Say what, Congressman Ross? | Arkansas Blog

Friday, September 25, 2009

Say what, Congressman Ross?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 7:38 AM

Marcus Stern/Pro Publica

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross is quoted here as saying he sold his Prescott pharmacy to eliminate a conflict of interest.


He was elected to Congress in 2000. He sold the pharmacy in 2007 for $1.25 million. Slow-moving ethical fix.

Here's the thing about Ross. He's always been prone to exaggeration (demagogue is a better word). It is not enough to slavishly support the NRA. He's told Project Vote Smart he'd favor repeal of every existing law on purchase or ownership of guns. He wouldn't spend a government penny on abortion, presumably not even the famous case of the retarded girl in Fort Smith impregnated by a relative. He's not just against gay marriage on personal moral grounds, he wants to pass a constitutional amendment to impose his beliefs on others. He's bragged about "putting the brakes" on health legislation and went so far as to parrot the false line that it would allow government to pull the plug on granny.

The pharmacy sale controversy is another good example. I accept, based on what's known, that the deal is within a range that doesn't call for a prosecutor or other official ethics inquiry. You are still free to conclude that a druggist without U.S. Rep. in front of his name wouldn't have commanded the same price. 

But did Ross really have to say his investment in the pharmacy property had yielded only a 4 percent annual return? That's not bad in the Prescott real estate market, even if true. But take a look at the personal financial disclosures linked in the story above. Ross claimed income from renting the building to his pharmacy of $15,000 to $50,000 every year he owned it (plus a salary for himself in some years, though he isn't a druggist, and plus tax advantages such as depreciation on the structure). Any accountant will tell you that rent is a "return" on a real estate investment. Maybe a fair return. Maybe typical. But it gives a truer picture of the investment than the wildly inaccurate one Ross doled out to reporters in his opening defense. And we still don't know how much of that investment was leveraged with a bank loan.

I don't believe USA Drug needed to buy the Ross pharmacy to make Ross a supporter of the drug industry. He was long on board. That was his family business.

But the controversy is useful. Ross is learning that politics is a two-way street. You get in bed with special interests. You repeat their talking points. You exaggerate them. It worked for Ross. But what if somebody on the other side engages in a little of the politics of exaggeration, too? See how that feels, Mike?

Ross has been so busy playing up to the right, he's forgotten the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. 74 percent of them in his district support a government health insurance option. That's a bit uncomfortable for a rigid opponent like Ross when the other side starts emphasizing (with lavish cable TV support) the million bucks a congressman made from the people who peddle life or death in expensive pill form.

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