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Topics: Labor Unions

Obama's first union endorsement pays off for an Obamacare co-op

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Watchdog,Richard Pollock,Labor unions,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Labor,Las Vegas,Health Care,Follow the Money,Nevada

Nevada's most powerful union has heavily stacked the board of the Nevada Health CO-OP, the Silver State's only Obamacare co-op, according to Internal Revenue Service documents.

Donald "D" Taylor, the UNITE HERE union's national president and his wife, Bobbette Bond, are members of Nevada Health CO-OP's five-member board of directors.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded the Nevada Health CO-OP $66 million in 2012 in the form of a tax-free loan.

UNITE HERE's Culinary Health Fund sponsored the co-op's application for the loan. The fund is the union's self-financed health insurance program.

The $66 million came from nearly $2 billion in Obamacare funding CMS used to help fund 23 of the "consumer-oriented" health insurance non-profits designed to compete with private sector insurers.

Bond told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last year that “we will be governed by a board that’s mostly made up of consumers,” adding that it “will include community leaders who have experience working with underserved populations.”

But Bond's promise remains unfulfilled. Four of the five voting board members at the Nevada Health CO-OP are officers or voting board members of UNITE HERE or its affiliates, according to the co-op's 2012 Form 990 federal tax return.

A spokesman for Nevada Health CO-OP failed to return repeated calls from the Washington Examiner seeking comment for this story.

UNITE HERE was the first national union to endorse then-Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy for president in 2008.

Taylor’s Culinary local chapter 226 in Las Vegas is the Nevada chapter of UNITE HERE. The local is a political powerhouse in Nevada, representing 55,000 workers, mainly in the Strip’s casinos. Taylor was part of Local 226's leadership from 1987 until 2013 and served as its secretary-treasurer from 2002 to 2013. Today, it is the largest union in the state.

Local 226 has been a major force in Nevada politics for many years, being described by the Las Vegas Sun as “the politically powerful labor union in Nevada."

Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston told the Washington Examiner in a recent interview that the union played a key role for Obama in the 2008 Nevada Democratic presidential caucus.

Ralston said the union also was "a significant element of the turnout machine that helped save [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid's re-election" campaign in 2010.

Former President Clinton denounced Local 226 prior to the 2008 caucus, accusing it of undemocratic tactics in the delegation selection process.

Bond, Taylor's wife, not only serves on the board but also is the co-op’s chief project officer and has often been a spokeswoman for the co-op.

Bond was previously senior director of health policy at the Culinary Health Fund before joining the Nevada Health CO-OP board.

She was also a paid lobbyist with the Health Services Coalition and the HEREIN welfare Fund, both affiliated with UNITE HERE, according to Nevada lobbying registration records.

Ralston said Bond could be regularly seen “up at the legislature a lot, lobbying on health issues.”

Tom Zumtobel is both a member of Nevada Health CO-OP's board and its chief executive officer. He was formerly a UNITE HERE vice president and former president of the Culinary Health Fund.

Zumtobel doesn’t even live in Las Vegas. Public records from Lexis.com show that since 2002 he has lived in Reno, Nev., nearly 450 miles away, with his wife, Cecelia Ann Zumbotel.

The CO-OP listed $15,000 in travel reimbursements on its tax return.

Kathy Silver, the fourth CO-OP board member, is president of UNITE HERE Health, the union’s welfare and benefits arm.

The fifth member is Jeff Ellis, a vice president and CFO for shared benefits at the MGM Resorts International, where UNITE HERE’s local chapter represents workers.

MGM Resorts International represents a number of casino and hotel properties in Las Vegas, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay and The Mirage.

Nevada Health CO-OP's website does not identify its leadership or board members, but in its tax return the co-op said it doesn't “make its governing documents, conflicts of interest policy, and financial statements available to the public during the tax year.”

The IRS documents show that UNITE HERE Health paid the co-op $499,611 in 2012 for what it described as “executive and administrative services contracts.”

Zumtobel's 2012 salary was $416,000, while Silver's was $371,000. Bond received $209,000, according to the tax documents.

Nevada Health CO-OP doesn't pay Taylor, but he receives $175,430 as UNITE HERE's president, according to Union Facts, a website that tracks union issues.

The co-op does not disclose Ellis’s salary, as he is an employee of MGM Resorts International.

Nevada Health CO-OP customers have accused the co-op of misleading the public about its doctor's network since it began operations in October 2013.

And recently, Taylor and his union turned against Obamacare when he discovered the new health care rules hurt the union and its membership.

Last March UNITE HERE released a scathing report about Obamacare titled "The Irony of Obamacare: Making Inequality Worse."

A CMS spokesman declined to discuss the Nevada Health CO-OP's board members specifically, saying only that federal regulations on the co-op board of directors require directors “must meet ethical, conflict of interest and disclosure standards.”

He told the Examiner in an email that federal officials "did not pre-approve members of any co-op formation board."

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