Acknowledgment Comes Via Letter Following Journalistic Reports, Congressional Investigation Revealing Council’s Plans To Monetize The VA Patient Database
VoteVets And Democracy Forward Resolve Lawsuit Against The VA Over Mar-a-Lago Council’s Influence
Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged that Ike Perlmutter, Bruce Moskowitz, and Marc Sherman, a group often referred to as the Mar-a-Lago Council, had “unusually pervasive access to certain senior political officials in the Department” during the Trump administration. The acknowledgment came in a letter sent by the Department to resolve VoteVets Action Fund v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Democracy Forward initially filed suit in 2018 on behalf of VoteVets to hold the Trump administration accountable for unlawfully outsourcing veterans policy to this group. The Department also wrote that it “appreciated” VoteVets raising the concern.
The letter also notes that “these private citizens apparently sought to exert influence with respect to certain Government initiatives” and acknowledges that even the appearance of these individuals’ access to the VA during the previous administration may have been “concerning” to the public. In one instance, the three men discussed a “hugely profitable plan” to monetize the VA patient database, suggesting that Johnson & Johnson, Apple and CVS could profit from access to the VA’s electronic medical records, according to congressional investigators and recent reporting.
Upon receiving this letter, the parties involved agreed to dismiss the case.
“This has been a long battle, but we delivered for veterans,” said Jon Soltz, Iraq War Veteran and Chairman of VoteVets. “The Mar-a-Lago Council was a poster child for the kind of pervasive corruption throughout the Trump administration, and had we not stepped in, the undue influence of Donald Trump’s clubhouse friends could have hurt our veterans in a lot of ways. We also have sent the message that no future administration should try this again. Let qualified people, who understand the needs of our veterans, run the VA.”
“We’re proud of more than three years of work on behalf of VoteVets to hold the Trump administration accountable for illegally outsourcing public policy to groups of well-connected advisors that operate outside of public view,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Karianne Jones. “The creation of the Mar-a-Lago Council as a shadow operation stripped our nation’s veterans of what they deserve: professional leadership by qualified public servants who understand their concerns.”
In August 2018, VoteVets, represented by Democracy Forward, filed suit against the Trump administration for outsourcing veterans policy to the Mar-a-Lago Council — a three man advisory group with roots at the Florida club. Despite their lack of relevant experience or expertise, Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach doctor Bruce Moskowitz, and financial services consultant Marc Sherman made recommendations to the VA outside of the public’s view on everything from privatizing health care services, to the VA’s $10 billion overhaul of its electronic health records system, to agency personnel decisions, and more.
The suit alleged that, in light of the group’s structure and operation, it acted as a de facto advisory committee in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which was designed to regulate the ability of private interests to shape federal policy. The district court dismissed the case in September 2019, and the groups appealed that ruling. The appeals court in March 2021 overruled the district court and held that VoteVets’ allegations “suffice to identify the trio as forming an advisory group for purposes of FACA.” It remanded the matter back to the district court to proceed “through discovery and summary judgment or trial.” In response to the claims in the suit, in June 2020 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the Mar-a-Lago Council and its “shadow reporting structure.”
Founded in 2006, and backed by over 1.5 million supporters, VoteVets Action Fund is a 501c(4) organization, whose primary purpose is to advocate for issues that impact troops, veterans, and their families. VoteVets Action Fund focuses on matters including, but not limited to, foreign policy (including war-making policy), veterans’ unemployment, robust investment in care for veterans, energy security, protecting the rights of those who serve, and upholding the Constitution and democracy that every military member swore to uphold and protect. It is the largest group of progressive veterans in America.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization founded in 2017 to litigate challenges to unlawful government action on behalf of organizations, individuals, and municipalities. The organization has taken 650 legal actions and reversed dozens of harmful policies. Democracy Forward is expanding its work, building on its success to confront unlawful threats to democracy and social progress.