Protect Our Parents

A Coalition of:
The Congress of California Seniors, GRAY Panthers, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Older Women’s League, California Nurses Association, Consumers For Quality Care, Consumer Attorneys of California,California, Protection and Advocacy, Inc.

To:       Members of the California State Legislature

Fr:       Protect Our Parents Coalition

Date:   March 15, 2005

Re:       San FranciscoChronicle Article – March 4, 2005
Identifies Fraudulent Senior Group

San Francisco Chronicle

March 4, 2005

Trade groups, lobbyists finance seniors group 
- Christian Berthelsen, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2005

Sacramento -- A group calling itself the California Senior Action Network and purporting to represent seniors' interests was in fact set up by Capitol lobbyists and financed with donations from corporations and trade groups, records and interviews show.

The group has used its money and name to support pro-business politicians and causes in the last year, including most recently a bill concerning financial elder abuse that critics say is backed by the banking industry and weaker than other proposals.

But it has also angered a San Francisco-based group that has conducted business as the Senior Action Network for more than a decade, with politics that are diametrically different -- it was a champion of the

HMO Patients' Bill of Rights in the 1990s and more recently has backed legislation to rein in drug costs. Leaders of the San Francisco-based group assert that the California Senior Action Network intentionally misappropriated their group's name to mislead voters, though a spokesman for the California Senior Action Network denies that charge.

Three of the largest donations to the business-backed group were made in amounts just below the $50,000 legal threshold at which it would have had to disclose the contributors' identity on campaign mail pieces the group sent to voters in support of candidates. The donations came from trade groups for the building industry and real estate, and an insurer, 21st Century Insurance.

Among the people said to be involved with the California Senior Action Network is Bruce Young, a former state assemblyman who was sent to federal prison in the 1980s after being convicted of failing to report personal income and laundering campaign contributions. Young, now a lobbyist for retailers, lenders and reinsurers, did not return phone calls requesting comment.

"It's deliberately concocted to appear as though they're a statewide version of us," said David Grant, the director of health policy for the San Francisco-based Senior Action Network. "It couldn't be worse from our point of view. It's completely the opposite of anything Senior Action Network stands for."

The San Francisco group's executive director, Bruce Livingston, sent a letter to state Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez on Thursday asking him and members of the lower house not to mistake the two groups. "We will not and have never acted at the behest of business interests or corporate donors," the letter said.

John Kehoe, a spokesman for the California Senior Action Network, said that the group had decided to change its name and that the confusion was not intentional.

"We never intended at the beginning to confuse any positions with anybody, " he said, adding it had "initiated a procedure to disengage that name."

Kehoe, a former executive director of the California Commission on Aging, said he had been asked to join the group by David Howard, the political affairs director of the California Association of Realtors. Kehoe also said Howard and Young helped the group secure contributions.

"When I retired from state government, I was approached by like-minded folks (to) establish an organization with a more moderate voice for seniors," he said. "When you look at the Sacramento scene, seniors are represented, but the collection of people who represent them are from one base, if you will. The base we're trying to energize are the retirees of major corporations."

In an interview, Howard said he had helped establish the group acting in his capacity as a private citizen, and not as a representative of the California Association of Realtors. He rejected the suggestion that the California Senior Action Network was a foil for business interests.

"I'll put my credentials in the field of aging up against anybody," said Howard, who previously worked as a representative for AARP in California. "I don't need to masquerade. I am who I am." He also acknowledged that Young "advised" the group on fund-raising issues.

The group spent roughly $100,000 in last year's primary to support Claudia Alvarez, a moderate Democrat in Orange County who ran against Tom Umberg, a lawyer who was heavily targeted by business groups as being too close to the interests of trial lawyers. Umberg won, but only after what was said to be the most expensive primary in state history, estimated at $3 million.

"Quite clearly, choosing the name Senior Action Network was designed to appeal to seniors who vote with much greater propensity in a primary," Umberg said. "It was designed in order to deceive them into believing that like- minded seniors believed a certain way. The reality is that it had nothing to do with seniors; it was business special interests who were concocting the name to deceive recipients of the mail."

The business-backed group was also a supporter of ballot measures championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in last year's March election. In November's general election, it endorsed Proposition 64, which sought to curtail lawyers' ability to go after corporations that violate environmental or privacy laws.

Most recently, it signed on as a supporter of AB1664, a bill that its backers say would aid cooperation between authorities and the financial services industry in pursuing prosecutions of financial abuse of elders. The bill would allow county officials to request information from banks, and it indemnifies financial institutions for sharing information with authorities.

Critics of that measure, however, say it merely restates existing law and is being advanced by the banking industry in place of a stronger measure sought by senior advocates. The County Welfare Directors Association of California called it a "sham" bill and said a better option would be to require employees of financial institutions to report suspected instances of financial elder abuse.

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