrats’ add-ons, but kept the money for the hospital.
Sarlo and Greenwald said the push for the appropriation came from Christie’s office, but the governor’s office disputes that.
"We did not see the Democrats’ budget in advance and had absolutely no inkling that the language concerning the $11 million for Hoboken University Medical Center would be included," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.
The hospital did pay one of the state’s largest and most powerful lobbying firms — Public Strategies Impact — to speak with the governor’s office about the budget earlier this year. Drewniak declined to provide specifics about the meeting.
Torricelli did not return phone calls seeking comment. A spokesman for the hospital group also did not return calls.
The hospital filed for bankruptcy Aug. 1, and is seeking to give creditors $5 million of the $34 million they are owed. Despite days of negotiations that continued yesterday, the creditors and the hospital have yet to agree on a settlement. Christie has offered $5 million in state funds to sweeten the offer.
Last year, the Bayonne Medical Center paid $238,438 hiring lobbyists to influence Trenton lawmakers and the governor, with the bulk — $130,000 — going to Rosemont Associates. The hospital paid Public Strategies Impact $75,000, and the rest went to Holman Public Affairs, records show. Totals on how much the ownership group spent this year will be released with ELEC’s releases annual lobbying report in early 2012, but lobbyists must report their activities on a quarterly basis.
Since taking control of the Bayonne Medical Center in 2008, the ownership group has also made numerous political contributions, including $100,100 to Democratic lawmakers and the party’s state committee, records show.
The group also contributed $25,000 to Reform Jersey Now, a political action committee with close ties to Christie. Records show the committee ran TV ads critical of two lawmakers pushing for more transparency from for-profit hospitals. The bill never passed.
The parents of Vivek Garipalli, a partner in the group who resides in Colts Neck, also made maximum contributions to Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-Hudson) weeks before he sponsored a budget resolution for the $11 million earmark. Ramos has since contributed the money to charity.
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