Why is Nomi Health donating to key Democrats in blue state Hawaii after giving big to GOP?
As Nomi Health has expanded in Hawaii, the company, its chief executive and others associated with the Utah business have donated the maximum amount, or near the legal limit, to Democratic campaigns in the politically blue state, USA TODAY has found.
The giving in the 2022 election cycle to six prominent Hawaii Democrats – whose party controls the governor's office and state legislature – comes after Nomi and its CEO gave heavily to GOP campaigns after Republican governors in five states awarded Nomi lucrative, no-bid deals for COVID-19 testing.
Nomi, Chief Executive Mark Newman and others associated with the company have since December given almost $35,000 to Hawaii Democrats, with the majority going to Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the Democratic nominee and front-runner for governor, campaign finance records show. There were no contributions to Republicans, who have little political clout in Hawaii.
The amount is a fraction of the more than $1 million, which includes contributions from a Nomi subcontractor, Domo, that was given to Republican campaigns after Nomi received testing contracts in Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Tennessee and Utah, USA TODAY found.
Compared with states that may have no or high campaign contribution limits, Hawaii has relatively low maximum giving caps, with $6,000 being the most a person or entity can give to a gubernatorial candidate such as Green.
Newman gave the maximum amount to the candidate, who is also a doctor, while Newman's wife, Amber, and the company itself gave $5,000 each to the lieutenant governor.
Nomi had registered as a "non-candidate committee," which is similar to a political action committee, to make corporate campaign contributions in Hawaii.
The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission on Aug. 26, fined Nomi $500 for failing to report its corporate political donation to Green, according to Tony Baldomero, the commission's associate director.
Baldomero said it's fairly common for corporate non-candidate committees to fail to report their political giving. He added that the commission, based on an anonymous tip, started an inquiry into Nomi about a month ago to see if it had any Hawaii government contracts, which would prohibit the company from making campaign contributions.
"We know they have 11 locations, but we couldn't find a (government) contract," he said. "So there is nothing there."
Newman confirmed that his company currently has no government contracts in Hawaii, and is providing services at independent retail sites and paying city and county fees to lease space.
Nomi spokeswoman Maggie Habib said the company "supports local community organizations across Hawaii and is behind local leaders such as Dr. Green, which Nomi deeply respects because of his approach to lifting up the entire community across education, homelessness, health care and more." She also said Newman's family has lived part-time in Hawaii and that campaign contribution fines are common given the way Hawaii's regulations are set up.
A USA TODAY investigation based on more than 30,000 documents and dozens of interviews found that a web of business relationships, money and connected political leaders tipped the scales in favor of Nomi Health, its subcontractors and supplier during the pandemic. These state Republican leaders awarded contracts to Nomi for tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests and PPE despite the company's inexperience.
Nomi in March 2020, when the pandemic began, joined with three other Utah-based firms and began providing COVID-19 testing in Utah and four other states, which paid Nomi at least $219 million, with at least one contract in each state being no-bid deals.
Brigham Young University-Hawaii in December 2020 selected Nomi to provide weekly COVID-19 testing, and the company donated behavioral health services to nurses and first responders. Nomi this spring has offered free cholesterol and blood pressure screenings at health fairs as its presence grows in Hawaii.
“To this day, we are still testing Hawaiians at no cost as a service and 'thank you' to the community,” Newman said. He added Nomi is also offering health fairs “because basic health care is so poor across the state."
Nearly all of the campaign contributions to Hawaii politicians, including several running for the Legislature and lieutenant governor, came after Nomi announced in December that it had secured $110 million in new investor money. The company then purchased at least three more businesses, including Artemis Health, which gave nearly $5,600 to Green about six months after the acquisition.
Nomi also gave $3,000 to Sylvia Luke, who is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and serves as chair of the House Finance Committee. The company also made $1,000 contributions each to four legislators seeking reelection, including the chairmen of the health committees in the state house and senate.
Seat at the table
Newman previously told USA TODAY that campaign contributions were made in part so that Nomi could continue to "be at the table" and compete for future health contracts against other businesses.
Larry Noble, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission who has practiced campaign finance law for 45 years, told USA TODAY that it appears Newman wants to sit at more tables.
"Money buys access," Noble said. "It's a big problem and leads to a distorted government, and it is part of the system we have right now. The fact that he is willing to say it out loud is how far we have fallen."
Brendan Glavin, a senior data analyst for the campaign finance site Open Secrets in Washington, D.C., said the giving to Democrats in Hawaii indicates political ideology is not a driving factor for Newman or Nomi after giving heavily to Republicans.
"If their intent is to expand their business in Hawaii and they believe that Green is going to be the next governor, then that is where they will direct their contributions," Glavin said.
Glavin added that while Hawaii has a relatively small contribution limit of $6,000 per person for governor, bundling those contributions makes a noticeable difference to candidates.
And if that candidate becomes governor, that's an important connection to make.
"When you talk about the state level, governors hold a lot of sway," Glavin said. "Decisions get made regarding how money is spent in the budget."
Nomi's biggest donation was to DeSantis
Newman previously told USA TODAY that Nomi is not unique in its financial support of public officials, noting other companies make campaign contributions to politicians. Company officials also noted that Nomi had made contributions to Democrats.
However, the company by a more than 18-to-1 margin has given more to Republican candidates in the 2022 election cycle, according to records compiled by Follow The Money , a related organization with Open Secrets.
That site shows Nomi has given $288,705 to 34 candidates and three campaign committees in Florida, Hawaii, Nebraska, Texas and Utah, with the largest contribution of $150,000 going to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Florida governor's office, from Feb. 4 to June 17, 2021, paid Nomi at least $46.5 million for COVID-19 testing and vaccine work, records show.
On July 20, 2022, Newman was among several Utah hosts for a fundraiser for DeSantis, also a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.
Nomi's involvement under scrutiny
In Hawaii, campaign contributions from Nomi, Newman and those associated with the company have come under scrutiny.
Kai Kahele, a U.S. congressman who lost to Green in the Democratic primary for governor, released a 47-minute video in late July that questioned why Nomi and Newman were invested in a political race so far away from Utah.
Kahele told USA TODAY that Newman will have allies in the governor and lieutenant governor should the Democratic ticket win in November.
He said that while the contributions from Newman and Nomi associates are much smaller in Hawaii than what was given in politically red states, the dollars add up, and open the door to political access for state contracts.
"It just smells fishy," Kahele said, "Something is not right."
Green's campaign said he's received more than 4,000 donations, including some from health care providers and companies.
"Dr. Green met the Nomi team well into the pandemic, and to our knowledge, Nomi doesn’t have any existing state contracts," the campaign said in a statement.
Green, who won the Democratic primary in August, will face Republican nominee Duke Aiona in November to succeed Democrat Gov. David Ige, who is barred from reelection by term limits.
"Nomi Health donates to next generation leaders like Dr. Green because we believe they embrace the kind of new thinking and bold action needed to better serve Americans when it comes to healthcare," Newman said. "We'll engage any leader on either side of the aisle who shares our mission to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible."
Aiona told USA TODAY he has an uphill battle in beating Green, as Democrats also hold 71 of the 76 legislative seats.
Yet he said the campaign contributions from Nomi could become an issue for Green to explain to voters.
"We know corporations like that don't come into jurisdictions they have never come into if it's not pay-to-play," Aiona said. "It's absolutely a red flag."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why is Nomi Health donating to key Democrats in blue state Hawaii after giving big to GOP?