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Health Insurance Industry Gives Big to Key Players in Congress

July 21, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Of the five Committees in Congress with jurisdiction over health care reform legislation right now, only one, the Senate Finance Committee, is proposing the scrap the Obama-supported “public option” entirely. That committee is chaired by Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT], the man at the center of this piece from Dan Eggen on the health industry’s effort to quash reform through campaign contributions:

As liberal protesters marched outside, Sen. Max Baucus sat down inside a San Francisco mansion for a dinner of chicken cordon bleu and a discussion of landmark health-care legislation under consideration by his Senate Finance Committee.

At the table on May 26 were about 20 donors willing to fork over $10,000 or more to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, including executives of major insurance companies, hospitals and other health-care firms.

“Most people there had an agenda; they wanted the ear of a senator, and they got it,” said Aaron Roland, a San Francisco health-care activist who paid half price to attend the gathering. “Money gets you in the door. The only thing the other side can do is march around and protest outside.”

Baucus’ spokesperson, of course, claims he isn’t influenced by all the money he has been getting from health care interests. Baucus “is only driven by one thing: what is right for Montana and the country,” his spokesman says.

Although it’s hard to prove, it’s almost impossible not to believe that Baucus’ decisions with the bill are influenced by the money. Taking big checks from insurance companies and CEOs at fundraising events at the same exact time he is leading the mark-up of the most significant health care reform legislation in half a century can hardly be interpreted any other way. “When you put these events close to matters concerning these lobbyists, clearly it’s a signal. You are expected to show up with a check,” says Public Citizen’s Greg Holman.

The Supreme Court has concluded that “the appearance of corruption stemming from public awareness of the opportunities for abuse inherent in a regime of large individual financial contributions” is as important as actual quid pro quo arrangements in its damaging effects on fair and effective government. Whether or not Baucus has been bought out by all the health industry money he’s received, it definitely undermines his credibility as a representative for the people.

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