Health care industry continues to spend big as debate enters critical stage

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  • Dale Eisman

As the health care reform debate enters a critical phase in Congress, the health care industry continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into lobbying and ad campaigns on top of millions in campaign contributions.

The health care industry is still spending an average of $1.4 million per day on lobbying and has deployed more than 3,000 lobbyists – almost six lobbyists per member of Congress – according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The pharmaceutical companies alone have spent more than $92 million lobbying legislators this year and, through their trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), will roll out a $150 million ad campaign in coming weeks to support a plan that does not require drug companies to discount their products as much as other proposals aimed at reducing the nation’s total health care bill.

The health care industry has also given members of Congress nearly $24 million in campaign contributions this year, on top of the nearly $170 million they donated last election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The public can be forgiven for feeling left out of this debate when the drug, insurance and other health-related companies are financing thousands of lobbyists and multi-million dollar ad campaigns and making generous campaign contributions to get what they want out of health care reform,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

“The only way we are ever going to have a process where industry does not eclipse public influence is by giving members of Congress the ability to forgo the corporate campaign contributions they need in order to get elected. We need a different system, one where the public is as important to members of Congress as the huge corporations and special interests,” Edgar said.

That different system should be found in the Fair Elections Now Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow congressional candidates to run their campaigns on a system of small donations and limited public funding.

Focusing special attention on the committees that have jurisdiction over drafting the legislation, health care companies have given in excess of $13 million just to the members of the Senate Finance Committee this year:

Health Industry Contributions to Senate Finance Committee Members



Health Professionals


Health Services/HMOs


Hospitals/Nursing Homes


Pharmaceuticals/Health Products




Source: Center for Responsive Politics (

Note: Includes contributions to member’s leadership PAC, if applicable

Health care companies have donated more than $6 million this year just to the members of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group of centrist and conservative senators on the Finance Committee who have been at the center of the health care reform fight:

Health Industry Contributions to “Gang of Six”


Health Professionals








Health Products


Max Baucus (D-Mont)






Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)






Kent Conrad (D-ND)






Mike Enzi (R-Wyo)






Bill Nelson (D-Fla)






Olympia J Snowe (R-Maine)












Source: Center for Responsive Politics (

Note: Includes contributions to member’s leadership PAC, if applicable

“Until we take the special interests out of the game of paying for our political campaigns, Americans won’t have policies in critical areas like health care, defense spending and climate change that are truly in the public’s interest,” Edgar said.

Common Cause continues to work to pass the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826 / S.752) as the comprehensive solution to the pay-to-play culture in Washington, DC, which would create a citizen-funded election system for Congress in which candidates could run for office on a blend of small donations and public funds.