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American Medical Association Has Long Donated to Opponents of Health Care Reform

You might think that the American Medical Association, which today came out in opposition to a “public option” on comprehensive health care reform, is just a bunch of doctors trying to do what’s best for their patients, and that their opposition to the public option is a mere disagreement over details.

And you’d be wrong. The AMA is not just a bunch of doctors, but among other things an extremely lucrative lobbying organization that has given more than $12 million in campaign contributions to federal candidates since 1998. And since 1998, according to the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org, some 64 percent of the AMA’s donations to federal candidates have been to Republicans — although 2008, in which the AMA gave 56 percent of its contributions to Democrats, was a notable exception.

The disparity is especially noteworthy on the Senate side, which arguably has a greater role in passing health care reform. Since 1998, almost four-fifths of the AMA’s donation to Senate candidates have been to Republicans (including 64 percent in 2008). They have been a bit more equitable on the House side.

These aren’t particularly moderate Republicans the AMA is donating to either. The leading Senate-side recipient of its campaign contributions since 1998 has been John Ensign of Nevada, to whom the AMA has given $30,000. Ensign is the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, with $20,000 in donations, is in a tie with six other Republicans for second place. By contrast, the AMA has given just $3,000 to Ted Kennedy over this period, $4,000 to former Senator Hillary Clinton, and nothing to Majority Leader Harry Reid. Nor did President Obama or Vice President Biden receive any contributions from the AMA before departing for the White House. The AMA has, however, has given more generously to some other Democrats who are key players in health care reform, like Ron Wyden of Oregon ($12,800) and Max Baucus of Montana ($15,000; Baucus is the leading Senate Democratic recipient of AMA funds).

The AMA has given, since 1998, a total of $280,485 to the 66 Senators who voted in January to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). That is $4,250 per vote. By contrast, it has given $374,745, or $11,711 per vote, to the 32 Senators who opposed SCHIP. All but one Senator who voted in opposition to SCHIP, the newly-elected Jim Risch of Idaho, has received at least some contributions from the AMA over this period. By contrast, 30 of the 66 yea votes on SCHIP have not received a donation from the AMA since at least 1998, although we should note that a relatively high number of Democrats have joined the Senate chamber since 2006 and have not had as much opportunity to receive contributions.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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