ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A physician group practice part-owned by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page made $71,000 in political donations this year after receiving substantial federal Covid-19 aid.
The donations, from Ballwin-based Western Anesthesiology Associates Inc., included a $5,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting Page’s electoral efforts.
Recipients of funding from the federal CARES Act, the source of the Covid-19 relief money, aren’t prohibited from making political donations. And Western Anesthesiology's president, Dr. Donald Arnold, said the firm routinely contributes to organizations that support good health policy, and that Page — a partner in the firm — isn't involved in determining the recipients of their donations.
But a nonpartisan government spending watchdog group contends such donations raise questions about whether recipients of the emergency federal aid really needed the funds if they were still able to make political contributions.
“If you have those entities turning around and making political contributions, it should raise questions about whether they needed the money, especially when small businesses have had to close and didn’t have access to the capital necessary to stay open," said Liz Hempowicz, the director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), based in Washington, D.C.
Western Anesthesiology Associates received more than $6 million in CARES Act funding — $5.4 million in a Paycheck Protection Program loan from PNC Bank, plus $984,000 from the Provider Relief Fund, which went to health care providers and hospitals, records show.
Arnold said the government money was used to retain employment for 300 Western Anesthesiology workers and it was used "in full compliance" with the CARES Act. Health systems canceled elective procedures in the spring, and Mercy and other providers have taken that step again for some procedures.
Asked whether the firm laid off or furloughed workers, Arnold said the firm "managed our full-time and part-time administrative and clinical staff to match service requirements for patient care."