“As likely as not, we may have put a crimp on some of the more rampant abuses and sent the clever folks to find a new avenue,” Rakich said. “And that’s constantly our fear, but you know, there’s not much we can do about that until we see something happening.”
Critics of compounding saw, and continue to see, companies like Landmark as unnecessary additional stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system.
“The third-party providers put the whole program together, and make it a little turnkey process for the physician,” Rakich said. “The physician really doesn’t have to go through a tremendous amount of effort, they just have to implement the program, that they probably wouldn’t be able to put together all on their own. Without the third-party arrangers and suppliers, it probably wouldn’t happen on this same level.”
And California lawmakers continue to target other factors that allowed companies like Landmark to boom. The state legislature recently passed a big workers’ compensation reform bill, which, among other things, will affect how liens are filed, and will reinstate a filing fee.
How does someone come to write a six- or seven-figure check to a super PAC? Ahmed’s political awakening occurred at a time when many big Democratic donors still harbored strong reservations about the super PAC era. Democrats, as has been widely noted, were slow to embrace outside spending efforts in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Obama actively spoke out against super PACs during the 2010 election cycle. Even after two former White House staff members — Bill Burton, who had been deputy press secretary, and Sean Sweeney, who had been a senior aide to Rahm Emanuel — formed Priorities in April 2011, money was slow to come in. And it was only in February 2012 that the Obama campaign announced it would “do what we can, consistent with the law, to support Priorities USA.” The group made news on its own terms with its anti-Romney ads this summer, and has since even convinced notable super PAC holdout George Soros to give money. But when Ahmed was writing his checks, the summer was still a long way off for Priorities.
No one I talked to for this story suggested there was anything about compound drugs and the workers’ compensation system in California that could be directly affected by federal policy, and with the exception of Curnick, no one even had a theory for why Ahmed had started making major contributions to help Democratic efforts this year. What’s striking about Ahmed’s donations isn’t some connection between his giving and his business — but how quickly someone, anyone, with a big bank account today can go from the vast ranks of small-time givers to the upper echelon of political benefactors.
Curnick, who described Ahmed as a “very ethical business man” and “one of the better self-employed people I’ve ever worked for,” said that Ahmed had never expressed an interest in politics before California lawmakers began pushing measures that affected his business.
“He’d never been involved in politics before until these bills came alive, and then he began to learn how to influence or how to be a part of that,” Curnick said. “And he got over his fear of that, because frankly he didn’t want to get involved in the beginning but he realized he had to. Then… he has a doctor friend of his that took him to a couple of fundraisers for Obama and he got all excited, and he wrote a couple of checks and the next thing you know he feels like the most important man in the world because he’s got all these famous people calling him up.”
When we spoke by phone, Ahmed told me he was introduced to Priorities USA Action “somewhere back a few months ago” by Yolanda “Cookie” Parker, the founder and owner of KMS, a Los Angeles software company. Parker is also an Obama bundler and national finance committee member. (Parker did not respond to several requests for comment.) Ahmed said he was introduced to Parker through a friend, who he would not name. Asked if he had set out with the idea that he would contribute a million dollars, Ahmed declined to say. He did say that he was far from being a billionaire, and that a million dollars represented “a lot of money” for him. And he offered several reasons for why he decided to start giving so generously to Democrats this year.
“I believe in these people because they’re doing good for the community,” Ahmed said. “Obama just gave Americans the ACA Act. That’s my first and foremost, because now people with pre-existing conditions can have health care coverage, and I know how expensive that is. It’s why I love the man. He’s got great policies on immigration. He’s got great policies on religious freedom.”
Ahmed considers himself a philanthropist, and he said he believed Democrats also support “philanthropy.” A Landmark employee sent me a list of donations Ahmed has made, large and small, to several charitable organizations and community groups over the past few years. A short biography of Ahmed prepared by Landmark, sent to me only after my visit to Ontario, noted that he is a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Advisory Council, and a member of the Board of Directors of East Los Angeles Community College.
Ahmed is also a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, an Islamic movement founded in the late 1800s in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who the community holds to be the messiah. Ahmed expressed great pride in having helped organize a visit of the Ahmadiyya community’s current spiritual leader, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, to Congress in late June, when Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) recognized Ahmed by name during remarks from the House floor.
“You know, I am supporting the Democrats, I support President Clinton, President Obama, you know, Nancy Pelosi, all these other people, because they support philanthropic work, and they give religious freedoms,” Ahmed said. “Look at the respect they gave to His Holiness. … That is my main angle. That is why I’ve been supporting the Democratic community, because I believe they do more than the Republican side.”
Curnick, the former Landmark vice president, returned to his thoughts on Ahmed’s entry into politics at a different point in our interview.
“I think he just kind of got wrapped up in the fervor of the whole thing, and he’s met a lot of very persuasive people and wants to try to fit in, so to speak,” Curnick said. “And [he] has given some pretty hefty sums, which to you and me, it’s a lot of money. To him, it maybe isn’t so much.”
In mid-August, a few days after my first, off-the-record, conversation with Ahmed, and the day after I sent him an email with my questions, as he had requested, I received a phone call from Bill Burton, the co-head of Priorities. Burton told me he had heard I was being “extraordinarily harassing to the people who you’re trying to get to talk to you.”
“Not every person who is interested in investing in the direction of the country is looking to make themselves famous by doing it,” Burton said.
Once I had spoken with Ahmed on the phone, I contacted Burton again, and asked if he could tell me about the start of Priorities’ relationship with Ahmed, and talk about what process Priorities has to evaluate potential donors. Should the medical practices promoted by Ahmed be associated with the Obama reelection effort? Burton declined to answer my questions directly. Instead, a few days later, he sent me a statement by email that didn’t even mention Ahmed.
“Americans who support Priorities USA Action do so because they know that a strong America depends on a President who will fight for the middle class,” the statement said. “While Mitt Romney would certainly cut taxes for wealthy people, supporters of Priorities realize that America’s economy does best when the middle class is doing well.”
I replied with more specific questions, hoping for more direct answers. Burton never responded.
Research assistance by TPM’s Casey Michel
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com