By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public Radio, March 19, 2014
The fight for single payer health care promises to be one of the heaviest political lifts in state history. And a new group is about to put some financial weight behind the lobbying push.
Vermont’s Coalition for Universal Reform is barely off the ground. But the issue advocacy organization already has $100,000 in the bank, thanks to a single donation by the American Federation of Teachers. The non-profit group has retained a top Montpelier lobbying firm to help deploy its Statehouse strategy.
With its foray into the single-payer advocacy arena, AFT joins the NEA, which poured $80,000 into an issue-advocacy group last month, called Vermont Leads.
The AFT won a major victory in the Legislature earlier this year with the passage of a childcare unionization bill; the union is the likely entity under which the approximately 1,500 childcare providers now eligible for collective bargaining will choose to organize.
Todd Bailey is president of strategic communications and government relations at KSE Partners, the firm hired by Vermont’s Coalition for Universal Reform. He says the fight for a publicly funded, universal health care system won’t be successful without a well-funded campaign to push it through.
“You cannot use volunteer resources, human resources, over that period of time and maintain an energy that is going to be consistent enough and persistent enough to pass legislation that is this large and difficult to get through both chambers of the Legislature,” Bailey says.
KSE spearheaded the push for civil unions in 2000 and same-sex marriage in 2009, and Bailey says the politics surrounding single-payer will likely be even more difficult to navigate. Bailey says Vermont’s Coalition for Universal Reform – VT CURE, as the group is branding itself – will provide the cash and strategic direction for paid advertising, communications and Statehouse lobbying related to the push for single-payer.
As a 501(c)4, VT CURE won’t be allowed to promote or attack specific candidates. But it is legally permitted to run what are known as issue-advocacy campaigns around elections season, and Bailey says that will likely be one component of the group’s strategy.
Bailey says the group doesn’t necessarily plan to disclose the identity future donors to the group – federal law doesn’t require it to do so. The six-figure start-up donation came from a single organization.
Bailey says the new organization will attract capital from out-of-state contributors who want to see single-payer succeed in Vermont. The group will be run by a five-person board that Bailey says includes health care professionals, a representative of organized labor and someone from the business community.
The board members are Danforth-Pewter CEO Bram Kleppner, AFT President Ben Johnson, Dr. Peter Dale, nurse practitioner Lauren Bailey, and Art Bell, founder of Dreamlike Pictures, a Vermont production firm whose work includes political ads.
Bailey says more board members may be coming on in the future.
The Vermont-NEA recently invested $80,000 into the pro single payer issue advocacy organization Vermont Leads.
Outside opposition to the reform initiative has come largely in the form of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, an issue advocacy group founded in 2011 by Republican operative Darcie Johnston.