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On Health Care, Who’s Hooked on Special Interest Money?

Last week, we documented how the American Medical Association, which probably a the reputation among the laypublic for being a sage council of doctors, in fact is a rather aggressive lobbying organization, which has a history of giving mostly to Republican candidates for office.

The AMA, however, is hardly the only player in the health player game. Based on data collected from, I’ve tallied the amount of contributions that each of the 99 current senators have received from Political Action Committees — PACs — from the health care industry since 1989. This includes PACs associated with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, HMOs, health services companies, medical supply companies and physicians’, dentists’ and nurses’ groups. It does not include any money collected from individual contributors — only money collected from PACs.

For comparison, we’ve provided the overall amount of federal campaign funds each Senator has collected over the same period from all sources — including PACs, individual contributions, and self-financing. The senators are ranked by the percentage of their overall bankrolls that they’ve received from health industry PACs; the top 10 follows below. We’ve also listed each senator’s position on the public option — a government-run health care policy that would be established to compete with private policies — which vigorously supported by progressives and many health care wonks but is generally opposed by industry groups.

This is an interesting list — five Democrats and five Republicans, with some surprising names (Sherrod Brown?) but mostly predictable ones. The senator who has been most dependent on special interest money is Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who has gotten about 12 percent of all of his campaign funds from health care lobbying groups. Enzi, who is quite conservative overall, has been more proactive and moderate on health care, where he is the ranking Republican member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Whereas Enzi routinely describes his ideas as bipartisan, however, many Democrats regard them overly industry-friendly: Enzi’s plan would not mandate coverage, for instance, nor prevent insurers from denying health care on the basis of pre-existing conditions.

The Democrat most dependent on health care lobbying money is Kent Conrad of North Dakota. This might give one some pause when evaluating Conrad’s co-op plan or his skepticism about the Senate’s ability to pass a public option.

Several other Senators who are regulars in the health care debate, like Democrat Max Baucus and Republicans Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, also rank in the top 10 in their dependance on health care lobbying money.

In general, indeed, those Senators whom the health care industry seems most inclined to give money to are not necessarily those who are complete deadweight on the issue. Rather, it’s those like Enzi and Conrad who are pushing solutions which are invariably described as bipartisan but which are in fact likely to lock in an industry-friendly plan. The industry appears to be resigned to the strong likelihood that a health care reform bill will eventually pass through the Congress, and knows that whatever does get passed, for better or for worse, will be hard to undo. They want to make sure it’s a good one — for them.

A complete list of all 99 senators follows below.

Overall, health care PACs have given an average of $482,870 to Republican senators and $407,979 to Democrats. There is a larger discrepancy, however, when the contributions are taken as a share of overall campaign funds — the average Republican senator has gotten 3.6 percent of his funds from health care PACs, while the average Democrat has gotten 2.1 percent of hers.

Senators in favor of a public option have received, on average, $335,308 or 1.8 percent of their total campaign contributions from health industry PACs. Senators opposed to it have received an average of $486,629 or 3.5 percent. Undecided senators have gotten $530,968, or 2.9 percent of their total campaign funds, from health industry PACs.

Ranking relatively low on the list — 61st of 99 — is Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who has gotten $492,129, or 1.4 percent of his total campaign contributions, from these PACs. Ranking somewhere in the middle are Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bob Bennett of Utah, who have pushed a somewhat eccentric plan which lacks a public option but is nevertheless rather favorably reviewed by many health care economists and policy wonks.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.