Former Sen. Evan Bayh has repeatedly called Washington broken – but he appears to know full well how to work the Washington system.
The Indiana Democrat is running to win back his seat in one of this year’s marquee Senate races. His internal 2009 schedule – obtained by CNN – shows how he maneuvered behind the scenes during one of the most consequential periods of legislating on Capitol Hill.
The schedule provides a rare account of how Bayh privately engaged with fundraisers, lobbyists and donors who had a keen interest on the issues dominating Capitol Hill. At times, his own campaign fundraiser was sitting in on his meetings with donors in his official Senate office, the schedule says, raising potential conflict-of-interest concerns.
The schedule lays bare a reality of Washington: Well-connected donors often get a private audience with a powerful member of Congress, a luxury most Americans can’t afford.
“At a minimum, the meetings raise questions about buying access, and they raise questions about selling influence,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, a group that calls for stricter campaign finance rules.
Aides to Bayh told CNN there was nothing untoward. They said the then-senator’s office had created strict firewalls between official and political action. And the campaign cast doubt on the accuracy of the schedule, but did not dispute its authenticity or deny that any of the meetings took place.
According to the schedule, it appeared that lines were potentially blurred.
In his office in the Senate Russell Building in 2009, Bayh repeatedly met with donors for the health insurance and pharmaceutical sectors who were trying to shape the health care bill that was steamrolling through Congress at the time, according to the schedule. He met with donors of the medical device industry just as he was championing a reduction in the tax on that sector. Those meetings at times occurred shortly after the donor held a fundraiser for the senator or contributed to Bayh’s campaign account.
Of course, donors often get special access to lawmakers. But what’s less common in this instance is that Bayh held donor meetings on the Capitol grounds with his own fundraiser in attendance in his Senate office, the schedule says. Senate rules strictly forbid any fundraising in the Capitol complex, so lawmakers tend to avoid having such meetings in their official offices.
Bayh officials denied that there was any favor trading or that any fundraising occurred in the meetings.
Charles Salem, who served as Bayh’s chief of staff at the time, said in a statement that the senator’s office “strived to maintain the highest ethical standard. As a component of that, we kept a strict separation between the official office and all fundraising activity.”
Bayh campaign spokesman Ben Ray accused political foes of leaking the documents to the press “in the final days before an election,” arguing that the schedule is “at best incomplete and frequently containing errors.”
“Nearly 60 percent of all votes Evan took in 2009 are absent from this document,” Ray said in a statement. “And it is clearly not a reliable source of information on how his time was spent.”
But Bayh’s campaign did not deny that the meetings occurred.
Schedule lists meetings on Capitol grounds
In 2009, as Bayh was still considering running for reelection, his top fundraiser, Nancy Jacobson, attended a number of meetings with donors in Bayh’s office, even though she was not part of his official staff. She even made recommendations for Bayh to call donors who were pushing issues on the Hill, the schedule says.
A day before Bayh cast a deciding vote on Obamacare in late December, Jacobson recommended that he place a call to a UCLA doctors group and Bill Powers, a man who donated $10,000 to his campaign in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The call, according to the schedule, was supposed to take place at his office or his residence.
Powers, who also hosted a fundraiser in the tony Los Angeles neighborhood of Manhattan Beach in April 2009, declined to comment to CNN. Bayh and Powers were friends from their school days, according to the campaign.
In May 2009, private equity consultant Ralph Isham met with Bayh in his Russell office. Isham had donated $20,000 to Bayh between 2005 and 2008, and had attended an October fundraiser dinner for the senator. Jacobson was listed as staff for the May meeting and the fundraiser. Isham did not respond to a phone call seeking comment, but the campaign said the senator and donor were long-time friends.
In a statement provided by the campaign, Jacobson didn’t deny sitting in on the meetings but said that as “an adviser to Sen. Bayh” and other individuals and groups, she “frequently attended meetings to build networks and exchange ideas.” Jacobson added: “But we never conducted fundraising activity in Sen. Bayh’s office – not with these meetings in question or any other meetings that I was a part of.”
But Fischer, the attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, said that the fact that a senator’s top fundraiser attended such meetings may have implicitly pressured donors to consider opening up their pocket books.
“It’s reasonable to question whether there was at least implicit fundraising solicitations by virtue of his fundraiser being present at these meetings,” Fischer said.
There were other scheduled meetings as well.
Jacobson, Bayh’s top fundraiser, attended a Senate meeting on December 10, 2009, with Bob Beizer, who worked at Gray Television, which owns a local television station in South Bend, Indiana. (Beizer contributed $12,500 to Bayh’s campaign accounts between 2005 and 2009, while the schedule noted that he attended a January fundraiser for Bayh that year.)
Beizer had a long time personal relationship with Bayh, according to the campaign, but couldn’t could be reached for comment.
A managing partner at a New York investment firm, Glenn Fuhrman, also attended an October 2009 meeting with Bayh after joining a fundraiser for the Democrat that year. Jacobson attended both events, the schedule said, while Fuhrman did not return a phone call seeking comment.
And Jacobson also was listed as a guest for a meeting on U.S.-Chinese relations in Bayh’s office with Donald Tang, a former Bear Stearns who cut the senator a check for $1,000 in 2005. Reached for comment, Tang recalled meeting with Bayh but not the specifics.
Health care donors scheduled to meet with Bayh as Obamacare heats up
Bayh also met privately in his office with donors to his campaign who also were deeply invested in the actions on Capitol Hill – namely on Obamacare – without Jacobson in attendance.
Some of those sessions occurred soon after the lobbyists held fundraising events for his campaign, with the lobbyists bringing their CEOs to meet with Bayh in his office. While common, lawmakers rarely discuss such meetings to avoid the appearances of impropriety.
In February 2009, Michael Mussallem, CEO of the company AdvaMed, which donated $2,000 to the senator’s campaign and whose lobbyists attended an April fundraiser for Bayh, met with the Democrat in his office, to discuss the medical device tax. A source with AdvaMed confirmed the meeting occurred.
On a drive back from Washington Dulles airport, Bayh was scheduled to speak by phone with the CEO of Zimmer, David Dvorak, to discuss medical device issues, following up on a private meeting the men had in the senator’s office.
Dvorak’s company gave Bayh $1,000 to his campaign, while officials for the company attended a fundraiser for the Indiana Democrat that year. A representative from Zimmer didn’t respond to a request for comment but a source confirmed the meetings took place. (Bayh’s office later pointed out that Zimmer was headquartered in Warsaw, Indiana.)
Bayh had private discussions in his office with executives with the company Boston Scientific, just six months after representatives for the company attended a fundraiser and donated to his campaign. He also met in his Senate hideaway with the CEO of Roche Diagnostics to discuss health care reform, a company that gave another $5,000 to his campaign in March of that year. The two companies also had headquarters in Indianapolis, the campaign noted.
The chief executive and lobbyists for the United Health group met with Bayh, after the lobbyists attended fundraisers for him that year and gave $5,000 to his campaign. He did the same with lobbyists from CIGNA and its CEO, along with the top executive of Eli Lilly and officials with the American Council of Life Insurers, all donors to his campaign. (Eli Lilly employed 11,000 people in Indiana, the campaign said.)
Representatives with these companies either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment.
AstraZeneca executive David Brennan met Bayh in his office that year, the schedule says, after lobbyists donated $5,000 to his campaign and attended a June fundraiser. (A representative for the company did not respond to requests for comment.)
Bayh announced his support for the Affordable Care Act on December 21 of that year before voting for its enactment.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include additional information about the headquarters of companies Bayh met with.