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The Sickening Influence of Campaign Contributions

Posted on Jun 24, 2009
AP photo / Charles Dharapak

Sen. Max Baucus’ Finance Committee is thought to be the best bet for a bipartisan bill. The senator has raised close to $2 million this election cycle from the health sector, according to OpenSecrets.

By Joe Conason

If Congress fails to enact health care reform this year—or if it enacts a sham reform designed to bail out corporate medicine while excluding the “public option”—then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives—or even the restoration of Republican rule on Capitol Hill.

Many of those now talking down President Obama’s health care initiative were in Washington back in 1994 when Bill Clinton’s proposals to achieve universal coverage were killed by members of the president’s own party. The Democrats lost control of Congress that November in a historic repudiation, largely because of public disillusionment with their policy failures.

Nearly every poll now shows the American people demanding change in the health care system, with majorities favoring universal coverage and, in many surveys, a government plan that competes with private insurance. But powerful Democratic politicians, especially in the Senate, are pretending not to hear. They adopt all sorts of positions, from bluntly opposing any substantive change this year to promoting bogus alternatives. They claim to be trying to help Obama gather the votes he will need, or to assist him in attracting Republican votes. They insist that the country can’t afford universal care, or that the public option won’t pass (before debate has even begun).

Indeed, many of the most intransigent Democrats don’t bother to make actual arguments to support their position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and the party’s main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public option and universal coverage.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply stated, through her flack, that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care—not much of an objection to a model that serves people in every other industrialized country with lower costs and superior outcomes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., feebly protests that her state’s mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants.

The excuses sound different, but all of these lawmakers have something in common—namely, their abject dependence on campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations fighting against real reform. Consider Landrieu, a senator from a very poor state whose working-class constituents badly need universal coverage (and many of whom now depend on Medicare, a popular government program). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog outfit, she has received nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests, including hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes and drug firms, during her political career.

The same kind of depressing figures can be found in the campaign filings of many of the Democrats now posing as obstacles to reform, notably including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who has distinguished himself in the most appalling way. The Montana Standard, a news outlet in his home state, found that Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry donors than any other member of Congress. “In the past six years,” the Standard found, “nearly one-fourth of every dime raised by the Montana senator and his political-action committee has come from groups and individuals associated with drug companies, insurers, hospitals, medical-supply firms, health-service companies and other health professionals.”

Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult. They protest, as a spokesman for Sen. Landrieu did, that they make policy decisions based on what is best for the people of their states, “not campaign contributions.” But when health reform fails, or turns into a trough for their contributors, who will believe them? And who will vote for them?

Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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By Spiritgirl, June 25, 2009 at 12:41 pm Link to this comment

...“the “public option”—then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters…”

They should hope that the angry voters don’t get the pitchforks and tar to boiling!  While there may not be 3rd party options in the voting booths, the “options” of an angry, disenfranchised, overburdened populace that is no longer willing to calmly listen to their lies may be just what the doctor orders!

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By godistwaddle, June 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm Link to this comment

They’re whores. They coo at us (campaign promises), throw us a perfunctory hump (a fake election), take our money and give it to their corporate pimps (defense contracts, subsidies, and so forth).  The pimps give ‘em a little to live on.  When one crosses a corporate pimp, it gets beaten up and thrown into the street.

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By P. T., June 25, 2009 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

The Republicans are positioning themselves cleverly on this issue.  I heard Republican senator Lindsey Graham say the other day that if healthcare reform fails it will be because “moderate” Democrats don’t want it.

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By hark, June 25, 2009 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

One major problem with reform that is seldom addressed is that the American people don’t want reform.  I know that sounds ridiculous in the light of polls showing support for a public option at 67% and higher, but that support is very soft.  The more important result is that 80% of the American people are somewhat or highly satisfied with their insurance and care.  They are for reform only to the extent that they can keep what they have AND not see any increase in what they pay, or higher taxes.  And they happen to pay very little, because their employers pay the lion’s share of the premiums, and they are not taxed on their employer’s contributions. 

Once they understand that a robust public option means employers will drop their plans in droves, they will come out strongly against it.  They will revolt. 

In effect, 80% of the American people have been bribed to maintain this system, at the expense of the 20%, the uninsured and the individually insured.  It is a self-perpetuating system.  You won’t get the 80% demanding change until their employers finally choke to death on skyrocketing premiums and drop coverage.

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By Davol, June 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I live in Montana and have never voted for Max Baucus, and I pretty much only vote Democrat.  He’s as currupt and sold-out to corporate interests as his (R) Rival of a few years back, Conrad Burns.  Hopefully we can get him fired for his discraceful performance, but he’s entrenched with the winning side.

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By steve, June 25, 2009 at 11:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hello everyone out there!!!  Stop stop stop with the “call your senator or representative and let them know how you feel”  stop stop stop with the “send your senator or representative an email today telling them exactly how you feel”  let’s get real.  Stop reading this get off the computer and let’s all organize some real change.  We need to grab our guns and take to the streets!!!  Now!!!  Nothing is ever going to change and really all that will come of anything in health care is a little “tinkering”  We need another revolution!!!

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By bcc, June 25, 2009 at 11:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption. The punishment inflicted by angry voters is likely to be reduced majorities in (Congress)”

Possibly true but in part I think many Democrats may not care so much about what the public thinks. Since there is no viable 3rd party to turn to they may be relying on being the lesser of two evils.  Still if they continue this way I will be voting my conscience next time around.

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By Folktruther, June 25, 2009 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

As Xypher says, America is badly broken and nothing will change until we get the big money out of government.  There is only one effective way to do this.


The rich control the American power system, which is so obsolete in both its political and economic manifestations that it is disappearing down the toilet of history.  When it does we have to


They hare using it to drive people into the ground.  And there simply is no other effectove way to restrict its use.

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By felicity, June 25, 2009 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

Cries (in the wilderness, as it has turned out) for campaign-finance reform were around in the ‘70’s. It’s not going to happen as long as the obstructionists in Congress keep their seats - which they’re being allowed to keep by the misinformed or uninformed voter.  The ball is and has always been in our court.

The arguments that Dems supposedly in support of some public funding are trotting out are designed to cover their democratic asses, period.

Notice the dearth of numbers.  The $100 billion/year cost of a half-ass publically funded health care system, foreinstance, would be paid for and then some if the dollar value of employer provided health insurance became part of an employee’s wages and thus taxed.  The $126 billion/year not now being collected is, by way of the back door, a government health insurance system, or put another way, a government subsidy to the health insurance syndicate.

(Notice that the [suddenly] fiscally conservative Republicans quote ad nauseam the $1 trillion cost of the proposed program but always fail to mention that the cost is over a ten-year period.)

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By Brian Cunningham, June 25, 2009 at 11:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Whenever Democratic politicians are confronted with this conflict between the public interest and their private fund-raising, they take offense at the implied insult.”

The next question should be, “if that is true why don’t you support and champion campaign finance reform?”

It is clear that politicians like the current system and that is not because its fun to constantly be soliciting funds from donors (or should I say negotiating bribes).

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By P. T., June 25, 2009 at 11:19 am Link to this comment

This article is a very good analysis.  The insurance companies have a problem.  Businesses and individuals are canceling insurance coverage because of the high prices.  The insurers want the government to force people to buy coverage.  However, the insurers do not want competition from a government option.  That would force down prices and profits.

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By KDelphi, June 25, 2009 at 11:07 am Link to this comment

Virginia from Virginia—The reason there are not more ads out there (or more flashy ones) is that the for-profit industry in this country runs all the “news” stations.

The best “advertisement” would be Obama , with his huge inexpicable popularity, getting behind the only plan that any civilized country can afford which is humane.

To say that we could have single payer (NOT “govt run”—the govt uses taxes to pay the bills) and still have most buying private health insurance would probably not be iaccurate. Of course, there will always be ways to BUY anything in a Capitalist country. But, even those who are “covered” are being taken for a ride—if you think that you dont pay for it now, think again. It comes with lower wages.

It also makes US business completely non-competitive..

People that want platinum coverage will always be able to get it. If you have very cheap insurance that covers everything you need now (and please tell us the company! lol), you might be disappointed with single payer or civilized medicine, but, even given that, they are just making too much damn profit! It is immoral to make that kind of profit off of others’ misery..

But, most of the free world is not, and, I have been treated in four of those countries. It works. But, how to convince USAns of that, I have no idea…money out of politics, but when will that happen?

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By Outraged, June 25, 2009 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

AND, this from WaPo:

“Federal agents arrested dozens of people in Miami and Detroit for allegedly submitting Medicare claims for $50 million in treatments that were unneeded and sometimes never provided, authorities said.

The indictments returned by a grand jury in Detroit focus mostly on costly HIV-AIDS infusion drugs and physical and occupational therapy. Authorities filed criminal charges against patients, doctors, medical assistants and company owners who allegedly played complicit roles in the fraud schemes. Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of the criminal proceeds and restitution to the Medicare program….

....”We will strike back against those whose fraudulent schemes not only undermine a program upon which 45 million aged and disabled Americans depend, but which also contribute directly to rising health-care costs,” Holder said.

The arrests come a month after officials at the Justice Department and HHS committed to sending investigators and prosecutors to Detroit and Houston, following earlier health fraud crackdowns in Miami and Los Angeles.”

You go Holder!  Round em’ all up.

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By Outraged, June 25, 2009 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

It looks as if there’s more trouble in that paradise we call the healthcare industry.  Check it out.  From the AP:

“Congressional investigators said Wednesday two-thirds of the U.S. health insurance industry used a faulty database that overcharged patients for seeing doctors outside their insurance network, costing Americans billions of dollars in inflated medical bills…..

.....More than 100 million Americans have plans that allow them to see doctors who are not part of their insurance network. For more than a decade, insurers submitted data to Ingenix to determine the typical cost for care received outside their networks.

But congressional investigators say companies would deliberately skew data to underestimate the costs of medical services, leaving patients to pay more in out-of-pocket expenses.

“The result of this practice is that American consumers have paid billions of dollars for health care services that their insurance companies should have paid,” states the report from the Senate Commerce Committee’s investigative staff.”

From WSJ:

“Wendell Potter, who was head of corporate communications for Cigna in the 1990s, told the Commerce Committee that insurers “routinely dump policyholders who are less profitable or get sick.”

They do this by finding loopholes in their policies to rescind the coverage, usually by looking carefully to see if a sick policyholder didn’t disclose a prior illness. A House investigative panel also is looking into that practice.

Insurers also raise small employers’ premiums to untenable levels if a few of their workers get sick or have an accident, Potter said. That causes employers to drop coverage for all their employees.

Cigna spokesman Chris Curran said the company strongly disagrees with the suggestion that insurers are motivated by profits to confuse or unfairly treat their customers. “We have a team dedicated to eliminating confusion and helping the people we serve understand and fully leverage their benefits,” he said.”

lol… Naw, we would never think THE INSURANCE COMPANIES would be motivated by profits…... sure, Mr. Curran… we believe you…. (bottomfeeder)

” It came at a time when Rockefeller, President Obama and others are seeking to offer a public alternative to private health plans as part of broad health-care reform legislation. Health insurers are doing everything they can to block the public option.

At a committee hearing yesterday, three health-care specialists testified that insurers go to great lengths to avoid responsibility for sick people, use deliberately incomprehensible documents to mislead consumers about their benefits, and sell “junk” policies that do not cover needed care. Rockefeller said he was exploring “why consumers get such a raw deal from their insurance companies…...”

“.......As it turns out, insurers typically used numbers from INGENIX, A WHOLLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY OF THE BIG INSURER UNITEDHEALTH GROUP(emphasis mine). Ingenix had an incentive to produce benchmarks that low-balled usual and customary rates and shifted costs from insurers to their customers, the report said.”

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By Virginia from Virginia, June 25, 2009 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

So-called “reform” without a NON-PROFIT option is just a cash cow, golden goose, manna from heaven delivery system of our tax dollars to Big Health.  Big Health is doing OK these days but knows that feeding at the tax-payer trough is an easier way to make even more big bucks.

I notice the scare ads from crooks who have already made millions from the present health insurance scheme, telling us their slant on why any government action to our health system is undesirable.  But the ads from those who advocate government-run health care are ineffective.  Those ads are too bland.  I suggest ads that answer/refute the scare mongers’ points.  I suggest ads that tell the specific advantages of a government-run plan. Address the concerns to us who already have health insurance, eg., the possibility of insurance companies limiting our health coverage or what will we do if we lose our jobs.  Address the pro-gov.-run plan ads to those might be propagandized to oppose such a plan.

Remember how John Kerry lost the 2004 presidential race: He did not respond to attacks.  He ignored inroads on his character/experience.  Same thing here on these attacks on gov.-run health plans.  Answer the attacks.

And maybe it’s a good idea to tell us who is sponsoring these ads.  Not some generic named organization but the individuals who are behind the names.  Maybe tell us a little about these individuals.

Whaddya think?

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By Tom Semioli, June 25, 2009 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

...and they called Ralph Nader a “Spoiler!”

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By MeHere, June 25, 2009 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

K. Delphi:
As usual, you make so much sense!

I’m glad J. Conason wrote on this. It has become clear that the outcome of every major issue hinges on the corruption that exists in these two parties.  Everything has to do with the revolving door between legislators and interest groups. No amount of polling results, letter-writing, or demonstrating can compete with this. The public has knowledge about it but, somehow, when it comes to elections, they will not get behind any third-party that seriously questions this highly un-democratic arrangement and wants to return government to the people.

I believe this is the time to become fully aware of how lobbies, campaign financing and other less known schemes work in order to exert influence, from wars to health care.  We don’t want to wait until the next election and end up being seduced by “the lesser of two evils.” (I must say they haven’t seduced me for many years.) 

Obama knew exactly how his own party, the legislature and the lobbies work.  In order to please some of us, he briefly mentioned during his campaign the negative influence of lobbies.  But he wanted to become president more than he wanted to fight for real change. Now, he is part of the problem (evil.)

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By Thomas Mc, June 25, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment

When you’ve got Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?

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By Grace, June 25, 2009 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for the great article.  I’m curious to know what is the average amount senators get from the medical industry.  You write that Landrieu received “nearly $1.7 million from corporate medical interests”, but from what I know most politicians receive money from the medical industry, so how do we tell the significance of this amount?  I’m not arguing that the contribution skews their views, but simply seeking more perspective.

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By KDelphi, June 25, 2009 at 7:39 am Link to this comment

We do not need a “public plan” that “allows competition”—we need, not socialized care, but, civilized care—what every other industrialized country in the world has.

The public plans being offered are just huge gifts to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, who will then give gifts to the “reps” who vote for them…

At least admit what it really is.

But, I’d never vote for either party again, anyway.

There is the moral stance and there is the monied stance. That’s it.

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By Bud, June 25, 2009 at 4:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

SOUEEE,SOUEE,SOUEE.Here pig,pig,pig.Pukes,pigs,liars,manipulators,greedy bastards,every goddamn one in congress.Sometimes I think I have more respect for child molesters than I do for any of our congressional representatives

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By idarad, June 25, 2009 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Joe -
New article - same stuff.  I can read any article on the Truthdig page, and could simply comment- the money goes to politicians who in turn protect the monied who conspire to make certain we the people pay them to keep the power.
It truly is time, well past time- that we quite going to the polls in November and take to the streets - vote with our feet and literally throw the bums out.

You can’t reform manure your can refine it, age it, leech it to make it a bit less toxic, but in the end it is still…. The difference between the Democrats and Rapeublikins is rhetorical at best.  As long as we the people keep returning to the polls to ratify their game instead of going to the streets, we will just get more of the same.

Joe sheds no light, his information and analysis is correct, but in the end, unless we get rid of the lot of them - pigs and asses both, we will only see the power entrenched.

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By xypher, June 25, 2009 at 3:18 am Link to this comment

America is badly broken and unless we get big money out of our government nothing will change. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are willing to step away from the money so, it’s up to us We the People.

We can learn from the Iranians and get out in the streets and be seen and exact real change.

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By ardee, June 25, 2009 at 1:59 am Link to this comment

The Democratic Party sycophants who haunt this forum and post ridiculous accusations about those who see the hypocrisy within their party should rally here and defend their chosen party from these accusations.

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By Outraged, June 24, 2009 at 11:48 pm Link to this comment

What do you think would happen if a responsible single-payer plan, passed by both the House and the Senate arrived on Pres. Obama’s desk?  Do you think he’d sign it…?

I think he would, yes…. that’s a guessimate, but that’s me.  Ask yourself, do you think he’d sign it… because this is the elephant in the room, would he sign it….?

I absolutely endorse physicians being paid adequately for their services, but not overpaid.  I don’t feel that simply because a physician took two more years of training they are worth, 2, 3 or 5 times the VALUE of primary care physicians.  That’s bull.  Only because NOT EVERYONE who has the training is suddenly AN EXPERT.  No, it simply doesn’t “cut the mustard” (whatever, that means).

And you want to know what really trips my trigger, when you WAIT for three months to see the specialist (yes, the emergency IS BEEN, DONE AND HAD), and you finally get there and they lie and sell you a bill of goods.

In my particular case, I was prescribed, by the “specialist”, THE MOST expensive drugs known to man for my condition (and very dangerous, btw), when other options, which I BLANTANTLY asked for, were marginalized.

I went to the specialist thinking (rightfully so) that they might just have a better understanding or insight into MY particular condition (that’s reasonable….right), but what I found was a businessman, a ruthless one at that, especially when one considers what “business” we’re really talking about here.

Hey, I can suffer with or without you.  Sure I could die with or without you too, and if you’re this big of an asshole…. I’ll hedge my bets.  My premise is this….. is it plausible that what I’ve experienced should be the bottom line in the RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD.

I chose my primary care physician and the specialized physician’s assistant.  They listen, they do what they can (they can’t “cure” me, at least not yet)...... BUT THEY DON’T LIE TO ME.  Both, good people.  Sadly too, BOTH are not paid, their TRUE VALUE.  I thank them.

So…. it appears our congress members are not the ONLY pigs at the trough, but they are the ones who can RIGHT, this WRONG.

Don’t even get me started regarding the OBSTETRICIANS in this county… don’t even want to know, it is a travesty, concretely beyond what the human imagination has the depths to “understand”.  Think MENGELE, think Josef Mengele…..

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By boggs, June 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm Link to this comment

Our legislators are getting millions from big PHARM and the health insurance companies to make sure they get to continue walking away with the profits from healthcare.
Let your congressmen and Senators know they will not get your vote when it comes up again.
They are trying to hurry and pass some ridiculous thing they will call a comprehensive plan and they want it done now so the voters have time to forget who screwed em before mid-term elections.
Let em know you will not forget.

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