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Health-Care Overhaul 2010

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Health-Care Firms Have Supported Lawmakers Debating Reform

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is a leading recipient of campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape health-care legislation.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is a leading recipient of campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape health-care legislation. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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Baucus is a longtime centrist in the Democratic caucus, and his committee chairmanship has made him a key broker in the health-reform debate. Many former Baucus staff members, including two chiefs of staff, lobby on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry and other health-care players and have been closely involved in negotiations on the legislation.

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John Jonas, a Patton Boggs health-care lobbyist who has attended a Baucus fly-fishing event and other fundraisers, said the Montana senator is "key to getting anything done" when it comes to health-care legislation.

"This is not an overwhelmingly liberal Congress, and it's certainly not a liberal Senate," said Jonas, whose clients include Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Northwestern Mutual. "I think Max is uniquely situated to try to accomplish that, because he's more of a centrist and moderate Democrat than others are."

But Jerry Flanagan, a health-care analyst with Consumer Watchdog, a California-based advocacy group, said the tide of campaign contributions amounts to "a huge down payment" by companies that expect favorable policies in return. "That is the cold reality of big-money politics," he said.

Baucus won easy reelection in the fall, but he has continued to hold fundraisers since then. In addition to the fly-fishing event, he held his "Eighth Annual Ski and Snowmobile Weekend" in Big Sky in February and celebrated the start of his sixth term with a $10,000-a-table dinner at the Washington Court Hotel later that month. Aides say another fundraiser scheduled for July 7 at Bistro Bis in Capitol Hill was scrapped.

Baucus's office declined to provide attendance and donation details about his fundraising events, and federal records laws do not require such disclosures. Starting in June, aides say, Baucus adopted an internal office policy to refuse contributions from health-care PACs and to continue doing so until after Congress passes reform legislation.

But new Federal Election Commission documents filed last week show that individual lobbyists and others with health-care connections continued to make contributions to Baucus committees throughout June. Examples from Baucus's Glacier PAC include $5,000 from the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and $2,500 from lobbyists with U.S. Strategies, which represents numerous health-care firms. Overall, half of the $110,000 in donations to the PAC from April to June came from health-care firms and lobbyists, including Schering-Plough, Medtronic and New York Life.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Public Citizen advocacy group, said the continued fundraising by Baucus during the health-care debate is "very troubling."

"He's doing all this fundraising right in the middle of this effort to mark up a bill," Holman said. "When you put these events close to matters concerning these lobbyists, clearly it's a signal. You are expected to show up with a check."

Baucus and his aides strongly dispute any assertion that campaign contributions have an impact on the senator's policy views and proposals. Aides say he has frequently backed policies opposed by health-care companies, including support for greater availability of generic drugs, allowing drug imports from Canada and cutting payments to the Medicare Advantage plan.

During an interview earlier this year with the Missoulian newspaper, Baucus said that "no one gets special treatment." He added: "Your word is your bond back there."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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