Health Industry Donates Heavily to Blue Dog Democrats’ Campaigns

by Halimah Abdullah

As the Obama Administration and Democrats wrangled over healthcare overhaul efforts during the first half of the year, the Democratic Party’s Blue Dog political action committee was receiving more than half of its $1.1 million in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical, healthcare and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations.

The amount outstrips contributions to other congressional political action committees during the same period, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit watchdog organization. The Blue Dogs, a group of fiscally conservative lawmakers that includes Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, successfully delayed the votes on healthcare overhaul proposals until the fall.

“The business community realizes that (the Blue Dogs) are the linchpin and will become much more so as time goes on,” former Mississippi Congressman turned lobbyist Mike Parker told the organization’s researchers.

During their tenure in Congress, Georgia Blue Dog Reps. John Barrow, Jim Marshall, David Scott and Bishop have received a combined total of more than $2.1 million from healthcare and insurance industries.

Since 1989, on average, Blue Dog Democrats netted $62,650 more from the healthcare sector than other Democrats, while hospital and nursing homes also favored them, giving $5,680 and $5,550 more, respectively, according toe the Center for Responsive Politics. Since 1990, Democrats in Congress, on average, received $59,015 from the health services, insurance and pharmaceutical industries, while Republicans received $81,086, according to public campaign finance data.

The contributions came at a time when healthcare, insurance and pharmaceutical companies were mounting a campaign against a government-run public health insurance option, fearing cost controls and an impact on business. The Blue Dogs’ windfall also came at a time when the 52-member coalition flexed its muscle with the White House and House Democratic leadership as an increasingly influential bloc in the healthcare reform debate.

At the same time, many Blue Dogs were also meeting with healthcare and insurance industry executives and their lobbyists at fundraising breakfasts and cocktail receptions that cost upwards $1,000 a plate, according to public information compiles by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, which advocates greater transparency in government.

Since 2008, more than half of the Blue Dogs have either attended healthcare industry fundraising reception or similar functions co-sponsored by lobbyists representing healthcare and insurance industries.

In June, as Rep. Mike Ross, D-AR who heads the coalition’s task force on healthcare publicly expressed the Blue Dogs’ misgivings about the Democratic leadership’s efforts; the former pharmacy owner was feted at a series of healthcare industries over his five-term career.

That same month, the American Medical Association, which lobbies for healthcare providers and is one of the top contributors to the Blue Dogs, came out against a public action.

Scott, who supports a public option and whose Smyrna, GA district office was defaced with a swastika after the heated town hall meeting last month, has received roughly $700,000 from the insurance and healthcare industries.

“The healthcare industry is so diverse that they can’t even agree,” said Scott’s chief of staff Michael Andel. “He’s only influenced by his constituency, and that includes healthcare providers.”

In June of 2008, Bishop attended a $500-a-plate breakfast fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club co-hosted by lobbyists Nicole Venable and Tammy Boyd, according to invitations complied by the Sunlight Foundation. Venable represents pharmaceutical giant Novartis and Abbot Laboratories, and Boyd represents DaVita Inc, a kidney care company and in 2008 she represented Johnson & Johnson.

Bishop said he would like to see the public option in the final product but acknowledges it may be subject to a broader compromise once Congress reconvenes and discusses lessons learned during contentious town hall healthcare forums. The Blue Dogs’ fiscally conservative streak and relationship with businesses positions the group to be a moderating voice in the continued debate, Bishop said.

It has also meant that those sectors are more likely to donate to the Blue Dogs than to more left-leaning Democrats, he said.

“Blue Dogs have been more fiscally conservative and more business leaning that the left members of the party and the Blue Dogs have been more willing to listen,” Bishop said. And Republicans, because they are perceived as pro business, tend to also get more support. More liberal Democrats aren’t seen as supporting business.”

Bishop and Marshall, D-GA has each received more than $500,000 from the healthcare and insurance industries over the course of their careers. “Money doesn’t buy or influence my vote or judgment. Never has. Never will,” said Marshall who opposes a public option.

House Republicans, however, tend to collect more than Democrats—including the Blue Dogs—from insurers, health professionals and the broader health sector, the Center for Responsive Politics found. Many of the Blue Dogs hail from districts that are conservative-leaning and have sizable number of Republican voters. According to the Sunlight Foundation, Blue Dogs often take positions that are favorable to the healthcare industry.

During the 2008 cycle, individual members of the Blue Dog Coalition raised a combined $6.24 million from the health sector. The average contribution to a Blue Dog Democrat in the 2008 election cycle was slightly higher–$122,370—than the average contribution to a non-coalition Democratic lawmaker, which was $116,748, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

The Blue Dogs, many of whom hail from Southern and Midwestern States, pushed “rural health equity” with higher reimbursement rates for physicians and hospitals in areas of the country that struggle to recruit and retain healthcare providers.

Halimah Abdullah covers Washington for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, KY, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, GA and the Macon Telegraph in Macon, GA. She has won awards for enterprise, education and features reporting.

Editor’s Note:

Pres. Obama must give the middle class something they can hold in their hands. No promise of “change,” no matter how well-intentioned, will suffice. People of various socio-economic levels, race/ethnic groups, education, age brackets, religious affiliation worked hard in the last election to elect a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in Congress. If nothing happens, and the opponents of healthcare win, the American people lose for allowing themselves to be victims of another con job.

Do not expect unusual coverage for this Congress to stand up to demagogic lies and money-throwing lobbyists. An unusually large number is facing close races in 2010, both in the primaries and general election. Republicans face many primary challenges from the right. A record number of Democrats who took over Congress in 2006, hails from traditionally Republican states, or swing states and districts.




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