WASHINGTON — Organized labor gave more money to congressional campaigns than any other interest group at a time when overhauling health care and easing the ability of unions to organize sit atop Congress’ agenda.
Union political action committees shelled out $11 million to lawmakers during the first six months of this year. Ranking second were health care interests, which gave $9.5 million from Jan. 1 through June 30, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
While labor PACs were the top contributors in the previous election cycle, the health care industry jumped to second place in the first half of the year from fourth in the 2007-08 cycle. Revamping health care is the top priority of President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress as lawmakers struggle to fashion an overhaul proposal.
Labor strongly supports a government-run insurance plan that is part of legislation (HR 3200) that three House panels and one Senate committee have approved. Insurance companies and many parts of the business community oppose the so-called public option.
Finance and insurance company PACs contributed $9.2 million to lawmakers and ranked just after those representing health care in donations to lawmakers during the six-month period.
Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former FEC chairman, said it is not surprising that labor leads the pack in giving this year.
“The unions have an agenda in this Congress, and they are trying to move legislation,” Potter said. He added that unions, which give overwhelmingly to Democrats, also may be trying early in the election cycle to shore up the majority party in Congress, particularly its vulnerable members.
Aside from the health care issue, unions have mounted a major push for legislation that would make it easier for workers to organize workplaces. The measure (S 560) has been aggressively opposed by business interests. Senate sponsors have signaled that they may have to drop a controversial labor-backed provision that would allow workers to agree to unionize when a majority sign a card, rather than voting by secret ballot.
The CQ analysis includes PAC contributions to campaign and leadership committees of all House candidates and contributions to campaign committees of Senate candidates. Not all Senate leadership PAC contributions are included because of varying filing deadlines.
Video: Rep. Dingell on town hall hysteria The top recipient of labor money was Rep. Scott Murphy, D-N.Y., whose campaign committee received $171,000 from union PACs. Murphy won a special election on March 31 to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who was tapped to become New York’s junior senator.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ’s campaign committee received the second-largest amount of labor PAC cash, getting $144,000. The California Democrat was followed by another, Rep. George Miller, the Education and Labor chairman, who received $119,540. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was next. His campaign committee collected $115,500.
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The health care industry opened its wallets to leaders in the health care debate, including Reid, who was the top recipient of health care PAC money to candidates’ campaign committees. In the first half of this year, Reid received $168,500 from health care interests, amounting to almost a quarter of the PAC contributions his campaign received. The money represented the interests of a range of medical associations, hospitals, drug companies and other providers.
Notably absent among the top Democratic recipients of health care money was Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a leading figure on health care for years. Kennedy has been fighting brain cancer and has not been in Washington for most of this session. The industry donated $4,000 to his campaign committee in the first half of the year.
The leading GOP recipient of health care contributions was Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Finance Committee and part of a bipartisan coalition struggling to come up with a compromise health care bill. His campaign committee got $118,400 from health care interests, about a quarter of his total PAC contributions.
One of Grassley’s largest contributions was $10,000 from WellPoint, an Indiana-based health insurance company that oversees Blue Cross plans in 14 states. As with many in the health insurance industry, WellPoint opposes the public option. The legislation discussed by the Finance Committee does not include such a government-run health plan.
Video: Coburn on town halls: 'People are afraid' Democrats, led by Pelosi, have singled out health insurance companies for criticism, suggesting they are trying to undermine health care legislation during the August recess. Pelosi received $139,500 in health care contributions to her campaign committee. That figure includes $2,500 from the political action arm of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents 1,300 health insurance companies.
Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, responded earlier this week to Democratic criticism of her industry by complaining that “a campaign has been launched to demonize health plans and the men and women who work hard every day to provide health insurance coverage to more than 300 million Americans.”
The latest filings also show that the top industries are continuing their trend of favoring Democrats, who now control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Overall, the PACs gave about 62 percent of their money to Democrats and about 38 percent to Republicans in the first half of this year.
Health care-related PACs gave more than 62 percent of contributions to Democrats in the first six months of 2009 and more than 37 percent to Republicans. And now that Democrats have the lion’s share of incumbents, even the traditionally GOP-leaning energy and natural resources companies gave slightly more of their PAC money, about 51 percent, to Democrats. Republicans got about 49 percent.
Organized labor, as it has in past years, gave most of its contributions, 92 percent, to Democrats.
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