KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Industry Donations Directed To Key Senators

Health companies and their employees gave Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, just as the Senator was readying the Senate Finance Committee to consider health reform, The Washington Post reports.

Baucus and his aides say they began refusing contributions from health care political action committees after June 1. "But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations, disclosure records show. Baucus declined requests to comment for this article. Spokesman Tyler Matsdorf said the senator 'is only driven by one thing: what is right for Montana and the country.'" The health care sector gave "nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008, with 54 percent going to Democrats, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics."

Other Senators, including Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have also been the target of health care giving. "Grassley, the Finance Committee's ranking Republican, received more than $2 million from the health and insurance sectors since 2003. House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) took in $1.6 million from the health sector and its employees over the past two years; ranking Republican Dave Camp (Mich.) received nearly $1 million."

"But Baucus, a senator from a sparsely populated and conservative Western state who is serving his sixth term, stands out for the rising tide of health-care contributions to his campaign committee, Friends of Max Baucus, and his political-action committee, Glacier PAC. Baucus collected $3 million from the health and insurance sectors from 2003 to 2008, about 20 percent of the total, data show. Less than 10 percent of the money came from Montana. Top out-of-state corporate contributors included Schering-Plough, New York Life Insurance, Amgen, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield; individual executives such as Richard T. Clark, chief executive and president of drugmaker Merck, have also made regular donations" (Eggen, 7/21).

Sen. Chris Dodd, acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has also taken money from health care lobbying interests, The Hill reports.

"Dodd … has branched out his fundraising operation by tapping healthcare-related companies for more than $112,000 in the second quarter of 2009. The sum represents a good chunk of the more than $450,000 Dodd accumulated from PACs in the second quarter. In addition, fundraising records reviewed by The Hill show that Dodd accepted contributions from 32 lobbyists representing healthcare interests between April 1 and June 30, the weeks preceding Dodd's markup of legislation overhauling the nation's healthcare system."

Dodd's spokespeople say he has taken the money without letting it influence his policymaking (Bolton and McCaffrey, 7/20).

The revelations come as the drug lobby is spending more money than other health organizations as reform ramps up, The Associated Press reports: "With the fight over President Barack Obama's effort to revamp the nation's health care system escalating, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said it spent $6.2 million lobbying in April, May and June, according to reports to Congress due Monday. Pfizer Inc., the New York-based producer of numerous drugs, ranked second in the health care sector at $5.6 million. In reports filed by 11 p.m. Monday, 22 health-related associations and companies had reported spending at least $1 million each lobbying during the quarter."

"According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, the health sector reported spending $127 million in lobbying during the first three months of this year, more than any other area." PhRMA has spent $13.1 million on lobbying this year and Pfizer has spent $11.7 million (Fram, 7/21).

The AARP spent $5.3 million in the same time frame, CQPolitics reports: "AARP, a highly visible participant in the contentious debate, has backed a plan by the drug companies to reduce prescription costs by $80 billion over the next decade. The group also has praised the $1 trillion plan developed by three House committees that would provide near-universal health insurance." Wal-Mart has spent $2.58 million and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $7.4 million (Roth and Knott, 7/21).

Roll Call: "America's Health Insurance Plans reported spending $3.9 million, compared with $3.7 million for the first half of 2008. 'Our central focus is on comprehensive health care reform,' said AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach. 'The numbers reflect that there's a lot more focus on health care this year.'" (Palmer and Ackley, 7/20).

The lobbying firm winner is Patton Boggs, which took home $18.5 million in the first half of 2009 in revenues, Politico reports. The Podesta Group, run by Tony Podesta - brother to Obama transition team head John Podesta - took $11.6 million (Abrahamson, 7/20).

In the meantime, biotech firms too have stepped up their own efforts on lobbying as legislators work to allow generic biotech drugs, The Boston Globe reports: "Pharmaceutical interests alone, including many from Massachusetts, spent more than $66 million on lobbying in just the first quarter of this year, up 25 percent from last year, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies accounted for more than half of all healthcare lobbying. 'They are on pace to obliterate their total lobbying expenditures from any other previous year,' said Dave Levinthal, the center's communications director" (Wangsness, 7/21).

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.