Aug. 14, 2009— -- It's clear at town halls around the country: An awful lot of people are invested in the fight for health care reform. But the time, money and manpower that lobbying firms devote to courting lawmakers reveals an investment inside the Beltway of staggering proportions.
For every lawmaker in Congress, there are about six lobbyists pushing their health care priorities, according to a Bloomberg News investigation released today. That's about 3,300 registered health care lobbyists working Capitol Hill, hoping to put a bug in the ear of 100 senators and 435 congressmen.
Bloomberg also examined new lobbyist registrations since July 1 and found that, on average, three lobbying organizations per day, many headquartered on Washington, D.C.'s K Street corridor, are lining up to lobby Congress on health reform.
"I don't have a single client who has hired me to kill health care reform," John Jonas, a partner with lobbying firm Patton Boggs LLP, a firm representing 33 health care clients, told Bloomberg. "Quite the opposite, they assume health care reform is going to happen and they want to be protected."
"You're not going to get health care legislation without involving the hospitals, without involving those that provide medications, without talking to groups that represent doctors or patients or seniors, nurses, what have you," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
A total of $263 million has been spent on health lobbying in 2009, according to the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics. That's more money spent on health than any other sector this year.
The list of the top 20 spenders in 2009 across all sectors includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at No. 1, spending more than $26 million, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) at No. 3, spending $13 million, and Pfizer in the No. 6 spot, spending $11 million. Also joining the ranks of the top 20 spenders this year are Blue Cross Blue Shield, AARP, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and Eli Lilly, each having doled out between $7 and $10 million this year.
"Whenever you have a big piece of legislation like this, it's like ringing the dinner bell for K Street," Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, told Bloomberg.
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Voicing Health Care Opinions Beyond Washington
Countless Americans speaking up at town halls outside the Beltway also have a stake in health policy. And entering the fray on a highly charged issue like this one is nothing new.
"I've been in legislatures, county, state and federal, for a long time, a large part of my life," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., at a Wednesday news conference, reflecting on this week's town hall debates. "And I've never seen a major bill go through that didn't have this kind of thing. And it's right. That's democracy."
Joining Slaughter Wednesday was Wendell Potter, a 20-year health insurance veteran and former CIGNA vice president, who spoke out about insurance companies operating behind the scenes.
Potter recalled previous health care fights, saying insurers have undoubtedly tried to shape the battle.
"It is usually done through the PR firms that work for them," Potter said. "They want to keep their fingerprints off stuff like that.
"With this history, you can rest assured that the industry is up to the same dirty tricks, using the same devious PR practices it has used for many years to kill reform this year, or even better, to shape it so that it benefits insurance companies and their Wall Street investors far more than average Americans," he said.
Money, time and resources spent on ads targeting those Americans outside of Washington also illustrate how much various groups will spend on the hard sell.
Supporters of President Obama had outspent critics on the airwaves by two to one as of last week, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Americans for Stable Quality Care, a coalition supportive of the Obama administration's health care plans and largely funded by the pharmaceutical industry, is spending $12 million over Congress' August recess to air an ad supporting Democrats' health care efforts.
In addition to PhRMA, the coalition includes the American Medical Association, FamiliesUSA, the Federation of American Hospitals, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
"There's nothing wrong with different interests trying to advocate their position," Larry McNeely, a health care advocate with U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said to Bloomberg. "What's different now is the sheer quantity of money that's sloshed around Washington is drowning out the voices of citizens and the groups that speak up for them."
ABC News' Dean Norland and Teddy Davis contributed to this report.