While all eyes are focused on the ‘glitches’ plaguing the so-called Affordable Care Act’s enrollment websites, it’s the Obamacare ‘navigators’ that should concern us. The organizations tapped by the Obama administration and its state allies to educate consumers about their health care options include left-wing radicals, labor union front groups, and partisan activists. What’s worse, they are navigating with $67 million in federal taxpayer grants as well as additional state funding.
Consider some of the unsavory outfits the taxpayers are paying to help those same taxpayers navigate Obamacare. There are union-founded “worker centers” like the Restaurant Opportunities Center and the Retail Action Project. When not promoting Obamacare, these groups push Big Labor’s agenda through lobbying and protests.
Other navigators are notorious community organizers like Seedco, which recently paid $1.7 million to settle a federal fraud lawsuit, ex-operatives of the disgraced ACORN who are working with an outfit called Southern United Neighborhoods, and the nonprofit arm of Ralph Nader’s notorious anti-business group Citizen Action.
Finally, there are the under-the-radar shock troops of the left like the Community Service Society of NY, a leading advocate of a job-killing mandated leave law in New York City; and a group sponsored by the Center for Community Change, a nonprofit organization whose home page currently has a photo of GOP leaders John Boehner and Paul Ryan under the nonpartisan headline “House GOP: cease and Desist!”
Even amid this extreme company, the Restaurant Opportunities Center stands out. Founded by the union HERE in 2002, ROC’s co-founder has openly admitted the group’s long-standing mission to “organize the 99 percent of the [restaurant] industry that doesn’t have a union.”
In service of this goal, it has gained a national reputation for harming local eateries and national chain restaurants through coordinated lobbying efforts at every level of government, as well as protests, shakedowns, and intimidation campaigns that target specific restaurants.
ROC’s tactics — like using a 12-foot inflatable cockroach to scare off patrons — have been so disruptive that restaurant employees have staged counter-protests to show that ROC doesn’t speak for them at all. One New York judge slapped a restraining order on ROC, while ROC circumvented another cease-and-desist order by rebranding its protests as “prayer vigils.”
Its anti-restaurant crusades have even caught the attention of Congress, where ROC is currently part of an investigation by a House of Representatives Committee for its “history of intimidation towards opponents.”
To top it off, ROC’s go-to person for its navigator program is a self-described “undocumented” immigrant who was arrested for her role in an immigration-related protest in Atlanta, the third undocumented worker linked to ROC in recent years. Perhaps serving as an Obamacare navigator is one of those jobs Americans won’t do?
Unfortunately, Obamacare isn’t ROC’s only source of public funds. In recent years, ROC and its regional affiliates have received nearly $1 million from the Department of Labor, along with $500,000 in federal stimulus funding in New York City and $200,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While taxpayers fund ROC and these other questionable navigators, they are also giving them access to, as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi put it, their “most personal and private information: tax return information, Social Security information. And our biggest fear, of course, is identity theft.” That is why she and a dozen other state attorneys general have called for more stringent navigator safeguards.
But given the sharp tactics of these groups and their history of skirting rules they don’t like, it’s not clear additional safeguards will be enough to protect consumers. And it certainly won’t protect taxpayers’ wallets.
Rather than subsidizing extreme groups like ROC and the others, Congress and the states should be cutting them off the dole. Let them “navigate” in the free market all they want, but keep them away from our tax dollars and our financial records.
Mike Paranzino is communications director for ROC Exposed, which is supported by a coalition of restaurant workers, employers and citizens concerned about ROC’s campaigns against America’s restaurants.