Dominion lobbyist Gordon C. Morse was exposed as the writer of a series of unsigned, pro-Dominion editorials in The Virginian-Pilot by Virginia Public Media on December 14, 2020. A reader tipped us that Morse might be the author of an unsigned pro-Sentara Healthcare editorial published earlier that month. We asked Pilot Editor-in-Chief Kris Worrel and Morse if he was the author. We also asked Ms. Worrell what steps the Pilot had taken to ensure accuracy of the Sentara-sponsored timeline on which the editorial rested.
Neither party answered.
On Feb. 27, the Pilot published an opinion piece defending the widely criticized Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process — this time signed by Gordon Morse.
Sentara Attorney Advisor to COPN Reform Work Group
As we reported Friday, Sentara has used the COPN process to bolster its growth into a $6 billion non-profit healthcare and insurance giant that enjoys tax-exempt status. Attorney Jamie C. Martin, a longtime outside counsel for Sentara, was the “legal” advisor to a COPN reform work group but did not publicly disclose her ties to the health care giant.
Reports from both the Obama and Trump administrations criticized how health care companies use COPN as a cudgel to beat their competitors.
While many Virginians understand the longstanding influence of Dominion on state government, few know the reach of Sentara. C&BP has been investigating this lobbying powerhouse since November 2020.
Morse Won’t Answer
We emailed questions to Morse about his pro-COPN opinion piece, noting that at the end of his op-ed, he lists his clients. “Has Sentara ever been one of your clients? Did you write this particular piece at the behest of Sentara?”
Gordon Morse has not responded.
We forwarded our questions to Worrell. The next day, she did: “Gordon didn’t mention Sentara because he has never worked for Sentara. And he didn’t write a column at their behest as that is not how it works in our (and most) editorial boards.”
But Morse’s column wasn’t an official Pilot editorial. It was an op-ed column, which should be separate from the paper’s own editorial opinion.
Sentara spokesperson Danya Bushey also denied Morse had ever been under contract with Sentara. Bushey also told us we have been “persistently and consistently inaccurate in your coverage.”
This is a routine PR tactic from companies trying to push critics off balance. So, we asked how have we been inaccurate? Bushey has not responded. If she does, we’ll report it here.
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Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.
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