Following the money
On June 19, Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas made clear that he and a group of other conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs were increasingly unhappy with the direction that health-care legislation was taking in the House.
"The committees' draft falls short," the former pharmacy owner said in a statement that day, citing, among other things, provisions that major health-care companies also strongly oppose.
Five days later, Ross was the guest of honor at a special "health-care industry reception," one of at least seven fundraisers for the Arkansas lawmaker held by health-care companies or their lobbyists this year, according to publicly available invitations.
The roiling debate about health-care reform has been a boon to the political fortunes of Ross and 51 other members of the Blue Dog Coalition, who have become key brokers in shaping legislation in the House. Objections from the group resulted in a compromise bill announced this week that includes higher payments for rural providers and softens a public insurance option that industry groups object to. The deal also would allow states to set up nonprofit cooperatives to offer coverage, a Republican-generated idea that insurers favor as an alternative to a public insurance option.
At the same time, the group has set a record pace for fundraising this year through its political action committee, surpassing other congressional leadership PACs in collecting more than $1.1 million through June. More than half the money came from the health-care, insurance and financial services industries, marking a notable surge in donations from those sectors compared with earlier years, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.
A look at career contribution patterns also shows that typical Blue Dogs receive significantly more money -- about 25 percent -- from the health-care and insurance sectors than other Democrats, putting them closer to Republicans in attracting industry support.
Most of the major corporations and trade groups in those sectors are regular contributors to the Blue Dog PAC. They include drugmakers such as Pfizer and Novartis; insurers such as WellPoint and Northwestern Mutual Life; and industry organizations such as America's Health Insurance Plans. The American Medical Association also has been one of the top contributors to individual Blue Dog members over the past 20 years.
It's almost enough to make you cynical.