Another Democratic candidate has decided to go after Blue Cross of Rhode Island for its perceived extravagance. This time it was Stephen Archambault, one of the three Democrats who have filed for Attorney General.
At the June 28 Democratic state convention in the 17th-floor ballroom of the Providence Biltmore hotel, Archambault complained that Blue Cross, which enjoys non-profit status, spent excessively when it equipped its new Providence headquarters. The company has been a popular target of politicians, in part because of its double-digit rate increase requests; it was awarded an average 9.8 percent increase July 7.
"We don't have to look too far to see a $125 million building across the way with a $30,000 granite table and a state-of-the-art gym that Governor Schwarzenegger could have trained for the Olympiad in," Archambault said.
Spending $30,000 on a table seems pretty extravagant.
If it's true.
The Archambault claim came the same day Democrat Bill Lynch, who is running for Congress, drew a Pants On Fire ruling from us because he claimed -- with no proof -- that Blue Cross spent $25 million on decor for its new building.
We asked the Archambault campaign to put its cards on a, presumably, much cheaper table and say where the candidate got his information.
Spokesman Rob Horowitz said the campaign couldn't back up the claim because the information came from a source, whose name he would not disclose.
"We received the information from what we believe to be a reliable source. But we don't have first-hand knowledge and at this juncture cannot confirm it," said Horowitz. "As a result, we will not be using it any more and it shouldn't have been included in the speech the other night. The broader point about the cost of the building we believe to be completely on target."
When we asked Blue Cross about the table, Kimberly Reingold, director of media relations and external affairs, said she was unable to find a granite table, not even in the board room, where the table is made of wood.
So we went back to the Archambault campaign and asked Horowitz to contact the secret source and identify the room containing the swanky table.
Then we called Blue Cross and asked for a tour of the new 13-story building that overlooks Waterplace Park. We were told by Reingold that customer service areas were off-limits because of federal patient confidentiality laws. We offered to wear earplugs so we couldn't overhear comments from the customer service representatives. We also offered to sign a confidentiality agreement vowing to keep any medical information secret. Reingold said neither offer was acceptable, although we could see other areas of the building.
Our plan was to get the location of the table from the Archambault source and, if we weren't taken there on the tour, ask to see the room where it was purported to be.
Horowitz, Archambault's spokesman, reported a few days later that the campaign's source was not returning phone calls.
So we took the tour anyway. We were allowed to view a customer service area from afar and didn't see any furnishings that appeared lavish. We saw the gym, with new exercise equipment, along with a room for exercise classes (employees pay $16 a month to use the facility), but nothing out of the ordinary for a building with 1,100 employees.
"There are no granite tables," insisted Thomas Bovis, assistant vice president of corporate real estate and administrative services, who coordinated the development of the building.
At the end of the tour, we asked to see the board room to confirm Reingold's report. Reingold said it was off limits because we would have to pass areas where we might be able to see documents with customer information.
She then agreed to take our camera to the board room and snap photos from two different angles. Based on those pictures, the table looks like it's made of wood.
We give the Archambault campaign credit for retracting its claim as soon as we challenged it.
If this tale of the extravagant table takes a turn, we'll recalibrate the Truth-O-Meter. But for now, it's registering a rock-solid Pants on Fire.
Speech, Steve Archambault, Rhode Island Democratic State Convention, June 28, 2010
Interviews, Rob Horowitz, spokesman, Steve Archambault for Attorney General campaign, July 1, 2 and 6, 2010
Email and interviews, Kimberly Reingold, director of media relations and external affairs, Blue Cross of Rhode Island, July 1, 2, 6 and 8, 2010
Interview, Thomas Bovis, assistant vice president of corporate real estate and administrative services, Blue Cross of Rhode Island, July 8, 2010
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