Wikileaks emails: Clinton camp wanted to avoid discussing health care in Colorado before primaries

DENVER – Hillary Clinton’s campaign wanted to avoid talking about health care and what at the time was a proposal for a single-payer system in Colorado supported by her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, when she spoke to crowds in Denver and Boulder last November.

The revelation was made in emails purportedly from high-level Clinton staffers released by Wikileaks over the past week.

CLINTON STAFFERS SAY AVOID HEALTH CARE TALK AMID SANDERS’ SINGLE-PAYER TALK

Clinton was headed to Denver and Boulder Nov. 24, 2015 to meet with state caucus organizers when her speech writer, Megan Rooney, sent an email to other staffers saying the talking points for the appearances were ready, but noted that, “CO has asked that we not deliver a strong health care message here.”

The campaign’s vice chairwoman, Huma Abedin, wrote back: “[S]orry for the ignorance but why not a strong healthcare message tomorrow?”

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said the campaign was “avoiding that issue because of the single payer referendum,” to which deputy communications director Kristina Schake responded, “[Clinton Colorado campaign manager] Brad [Komar] asked us not to do health care tomorrow in Colorado because of the ballot initiative. Said it won’t be helpful there.”

The ballot initiative in question is Amendment 69, better known as ColoradoCare. At the time, it was still gathering signatures, and Sen. Sanders had been hitting the single-payer health care message hard in recent campaign stops.

Komar responded to Schake and the rest of the group, saying the ballot measure “is not great for us,” noting that Colorado HealthOP – which had been the state’s largest health insurer co-op – had recently announced it was shutting down, leaving 83,000 people needing new plans and taxpayers with more than $70 million in federal loan repayments.

“Not a great moment for ACA in Colorado,” Komar ended his email with.

AMENDMENT 69, INSURER SHUTDOWN AT HEART OF DIFFERENCES

Though the Clinton campaign has said she wants to “defend and expand” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and “make a ‘public option’ possible” – goals listed on her website – the emails show she wanted to avoid talking about a single-payer system.

But she has supported a “public option” that would allow people over 55 to buy in to Medicare. Sanders had argued there should be a single-payer system for everyone.

Amendment 69, Colorado’s single-payer measure, eventually gained enough signatures to be put on November’s ballot. It would take advantage of a clause in the ACA that allows states to create their own health care systems, though the state would have to obtain a waiver for subsidies.

Funding would come from a 10 percent payroll tax in which employers would pay 66 percent of costs and employees would pay the other third.

HEALTH CARE COMPANIES DUMP MONEY INTO SINGLE-PAYER OPPOSITION PAC

The measure has drawn support from Sen. Sanders, as well as state senators Irene Aguilar and Jeanne Nicholson and many county Democratic and Green party groups.

But it has garnered far more opposition than support, even among many high-profile Democrats.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and state Sen. Morgan Carroll – all Democrats – have all come out in opposition to the amendment.

But its strongest opposition has come via a political action committee (PAC) called Coloradans for Coloradans, which has so far raised more than $4 million to oppose the measure, of which it has spent $3.77 million.

Most of the money contributed to Coloradans for Coloradans, founded and run by Denver-based CRL Associates, Inc. Chief Operating Officer Roger Sherman, has come from the country’s largest health care and insurance companies.

Health insurer Anthem, Inc. has contributed $1 million so far to the PAC. United Healthcare Services, Inc. has contributed at least $450,000; Centura Health has given $250,000; Healthone System Support has given at least $250,000; PHRMA has given $100,000; SCL Health has given at least $100,000; Davita has given at least $75,000 and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company has given at least $60,000.

Centura and Healthone are the only companies based in Colorado out of those listed, though the list of contributions from health industry companies to Coloradans for Coloradans goes on and on in campaign finance documents.

Much of the payout by Coloradans for Coloradans has gone to advertising and “consultant and professional services,” though the PAC has so far paid out $220,404.30 to CRL Associates, Inc. – the public policy consulting company for which Sherman acts as COO.

Sherman and Coloradans for Coloradans was ordered in June to pay a $250 fine for violating state campaign finance filing laws, but that fine was later reduced to $50 since it was the PAC’s first infraction.

PRO-SINGLE PAYER MONEY DWARFED, POLLS REFLECT SAME

By contrast, the primary support PAC for Amendment 69, ColoradoCare Yes, has raised and spent around $760,000. Its largest donors are Co-operate Colorado Executive Director Lyn Gullette and Boulder psychologist Ivan J. Miller.

Clinton’s avoidance of talking about a single-payer system during her early visits, mixed with the vast anti-Amendment 69 campaign, appears to have paid off, as polling in recent months show a large public opposition to the measure.

A Colorado Mesa University, Rocky Mountain PBS and Franklin & Marshal College poll conducted mid-September showed 56 percent opposition, and a Magellan Strategies poll conducted at the end of August showed 65 percent opposition. Both polls had a sample size of greater than 500 people, with margins of error within 4.3 to 5.1 percent.

OTHER COLORADO-RELATED EMAILS SHOW UP IN PODESTA DUMP

While the discussion of health care was one of the most interesting exchanges found in the Wikileaks dump, there are thousands of emails that mention Colorado.

While most are simply press releases from various progressive groups, among them is an email from Komar and other Clinton staffers discussing how the campaign should respond to a call by Sanders to end all hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

“This is not a promise he can keep,” Komar writes. “I would watch our tone and not sound too pro-fracking. A reluctant tone is a better fit for dem caucus goers (it’s a transition energy. It’s not great but it allows us to get to where we want to be)”.

The campaign opted to focus more on putting in place safeguards for clean air and water and closing emissions loopholes used by the oil and gas industries.

Another email, from then-director of ProgressNow Colorado, Michael Huttner, showed up in Podesta’s email inbox. It was sent in July 2010 to “investors and key advisors” on an email listserv of Huttner's. The email was first discovered by Politico’s Ken Vogel.

In the email, Huttner boasts the organization, as “part of Colorado’s communication hub…carefully passed on information to the mainstream media” that Scott McInnis, who was running against Dan Maes in the Republican primary for the governor’s race at the time, had plagiarized a report on water policy.

“In the past 48 hours, McInnis and the entire Republican party of Colorado are in free-fall,” Huttner wrote. “The best part is that ProgressNow Colorado nor any of our allies had their fingerprints on any of the excellent behind-the-scenes work to develop and then break this story.”

The email then links to several stories in The Denver Post and other news outlets discussing the plagiarism, before ending with: “If you want to discuss how [ProgressNow] can be of further help to you in other states, please let me know a good time and number to reach you.”

McInnis went on to lose the primary to Maes by 1.3 percent. Maes then drew only 11 percent of the vote in the general election, and Hickenlooper won the governor’s office.

ProgressNow Colorado Political Director Alan Franklin responded to Vogel on Twitter regarding the email, saying the organization “caught a candidate engaged in plagiarism and passed info on to the media, who ran with it. Not scandalous for us.”

The Clinton campaign has not confirmed, nor has it denied, the validity of the emails, which appear to be from campaign chairman John Podesta.

Podesta said Wednesday the FBI was looking into how the emails were obtained and whether Russia was behind the hack.

The campaign did note that Donald Trump was “cheering on a release…engineered by Vladimir Putin.” The federal government has pointed to Russian hackers as being behind many of this year’s Wikileaks dumps, which also included embarrassing emails from within the Democratic National Committee.

Wikileaks says it has more than 50,000 emails it could release. The dumps in recent days have come in batches of several thousand.

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