Health Care Enablers

As Congress gets down to business, the special-interest money is pouring in. Benjamin Sarlin studies the big players on Capitol Hill, and how many millions they’ve received.

Melissa Golden / Getty Images

Melissa Golden / Getty Images

Max Baucus

Health and insurance cash 2003 - 2008: $3.75 million

The Senate Finance chairman, Baucus has been leading the effort to forge a compromise. It’s not easy: Liberals are threatening to walk if there’s no public option, virtually all Republicans are openly hostile, and there are only a couple of moderate GOP members in play. And Baucus has drawn fire from his party caucus as well as the White House for his plodding approach at finding consensus. Still, the donors are flocking; in the first six months of the year, he pulled in $121,000 from the health-care industry. The interest in him is nothing new; from 2003 to 2008, he took in about $3 million in donations to his campaign committee and PAC from the health industry, and over $750,000 from the insurance industry—about a quarter of his total contributions during that time. His $1,171,025 in health-industry contributions during the 2008 cycle was the most of any senator other than the three major presidential candidates (John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Baucus recently circulated a new plan for review—which did not include a public option, but rather a less politically charged system of nonprofit co-ops. His industry benefactors must be pleased. Wednesday morning, Baucus said he intended to plow ahead and mark up legislation later this month—regardless of whether the GOP comes along for the ride.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Chuck Grassley

Health and insurance cash 2003 to 2008: $2.64 million

The point man in the GOP for negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley has ruffled Democratic feathers recently by entertaining debunked rumors about "death panels" spread by Sarah Palin. Once seen as the best hope for a bipartisan bill, CNN reports that he's frustrated with even a watered-down proposal circulated by Sen. Baucus (D-MT) because it would impose fees on insurance companies to expand coverage


Susan Walsh / AP Photo

Ben Nelson

Health and insurance cash from 2003 to 2008: $1.64 million

Nelson’s special-interest donations led the Progressive Change Campaign Committee to run ads highlighting the contributions in order to try to pressure him into backing health-care reform. This week, Nelson told the Lincoln Star Journal that a "government approach" to health-care reform would cause any legislation to "implode"—an unwelcome omen for the White House and liberals insisting that that provision be a part of any reform plan. Nelson could emerge as a bellwether for conservative Democratic “Blue Dog” sentiment. That might explain why his industry donations have exploded: He took in $843,000 in donations from the health sector from 2003 to 2008 and $803,000 from the insurance industry.

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

Kent Conrad

Health and insurance cash 2003 to 2008: $1.44 million

Known as one of the most conservative Senate Democrats, Conrad recently declared a public-insurance plan dead on arrival, saying that it was a waste of time for lawmakers to "chase that rabbit," given the lack of support within the party caucus. If true, that's good news to some of his top donors: He took more than $500,000 from the insurance industry from 2003 to 2008, and $944,000 from the health sector in the same period, close to one-fifth of his total money raised in that period. An additional $36,500 from the health-care industry has come in the first six months of the year.

Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

Blanche Lincoln

Health and insurance cash from 2003 to 2008: $1.18 million

Lincoln has hedged on whether she supports the most divisive plank of the reform platform, saying in a recent speech that she would not "support a solely government-funded public option" but leaving the interpretation of her remarks somewhat vague. Health and insurance companies have aggressively targeted Lincoln with contributions in recent months. Already she's taken in $330,850 from the health sector for the 2010 cycle, the most of any senator after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). That’s due in part to the fact that she faces a tough re-election race next year. Donations aside, Lincoln has plenty in common with the insurance industry already: According to the Sunlight Foundation, her top health-care adviser from 2000 to 2007 now works as the top Democratic lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has a 75 percent market share in her native Arkansas.

Lawrence Jackson / AP Photo

Mike Enzi

Health and insurance cash 2003 - 2008: $900,000

The conservative Wyoming Republican has been a source of tension between liberals and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, who is trying to assemble a bipartisan reform bill. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recently tweaked Enzi by saying "It appears…he doesn't believe there's a pathway to get bipartisan support," prompting Enzi to respond that he was still negotiating. But it was hard to square Enzi's statement with quotes like the one he gave to constituents last Wednesday, when he said that the health-care bill "is going to take awhile and I’m pretty sure it’s going to fail." Enzi faces pressure from the GOP to go against the White House on health-care legislation and from the sound of his statements his primary goal has been to delay Democrats from getting close to creating meaningful competition for the insurance industry in a public-insurance plan. "If I hadn't been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care," Enzi said last month, according to the Gillette News-Record. Enzi took in $670,000 from the health industry from 2003 to 2008 and an additional $234,250 from the insurance industry.

Bill Haber / AP Photo

Mary Landrieu

Health and insurance cash 2003 - 2008: $830,000

Landrieu has been one of the toughest Democratic critics of proposed health-care legislation, suggesting in interviews she may not support a bill with a public-insurance plan or one that does not include restrictions on abortion. "I would tend not to [support a public option]," she said in a CNN interview last month. "But, we've got to keep working to find solutions." Landrieu took in $636,000 from the health industry from 2003 to 2008 and an additional $203,198 from the insurance industry. Liberal groups have run ads recently highlighting the donations, but Landrieu also faces pressure from the right in her conservative state to oppose a Democratic bill. With her red-state seat never fully safe, Landrieu needs whatever help she can get from industry donations even if reelection isn't on the immediate horizon.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Olympia Snowe

Health and insurance cash 2003 - 2008: $550,000

Snowe is the White House's favorite Republican. She may end up with veto power over final legislation; in the event of a filibuster, she could provide the key vote to override it. She might also be the last, best hope for including a public-insurance plan thanks to her proposal to include a "trigger" option that would launch the public option only if insurance companies failed to expand coverage and control costs. Despite her central role, she’s received significantly less industry largesse lately than most of her peers on this list. Guess being sympathetic to the public plan will do that. The insurance industry has only donated $5,000 in the 2010 cycle to her campaign, while the health industry has given her $9,000. Still, she received $203,245 from the insurance industry from 2003 to 2008, and $355,049 from the health industry, a hefty chunk of the total $3,825,204 she raised during that period.