Lobbying groups financed by Pond Lehocky to oppose Workers' Comp bills fined for ethics violations

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 13, 2018

HARRISBURG – A pair of lobbyist organizations connected to plaintiffs law firm Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano and which sought to defeat Workers' Compensation reform bills were recently found to have violated the state’s Lobbying Disclosure Law and fined by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission.

According to the law, if at least $2,500 is spent to lobby legislation, the lobbyists involved are given 10 days to register with the Pennsylvania Department of State and must file quarterly reports as to their costs for communications, meals and other expenses.

On Friday, The Morning Call in Allentown reported the Commission determined that groups “PA Works Now” and “Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania” had negligently failed to complete such registration with the state as lobby organizations and did not report their expenses and engagement in efforts aimed at defeating two pieces of Workers' Compensation legislation.

As a result, the Commission ordered “PA Works Now” to pay a fine of $13,580 and “Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania” to pay a fine of $15,500, for a total of $29,080, within 30 days.

In the case of “PA Works Now," Commission documents describe the lobby group was formed to call for “common sense reform to Pennsylvania’s worker’s comp system.”

The group’s creation came after state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie introduced House Bill No. 18 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

That bill sought to establish a Workers’ Compensation drug formulary to “select a nationally recognized, evidence-based prescription drug formulary appropriate for resolving issues related to drugs prescribed for or related to the treatment of work-related injuries, including, but not limited to, the type, dosage and duration of prescriptions.”

The bill was authored with the intent of getting Workers’ Compensation patients off their medication and back to work as soon as possible, helping to curb opioid drug addiction in the process.

Opponents of the bill targeted it through a negative advertising campaign and were harshly critical of the legislation, believing it would create a new legal obstacle between employees injured at work and their physicians.

One of those opponents was “PA Works Now," which spent more than $80,000 from April to September 2017 and used both e-mail and Twitter campaigns to oppose both House Bill No. 18 and later, Senate Bill No. 936.

However, “PA Works Now” didn’t register its lobbyist activities until with the Pennsylvania Department of State last May. House Bill No. 18 was later defeated.

In the case of “Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania," it was also formed to oppose Senate Bill No. 936 and was three months late in registering with the state.

Senate Bill No. 936 passed both sections of the Senate, but it was later vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf in April.

After official complaints were filed, the Commission launched investigations against both “PA Works Now” and “Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania” and found both groups only registered as lobbyists after Wolf’s veto.

In the Commission’s investigation, Matthew Haverstick of Kleinbard, LLC represented Pond Lehocky and termed the late disclosure situation “a mistake” and “an accident.”

Though the Commission’s decisions did not state who created and supported the lobbyist groups, The Morning Call reported last year on the connection between Pond Lehocky, “PA Works Now” and “Citizens to Protect Our Pennsylvania”, explaining that firm partner Samuel Pond paid for the former lobby group’s advertisements opposing House Bill No. 18.

It was further found last year that Pond Lehocky attorneys possessed ownership stakes in the Workers First pharmacy, a mail-order operation which one lawsuit alleged had prescribed $4.7 million worth of ineffective pain medication creams to injured workers.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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Pennsylvania House of Representatives Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano

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