If you want to understand the ethical blumpkin that is corporate influence over American politics, look no further than this story from the Kansas City Star.
On Sunday, the Star and McClatchy published an investigation into Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s cozy relationship with a nursing home executive who faces charges of abuse, negligence, and wrongful death.
The executive, Rick DeStefane, is a wealthy nursing home executive in Missouri who has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to both Democratic and Republican politicians in the state. DeStefane has generously donated to McCaskill, a Democrat, and her political allies and over the past 12 years:
Since McCaskill first announced in 2005 she would run for the U.S. Senate, DeStefane has given $14,600 to her campaign committee, the maximum amount allowed.
When counting the dollars he sent to her joint fundraising committees and supportive political action committees, DeStefane’s contribution to McCaskill’s federal campaigns totals $61,200, according to an analysis of election records by The Star and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog.
DeStefane’s most recent donation to McCaskill came on June 26. He gave $5,400, the most he’s allowed to give to her campaign committee this election cycle.
Big whoop, right? Donors give money to politicians. This is how it works.
It gets a little more muddled when you consider that McCaskill is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is charged with approving public funding for the country’s nursing homes through Medicare and Medicaid disbursements.
It becomes even more muddled when you consider that DeStefane happens to be business partners with McCaskill’s husband, Joseph Shepard. In 1997, Shepard incorporated Black Hawk Partners and bought a vacation home on Lake of the Ozarks. DeStefane and Shepard also jointly own two jet skis and a 2011 Nissan Armada, according to tax and loan filings obtained by the Star.
Since Black Hawk Partners is an LLC, it shields members from personal liability, and offers much-wanted privacy for people who may, for whatever reason, want to avoid public scrutiny.
In 2011, DeStefane bought a second vacation home on Lake of the Ozarks. Two years later, he deeded the house to Black Hawk Partners—effectively signing it over to Shepard. That means Senator Claire McCaskill can enjoy refreshing watermelon mojitos on the deck whenever she wants!
Meanwhile, DeStefane is facing numerous charges of abuse and neglect through his nursing home company, aptly named Reliant:
Six months after McCaskill tweeted the photo of the watermelon mojito from the vacation home her family shares with DeStefane, a 45-year-old resident fell to his death from a window at Levering Regional Health Care Center, one of DeStefane’s nursing homes in Hannibal, Mo.
The facility’s staff failed to perform hourly checks on the resident overnight and did not notice he was missing for seven hours, according to a notice of noncompliance issued by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. They discovered his body in an alley at 6 a.m. on November 17, 2016, three stories below his bedroom window.
The resident had used pliers to pry open his window and a television cable to lower himself down, the report found. The cable snapped and he fell to his death.
That’s not all! Since 2002, Reliant and its affiliates have been named in 11 wrongful death lawsuits. In four of those cases, DeStefane was named personally as a defendant.
Chad Jordon, vice president of the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care, described the conditions at a number of DeStefane’s homes as “egregious.”
Inspection reports and court filings describe urine-and feces-soaked beds and furniture, staff who failed to protect residents from abuse or didn’t properly report a resident’s allegation of sexual assault by a medical technician, and patients who allegedly suffered such severe pressure ulcers that they died or had to endure the amputation of a limb. One nursing home didn’t have a working sprinkler system. Another was cited for not properly monitoring a suicidal patient who staff later found hanged in a bedroom.
There’s no quid pro quo, the usual standard for accusations of public corruption, in this story. But doesn’t it seem just a little unseemly that the people the American public is supposed to entrust with regulating industries—especially those that deal with our most vulnerable populations—are the same people embarking on jet ski vacations with owners and executives in those industries?
This is what influence tends to look like in American politics, no matter if there is a D or R after someone’s name: not a smoking gun, but a watermelon mojito. When the people you are supposed to be regulating as an elected official can effectively buy you a vacation house, there is something wrong with how our politics are structured.
Read the Star’s full story here.