WASHINGTON (CNN) - One of the leading critics of some of the more liberal elements of the House Democrats health reform bill is answering questions about his ties to a company with a stake in the debate.
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas, is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives who pressed the congressional leadership to include more cost savings than originally proposed. Last month he came out against the idea of a government-run insurance plan that is included in the bills already passed by 3 House committees.
Ross' 2007 sale of his pharmacy in his hometown of Prescott, Arkansas to a company that operates several drug store chains, Stephen LaFrance Pharmacy Inc., is raising new questions. In the past LaFrance has been a critic of universal health care telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette it would lead to "...long lines, they won't be able to get treated, potential doctors will be afraid to go into medical school."
Ross did very well as a result of the transaction. He and his wife, who jointly owned the pharmacy, were paid $420,000 – about 40% more than the most recent appraisal of the property. An independent real estate tracking service shows the prices in the community during that time did not escalate very much.
In a statement, Ross dismisses the idea of his ties influencing his views on health care reform saying he has always supported it, but it must reduce costs, increase access and include insurance reform
"I welcome any debate and review on my voting record and my positions on the issue."
The congressman adds there was nothing improper regarding the transaction saying it was reported and disclosed as required by House ethics reporting requirements.
"I sold it for the amount that I have indicated it was worth on every personal financial statement since 1999. I spent $316,000 in 1998 constructing the building that houses the pharmacy and sold it for $420,000 in 2007 – the annual return on investment is less than four percent. I would have made more during that time period if I had invested in a certificate of deposit (CD)," he says.
This all came to light because of a report by the independent investigative news service ProPublica.
On top of the sale of the building, congressional financial disclosure forms filed by Ross show he and his wife made at least $500,000 by selling the pharmacy's other assets to LaFrance. His office says that was the sale of the "business," which includes inventory, prescription/customer files and says it is "common practice" when selling such a business.
"I have never done a favor for the buyer, who I have only met a few times in my life. The buyer did not just buy brick and mortar; he bought a successful, trusted, centrally-located and profitable pharmacy in my hometown. In two of my closest races, the buyer supported my Republican opponent in both of them. He has since supported my campaign," Ross says in the statement.
LaFrance, who donated $2,800 to Ross according to center for responsive politics, did not return calls to CNN seeking comment.