Dem congressman defends pharmacy sale
WASHINGTON (CNN) — One of the leading critics of some of the more liberal elements of the House Democrats health reform bill is answering questions about his ties to a company with a stake in the debate.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas, is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives who pressed the congressional leadership to include more cost savings than originally proposed. Last month he came out against the idea of a government-run insurance plan that is included in the bills already passed by 3 House committees.
Ross' 2007 sale of his pharmacy in his hometown of Prescott, Arkansas to a company that operates several drug store chains, Stephen LaFrance Pharmacy Inc., is raising new questions. In the past LaFrance has been a critic of universal health care telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette it would lead to "…long lines, they won't be able to get treated, potential doctors will be afraid to go into medical school."
Ross did very well as a result of the transaction. He and his wife, who jointly owned the pharmacy, were paid $420,000 – about 40% more than the most recent appraisal of the property. An independent real estate tracking service shows the prices in the community during that time did not escalate very much.
In a statement, Ross dismisses the idea of his ties influencing his views on health care reform saying he has always supported it, but it must reduce costs, increase access and include insurance reform
"I welcome any debate and review on my voting record and my positions on the issue."
The congressman adds there was nothing improper regarding the transaction saying it was reported and disclosed as required by House ethics reporting requirements.
"I sold it for the amount that I have indicated it was worth on every personal financial statement since 1999. I spent $316,000 in 1998 constructing the building that houses the pharmacy and sold it for $420,000 in 2007 – the annual return on investment is less than four percent. I would have made more during that time period if I had invested in a certificate of deposit (CD)," he says.
This all came to light because of a report by the independent investigative news service ProPublica.
On top of the sale of the building, congressional financial disclosure forms filed by Ross show he and his wife made at least $500,000 by selling the pharmacy's other assets to LaFrance. His office says that was the sale of the "business," which includes inventory, prescription/customer files and says it is "common practice" when selling such a business.
"I have never done a favor for the buyer, who I have only met a few times in my life. The buyer did not just buy brick and mortar; he bought a successful, trusted, centrally-located and profitable pharmacy in my hometown. In two of my closest races, the buyer supported my Republican opponent in both of them. He has since supported my campaign," Ross says in the statement.
LaFrance, who donated $2,800 to Ross according to center for responsive politics, did not return calls to CNN seeking comment.
Notice the line, "In two of my closest races, the buyer [of Congressman Ross] supported my Republican opponent in both of them. He has since supported my campaign." Ah, yes, and I am sure "has since supported" Congressman Ross's campaign is purely coincidental to his servicing his sponsor by being one of the foremost Democratic opponents of a health care bill that potentially hurts the economic interests of the representative's pimp, I mean supporter.
I am certain that the 40% markup on that property sale (at the height of the collapse of property values in 2007 [a market that began contracting back in '06]), as well as the half mil the congressman and his wife made from LaFrance, was just "normal" business, much in the same way that it is "normal" for anyone to fork over a share of his/her "investment" in a sponsor, with the anticipation of a return of a different kind. No favoritism at all. And to be sure, the time Ross spent shredding the original House bill down to below a $1 trillion, so not to do crazy things like extend coverage and health care for people (and by inference damage the bank accounts of his major financial contributors) was just a heckuva fluke. The folks at LaFrance had no clue, after they began supporting Ross, that this would ever happen. It's whorery Blue Dog-style, where the magical meets happenstance.
If ever you want to see the true face of evil, you need to look no further than the Blue Dog coalition. At least with Republicans, you know there will be no pretense of caring about anyone outside of the upper 1% income tax bracket (unless they are overly religious and in need of hate inspiration against gays and abortion doctors). But hey, Mike Ross opposes gun control, too, so I am sure ole Alex thinks he's a misunderstood hero of anti-fascism.