As powerful lawmakers debate healthcare legislation of enormous potential impact, corporate media have largely failed to explore the problem of health and insurance industries attempting to influence many of these legislators with a flood of campaign contributions.
Despite Deep Throat’s urging journalists to “follow the money,” there’s a longstanding media taboo against discussing the role of campaign contributions in healthcare initiatives (Extra!, 1–2/04). This reluctance is particularly striking this year, when health industry spending on lobbying efforts and political contributions is unprecedented.
In what the Washington Post (7/6/09) referred to as “a record-breaking influence campaign by the healthcare industry,” $1.4 million is spent on lobbying every day. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, lobbying expenditures for all health and insurance sectors total $263 million so far this year, while those sectors have directly donated more than $23 million to federal lawmakers.
Some of the greatest beneficiaries of these donations also happen to be pivotal arbiters in the shaping of healthcare legislation. Yet corporate media have rarely raised the issue of these lawmakers’ potential conflicts of interest.. . . . . .Baucus has received nearly $3.4 million in campaign contributions from health and insurance industries since 2003—more than any other member of Congress. These donations represent about 23 percent of Baucus’ total fundraising (including from his PAC) during that time. This includes “$853,000 from pharmaceutical and health products, $851,000 from health professionals, $467,000 from hospitals and nursing homes, $466,000 from health service and HMO interests, and $784,000 from insurance” (Montana Standard, 6/14/09). Baucus also ranks fourth all-time in financial contributions from pharmaceutical companies (Capital Eye, 6/25/09). A Nexis search for “Max Baucus” among the seven outlets in the survey found mentions in over 100 healthcare-related stories from June 1–September 1, 2009, but Baucus’ financial ties to the healthcare industry came up only six times (Washington Post, 7/6/09, 7/21/09, 7/25/09; New York Times, 6/24/09, 8/19/09; ABC World News, 8/14/09).
Only two of these reports noted that Baucus continued to collect campaign donations from health and insurance industries even as he chaired the Finance Committee’s work on a healthcare reform bill. The July 21 Washington Post noted: “Top health executives and lobbyists continued to flock to the senator’s often extravagant fundraising events in recent months.” Aides to Baucus told the Post that he had refused donations from healthcare PACs after June 1. “But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations.” The New York Times (6/24/09) reported that Baucus’ fundraising after June 1 also included “industry interests” like “drug companies and insurers.”
More often, though, news accounts portrayed Baucus’ industry-friendly approach to the healthcare issue—including his dismissal of a single-payer approach and his opposition to a public option—as a reflection of his “more cautious approach” (New York Times, 6/16/09), his “long history of collaborating with Republicans” (New York Times, 7/23/09) or his “pursuit of a centrist compromise” (New York Times, 6/8/09). Or he was portrayed as simply bowing to political reality (Washington Post, 8/7/09). . . . .
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UPDATE: And yet. . . . .