The Cost of Life
On January 30 the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) approved a request by State Senator Jean Fuller to audit Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) and Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC.)
The JLAC meeting started at 10am and the Voice got a call from Ms. Fuller’s staff at 10:10 letting us know that the audit was approved.
It’s been a long, emotional road and I found myself getting a little teary eyed, just like I did when I watched the video of the keys to the hospital being handed over to the new hospital board right before Thanksgiving.
The editor of the Voice yelled over to me from behind his computer and said that the vote was unanimous.
Then I started getting mad.
Tulare resident Alberto Aguilar asked State Assemblyman Devon Mathis to seek approval from JLAC for an audit of HCCA and TRMC in 2015. After a month of unreturned phone calls, Mr. Aguilar personally confronted Mr. Mathis at a public event in January of 2016.
Mr. Mathis told Mr. Aguilar that he could not ask for an audit because he owed HCCA’s Benny Benzeevi a favor. It seems Dr. Benzeevi had donated $15,400 to Mr. Mathis’ campaign in 2016.
So what would have happened if Mr. Mathis didn’t practice pay-to-play politics? What would have happened if he had requested the audit two years ago?
Under a JLAC audit would HCCA been forced to be more transparent?
Would discoveries from the audit have lead to Dr. Parmod Kumar’s dismissal?
Would the hospital board have felt more pressure to actually read the contracts before signing them?
Would Evolutions have a three million dollar lien?
Before Mr. Mathis was elected to the assembly he was an unemployed father of seven. Once elected, he needed to do anything he could to keep his job and the new lifestyle he had become accustomed to. He needed the assembly’s salary, HCCA’s donations, and didn’t mind flying around in Dr. Benzeevi’s private plane either.
What possessed Mr. Mathis to put his own needs in front of the lives of hundreds thousands of people? There are 500,000 people in Tulare County who at any one time might need the services of Tulare’s Hospital.
Apparently, I am not the only one feeling angry.
A few months ago, someone close to the Mathis camp sent me a heart wrenching email. A few days later we sat down for a long talk. The following is that email with some personal information deleted.
“What does shock me, and what troubles me the most, is Devon’s inaction with respect to the Tulare Hospital. When I read your article,(Dave Adalian, March 16, 2016) I knew instantly that he had said what Mr. Aguilar claimed. It just sounds like something Devon’s ego would compel him to say. Devon admitted that he had, in fact, made that statement to Mr. Aguilar. Although it troubled my conscience, the consensus was that Devon should deny it.
“Sean’s (Doherty) strategy was always ‘deny, deny, deny.’
“At this point, I chalked it up to a slip and had every belief that Devon was going to follow through with requesting that JLAC conduct an audit. Sometime later, during another meeting, I was informed by Sean Doherty that Devon had requested an audit; however, JLAC refused to do it as the situation in Tulare ‘had no statewide implications and is therefore a local matter.’
“Indeed, this was the story I told to every constituent who asked me about TRMC during the course of the 2016 election cycle and, I believed it to be true.
“(Later in 2017) I remarked to Devon how unfortunate that was that TRMC was about to close its doors. He responded by saying, ‘Well, now that Benzeevi has pissed me off we can probably request an audit.’
“Catherine, my jaw just about hit the floor. I don’t know that I had ever been more angry or disappointed at anyone in my life. I specifically asked him, ‘I thought we already did that and JLAC said no.’
“He just shook his head and started making fundraising calls.
“For someone who was as proud as he was for ‘saving the Inyo hospital,’ I still cannot fathom how a campaign contribution can outweigh the lives of his constituents. I know that when dealing with trauma, time is critical. Some folks simply are not going to have the time for an ambulance ride to Visalia, or Porterville.
“I fear that his inaction has, or will, cost someone their life.”
Remember what inspired Visalia Mayor Warren Gubler to run for State Assembly District 26? He was furious about Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ yes votes on Cap and Trade and Bill 649 concerning the mini cell phone towers.
In both cases Mr. Mathis told his constituents that he was going to vote “no” on both bills, but then turned around and voted “yes.”
Mr. Gubler said angrily over the phone, “I wonder how much money he got from AT&T and Verizon.”
Well, recently filed campaign finance statements were posted on the California Secretary of State website this week, so now we know.
The Telecommunication industry gave Mr. Mathis $8000 in 2017. These donations all came within a few months of his September 14 vote allowing the industry to erect their mini towers wherever they wanted without permission.
“Can you hear me now?”
Mr. Mathis certainly did.
The bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown because it infringed on city’s rights.
Campaign finance statements show that from July to December of last year Mr. Mathis brought in $105,793.00.
Mr. Gubler raised $123.050.00, even though he did not start until September 28.
Mr. Gubler also has $115,000 on hand while Mr. Mathis has $73,000.
An experienced fundraiser close to the Mathis campaign said, “It is unheard of for a challenger to out raise a two-term incumbent like Gubler did.”
On further inspection of the financial statements, Mr. Gubler received most of his donations, 75%, from individual donors who live in Tulare County – or what you would call constituents.
Mr. Mathis, on the other hand, received 75% of his donations from outside of Tulare County–from southern and northern California and out of state companies –or what you would call special interest.
$67,100 of Mr. Mathis’ donations came from Political Actions Committees (PACs) working in Sacramento.
Mr. Gubler, on the other hand, took no PAC money.
Soliciting PACs are an interesting way to raise campaign cash.
They do not know candidates individually. They do not know their families, constituents, or care where they live. There is only one thing PACs are interested in.
And that is the lawmaker’ vote.
Maybe I am missing something, but how is accepting PAC money putting “people over politics,” a motto Mr. Mathis has carried over from his 2014 campaign?
The Cannabis Action PAC out of Oakland was one of those organizations that give Mr. Mathis money.
Their stated mission is, “To promote the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and work for a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for our industry in the state of California.”
So nice to know that Mr. Mathis has his finger on the pulse of Tulare County residents.
Mr. Mathis also got donations from such civic minded companies as HCCA, KOCH Industries, and Monsanto.
My pet peeve is when politicians use running for office to financially support themselves and their friends. I know that campaign donations can’t directly go into a politician’s pocket, but I know that some of it circuitously finds its way back there.
For the year 2017, Mr. Mathis spent $148,000 out of a total of $213,000 in donations.
Mr. Gubler spent $8,500 out of a total of $123,000.
What frosts my cake is that Mr. Mathis used campaign contributions to pay for his legal bills.
Maybe he is not guilty of sexual assault, but he is guilty of leading a lifestyle that put him in the position to be accused in the first place.
Though it seems that he reimbursed his campaign, it is illegal to use campaign donations to defend yourself during a criminal investigation.
Another interesting tidbit revealed in the financial statement is that, even after Chief of Staff Sean Doherty was fired, the Mathis gravy train kept on rolling.
His consulting companies walked away with $50,000 of Mr. Mathis’ donations in 2017, many coming well after he was gone.
Interestingly, payments to Mr. Doherty’s consulting companies abruptly come to a halt in October after the allegations of a sexual assault of a young staffer by Mr. Mathis.
During those few weeks in October and November, after the assault story broke, the rumors were flying and one constant theme weaved through the gossip — Mr. Mathis and Mr. Doherty have so much dirt on each other it’s doubtful the full truth of what happened that night will ever be come out.
But the gossip, lies, and partying don’t stop the PAC money from coming or the gravy train from rolling.
Just the votes.
State Assembly District 26 Candidates Jack Lavers and Jose Sigala have not yet submitted their paperwork.
Campaign statements are due January 31.