Perry violated ethics law in lobbying Scott on Medicaid dental provider
TALLAHASSEE — Past presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry broke a Florida ethics law by failing to register as a lobbyist before discussing a Medicaid dental provider with Gov. Rick Scott.
Though Florida law says “a person may not lobby an agency [of state government] until such person has registered as a lobbyist,” Perry didn’t do that on Tuesday when he met with Scott, a top staffer and the head of the Agency for Health Care Administration.
The 2:45 p.m. meeting was left off of Scott’s official daily schedule, which was updated hours later after POLITICO Florida inquired and first wrote about it. It took Perry a few more hours — until 6:27 p.m. — to register as a lobbyist for MCNA Dental as questions were raised about whether he was following the law.
Neither Perry, MCNA Dental nor Southern Strategy Group, the powerhouse lobbying firm that arranged Tuesday's meeting, returned calls for comment.
By registering after the fact, Perry likely headed off any major headaches if someone files a complaint against him with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
“The law says you have to register to lobby before you lobby,” said Tim Baker, a Republican ethics and elections-law attorney. “But if you register within a few hours afterward, it probably won’t result in a fine or any problems.”
Mark Herron, a Democratic ethics and elections lawyer, agreed. The ethics commission, he said, would deem the offense “de minimis.”
Perry was a natural fit for the MCNA lobbying effort because he’s close friends with Scott, with whom he speaks frequently. More than a month ago, POLITICO Florida heard that Perry was lobbying for MCNA, but a spokeswoman for Scott said he never discussed the issue with the Florida governor until Tuesday.
MCNA’s founder, Jeffrey Feingold, is a longtime associate of the former Texas governor and the company and its employees were one of Perry’s biggest donors to his presidential campaign, contributing nearly $40,000. Feingold was also a fundraiser for Perry’s political action committee.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, won approval for MCNA’s legislation in a House health care committee. Diaz said the measure would reduce extra costs by allowing companies like MCNA to manage Medicaid dental services without having to answer to another managed-care company overseeing the program in designated regions of the state.
The bill would eliminate dental services from the minimum list of benefits managed care plans are required to offer Medicaid beneficiaries. It also would require the state AHCA to contract for a report that examines how effective the Medicaid managed care plans have been in improving access, satisfaction, delivery and value in dental services. The report must be submitted by December.
The Legislature could choose during the 2017 session to put dental care back in the contracts the state signs with Medicaid managed care plans. Otherwise, the bill requires the state to move ahead with a five-year, non-renewable statewide Medicaid prepaid dental health program for children and adults.
The bill would require the state to contract with a vendor that could provide a choice of at least two licensed dental managed care providers. The bill would require that enrollment in the Medicaid prepaid dental program begin no later than March, 2019.
Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Joe Negron, will be Senate president during the 2017 session, when the Legislature could act to amend dental back into the law.
Asked whether Perry’s failure to register would affect the chances of the bill, Diaz said “no."
"The bill will stand on its own merits and should pass because it’s good policy,” he said.
--additional reporting by Christine Sexton