Skip to main content

Sen's Against "Public Option" Health Care Collect Health Dollars

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Twice in the past week, statistician and blogger Nate Silver has used CRP data to analyze the relationship between political spending by the health care industry and key Senate players' stances in the debate over health care reform. While CRP cannot vouch for Silver's methodology, his research has yielded some interesting observations.

Earlier today, Silver--a self-described supporter of President Obama--listed the top 10 recipients of health insurance PAC money since 2004. None of these lawmakers--seven Republicans and three Democrats--have endorsed the public option for health insurance opposed by insurers and championed by the White House. Most, in fact, have already rejected the proposal.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has received the most money ($141,000) from health insurance PACs. Baucus has leaned in favor of a "co-op" plan as an alternative to government-provided insurance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who has said he fears the public option may lead to a "government takeover" of health care, ranks second, having received $111,000 from insurance PACs since 2004. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who initially called the public option plan a "dealbreaker" but has subsequently tempered his opposition, checks in at No. 3. The remaining members of the top 10 list are all members of the finance panel that is crafting one of the main proposals for reform.

It is important to note that because PACs may file either on a monthly or semi-annual basis in 2009, many PACs will be reporting for the first time on July 31st, so it's difficult to make any conclusions about PAC giving so far this cycle. But long-term trends can certainly be instructive.

Last week, Silver compiled a ranking of senators in terms of contributions they have received from political action committees affiliated with health care and insurance companies over their careers.

The three senators who derived the highest shares of their campaign contributions from these PACs are all Republicans who oppose the "public option." Five Democrats are also among the top 10 recipients, and they all either support a public plan or have not officially come down on the subject either way. The last two senators on the list, both Republicans, disapprove of the public option.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) leads the way, drawing 12 percent of his receipts since 1989 from health industry PACs, which are generally operated by insurance, pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies, as well as by hospitals and physicians' groups.

The Democrats on the top 10 list of Silver's study are all long-time fundraisers, bringing in anywhere between $12.9 million and $25 million since 1989. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who has declined to fully support or reject the public option, leads this Blue Quintet with 8.5 percent of his cash coming from health care PACs.

Health care PACs alone have already donated $4.9 million to federal candidates this year after contributing $49.3 million and $39.8 million in the 2008 and 2006 cycles, respectively. While medical professionals and the PACs and employees of insurance companies traditionally lean Republican, health care PACs have flipped dramatically in recent years. More than two-thirds of their donations so far this year have gone to Democratic candidates, while only a combined 34 percent of contributions went to the Democrats in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. In 2008, Democrats collected 55 percent of all the money that came from these PACs.

CRP will continue to analyze contributions from individuals in the health care sector and donations to lawmakers' leadership PACs. So stay tuned to "Diagnosis: Reform."


Popular Video