IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Health care debate a campaign cash cow

During the first half of 2009, health industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million to 18 lawmakers overseeing the House side of the action on an overhaul bill.
Image: House Nancy Pelsoi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelsoi raised $176,000 from health-care-related PACs from Jan. 1 through June 30.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
/ Source: CQ Politics

During the first half of 2009, health industry groups contributed almost $1.8 million to 18 lawmakers overseeing the House side of the action on an overhaul bill.

For 15 of the 18 congressional leaders, health-care-related PACs accounted for the largest or second-largest contributions each lawmaker received from any industry during the first six months of 2009, a CQ MoneyLine analysis of campaign finance reports shows.

Six of the 18 hold the top Democratic and Republican leadership positions in the House. The remaining 12 chair or serve as the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor committees, all of which have had a role in shaping the House health care bill (HR 3200).

The same lawmakers took in a proportionally similar amount, about $6.5 million, from health care PACs during the 2007-08 election cycle, which included a presidential election that also generated substantial contributions to members of Congress.

Still, if the 18 leaders continue to draw money from health care interests at the same rate they have in the first six months of this year, eight will exceed what they raised from health care PACs in the most recent two-year election cycle, when a health care overhaul was not a legislative priority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for example, raised $176,000 from health-care-related PACs from Jan. 1 through June 30. Over the previous two years, she received $357,100.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., took in $231,000 from health care PACs in the first six months of this year. He received a total of $765,500 in the past two years.

Stakes are indeed high for health care interests as Congress considers whether to set up a government-run insurance alternative, whether to require businesses to offer health care coverage, and whether to tax insurance companies or workers’ health care benefits.

“Health care is one of the biggest games in Washington right now,” said Steven Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group. “If you want to get lawmakers’ attention, the best way to do it is to make a big contribution.”

Profitable PACs
Leading this year’s contributions from PACs representing a range of health care companies and professional associations were donations from doctors, who gave the top leaders $426,150 in the first six months. Pharmaceutical manufacturers gave $352,500, and hospitals followed with $134,800 in donations over the same period, the analysis shows.

Even though they have a significant interest in the debate, PACs representing labor and business groups were not included in this analysis because they lobby Congress on many issues other than health care. Nor does the analysis include contributions from individuals with ties to health care interests — donations that often surpass those of PACs.

Political action committees are allowed to give a maximum of $10,000 in an election cycle and another $10,000 to a lawmaker’s leadership PAC, which is used to distribute money to colleagues.

Of the leaders whose contributions were reviewed, only one — Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., chairman of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions — has not formed a leadership PAC.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., collected $224,819 during the first six months of this year, making him the top recipient of health care PAC donations.

Clyburn is responsible for rounding up votes from a fractious Democratic Caucus, which includes a significant number of fiscally conservative “Blue Dogs” who have balked at the cost of the health care proposals. Five political action committees have given Clyburn $10,000 each, donating half to his campaign and leadership PACs. The PACs included three drug companies: Eli Lilly & Co., AstraZeneca and Merck & Co. Inc.

The drug companies recently negotiated a deal with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to provide $80 billion in savings as part of his panel’s health care overhaul proposal, less than what some stakeholders want pharmaceutical companies to pitch in. Pelosi and other House leaders so far have not signed off on that deal.

“There are forces that are out there who do not want to see health insurance reformed in our country,” Pelosi said. “And I tried to prepare my colleagues for an onslaught of their lobbying efforts to defeat their effort.”

Among Republicans, the top PAC beneficiary was Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, who is leading the opposition to the majority’s drive to overhaul health care.

Boehner received $168,250 from health care PACs in the first half of 2009. The largest contribution came from the PAC representing WellPoint, the Indianapolis-based insurer that recently announced its opposition to the House Democrats’ health care proposal. That PAC gave Boehner’s campaign and his leadership committees a total of $11,000.

WellPoint has also given to prominent Democrats, including Clyburn and Hoyer. The company’s chief executive visited the White House earlier this year to discuss health care.

Although they are not writing the legislation, other top House Republicans, who have sharply attacked the Democrats’ plans, are not being ignored by health industry PACs.

In the first six months of this year, GOP Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia collected $121,900, and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana took in $27,500.

Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., got a big bump in health-care-related PAC contributions after Pelosi tapped him late last year to replace John D. Dingell, D-Mich., as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, a major health care battleground.

Health-care-related interests contributed $134,300 to Waxman’s campaign in the first six months of this year, compared with $236,400 for the previous two-year election cycle.

One leader whose health care contributions appear less robust in the first six months of 2009 is Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y.

Rangel, whose personal finances are being investigated by the House ethics committee, received $115,000 from the industry in the first half of 2009. He took in $865,400 in the last election cycle.

Education and Labor Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., is one of three committee chairmen fashioning health care legislation. But he received far less than his counterparts — $31,170 from health care interests in the first half of 2009. Still, Miller is on a pace to exceed the $79,770 he collected during the last election cycle, when health care was not a pressing legislative issue.

Contributors want a role
For health care companies, such as HCA Inc., a Nashville-based company operating acute care hospitals nationwide, such contributions are part of efforts to help shape the legislation. HCA’s PAC gave $10,000 to Pelosi’s and Waxman’s campaign committees in the first six months of this year.

Earlier this month, Richard Bracken, the president and chief executive officer of HCA, appeared with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to announce $155 billion in savings the hospital industry would find to help lower the cost of a health care overhaul.

Baucus worked out the deal, and HCA’s PAC also contributed to his campaign committee, as it did to the committees for Rangel, Pence and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Vic Campbell, the company’s senior vice president, said in a statement that HCA’s “involvement is consistent with our past participation and includes engaging leaders who are involved in the issues that affect our industry and our ability to provide quality patient care.”