Health care lobbyists boost key players in debate

When Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley staged a $1,000-per-person fundraiser at a Capitol Hill restaurant in June, insurance company Aflac helped to host.

Later that week, lobbyists for physicians' groups attended a fundraiser for Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

Grassley is the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and a negotiator on efforts to forge a bipartisan compromise on President Obama's health care initiative. Miller chairs the House health committee, which approved its bill in July.

As the debate intensifies in Congress, health care sector contributions to lawmakers on the committees overseeing the massive change to the nation's health care system are on the upswing — rising 8% between the first and second quarter of the year, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

In the first six months of the year, health care interests donated $19.7 million to all federal lawmakers. More than 40% — $8.1 million — went to the campaign and political action committees of lawmakers on the five House and Senate committees that are working on health care.

Craig Holman, of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said the giving allows health care lobbyists "to get one-on-one time with officeholders" as lawmakers craft legislation.

Grassley saw his health care industry donations soar this year — from $53,200 during the first three months of the year to $125,800 during the second quarter. So far this year, he is the top GOP recipient of health care industry donations in the Senate.

Grassley "accepts campaign donations that are legal and come with no strings attached," spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said.

Aflac's Laura Kane declined comment.

The American Academy of Neurology gave $1,000 for Miller's fundraiser.

"If I called George Miller today, and asked for a meeting with him, I wouldn't expect to get it," said Mike Amery, the group's lobbyist. "But the member is there when a fundraiser is set … and you can talk about health care issues."

Miller received $24,270 in industry donations this year. His chief of staff Daniel Weiss said Miller is not swayed by contributions and "holds meetings all the time on health care that are not fundraisers."

This sortable table shows $8.1 million in health care industry donations during the first and second quarters of 2009 to lawmakers who serve on the five committees that oversee health policy in Congress. The amounts include donations to their campaign and political action committees.

Notes: Some lawmakers serve on more than one health care related committee. Sen. Kennedy died Aug. 25.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics