- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2010

Six months after the passage of President Obama’s landmark health care reform, health care industry groups are spending a record amount of cash on candidates and causes as the prospect of major Republican gains this fall puts the future of Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment in doubt.

But even though Democrats are leading the race for cash from health care sector hospitals, drug companies and doctors, it’s too early to tell whether the industry is fighting to protect or revamp the legislation.

“Remember that the party in power always tends to get more attention,” said Wendell Potter, senior fellow for health care at the Washington-based Center for Media and Democracy. “And it’s hard to say what the totals on cash to Republicans or Democrats mean without looking at the specific contributions. A lot of the [fiscally conservative] Blue Dog Democrats were as opposed to health care reform as the Republicans were,” he said.

“People need to remember that we, the consumers, are actually the ones footing the bill for all this lobbying,” Mr. Potter said. “We pay for all that. It’s one of the reasons our premiums keep going up.”

According to data on lobbyist spending for the first half of 2010 compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, doctors, drug companies and hospitals are leaning Democratic this year, with 54 percent of their contributions going to Democrats versus 46 percent going to Republicans.

While corporate political spending is on pace to set another overall record for midterm elections, no one is spending more money this year than the health care industry.

Through the second quarter, the health care industry has spent $267 million on lobbying, topping the $260 million spent by manufacturing and retail, and the $252 million spent by the banking and insurance sector.

While that cash went to influencing lawmakers who are already in office, the health care industry is also a major player in the November races, contributing another $91 million to both Republicans and Democrats in the upcoming elections.

The top contributors to date in the 2009-2010 cycle are the National Community Pharmacists Association, the American Dental Association, the American Hospital Association and giant drugmaker Pfizer Inc., accord to the CRP.

The CRP’s Dave Levinthal noted that many of the questions about where the money is going this cycle won’t be answered for months or even years especially with the influx of “soft” money coming in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision in January, a ruling that has made it easier for corporations to directly influence individual races.

A Democratic bill to require more disclosure on political ads funded by corporations, labor unions and independent advocacy groups which was already amended to take effect only after the November elections failed to overcome a Senate filibuster last week and is unlikely to be revived this year.

Democrats and many liberal groups have sharply criticized the campaign finance ruling, saying the decision gives deep-pocketed corporations the ability to pour huge amounts of money into the fall campaign.

With health care leading the way, campaign spending is likely to far surpass the estimated $2.8 billion spent four years ago on the 2006 midterms, according to Mr. Levinthal.

“It’s clear that we are headed for a record. This cycle could top $4 billion in total spending,” he said.

Newly formed independent “527” and “501(c)(4)” organizations nonprofit groups that spend money themselves rather than fund a candidate directly have already had a huge impact in this year’s primary elections. Utilized extensively by Democrats in 2008, 527s have become a important tool in 2010 for Republican activists like Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, who started the American Crossroads group.

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