They were the first in Congress to take a crack at President Clinton's healthcare reforms, a distinction that has brought financial largess to the 11 members of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee.
They have been showered with nearly $600,000 in contributions from the healthcare and insurance lobbies during the 1994 election cycle, according to a review of campaign reports through March 31.
Those special interests have much at stake, and much to safeguard, as the healthcare reform plan winds through Congress.
The $579,352 total from lobbyists known to represent healthcare interests marks almost a threefold increase over the same period in the last election cycle, when the same members received just $206,135 from health and insurance political action committees.
"It's pretty obvious that healthcare legislation has become the money magnet for members of this subcommittee," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the private Center for Responsive Politics.
"Rarely do we see a more direct correlation than this: Put a piece of legislation before a panel and watch the money come in," she said.
More than $120,000 of the 1994 contributions came during the first three months of the year, when the subcommittee conducted hearings and eventually passed a modified version of the Clinton plan on a 6-5 vote.
The total is a mere fraction of the millions in political donations expected to be spent this year to influence the landmark legislation, which will pass through several House and Senate committees.
An analysis of contributions to the Ways and Means subcommittee offers a glimpse of how lobbyists target donations to pending legislation-and how lawmakers often conduct the business of fund raising around their congressional work.
At least two members of the subcommittee-Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), and Gerald Kleczka (D-Wis.)-scheduled fund-raisers in March as the subcommittee was preparing to vote. Among the biggest givers at those events were health and insurance industry lobbyists.
Ms. Johnson picked up $2,750 from five medical professionals at a March 5 event at the Farmington Country Club.
"Quite frankly, we want to gain access to those who are in a position to make progress in those areas that interest us," said John Carson, governmental affairs director for the American Podiatric Medical Association. "It's as straightforward as that."
Mr. Carson's group already has donated more than $25,000 to subcommittee members. It has yet to give the maximum $10,000 donation to any single member because PACs such as his may need to give more money to the same 11 members when the Clinton healthcare plan is considered by the full House Ways and Means Committee.
"This healthcare reform debate is going to be fought at higher levels," Mr. Carson said. "From time to time, we go back to the same members on the same issue."
Ms. Johnson declined to comment.
Mr. Kleczka held two fund-raisers in March, including one on the eve of the subcommittee's final votes. In all, Mr. Kleczka raised $33,925 through March from the healthcare lobby, the most of anyone on the panel during those three months.
Among those at his March 21 fund-raiser were representatives of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers PAC, which handed over $1,000 to Mr. Kleczka's campaign that day-its second $1,000 donation to him in a month.
Five days earlier, the Wisconsin Democrat had sponsored the motion that successfully scuttled a vote to increase the Clinton plan's proposed 75-cent increase in the tobacco tax to $2.
Mr. Kleczka's office declined several requests for interviews. But a union lobbyist said the check had been written weeks before the congressman's motion and was simply delivered at the fund-raiser.
"Even if the healthcare bill weren't up there this year, he's on Ways and Means, and that's important," said John Jarvis, a lobbyist with the tobacco workers' PAC. "He's right on all the union stuff-he's a good, solid Midwestern liberal."
The biggest recipient of healthcare money in the 1994 cycle is the subcommittee's chairman, Fortney "Pete" Stark, who authored the modified Clinton plan that passed his panel.
The California Democrat got more than $100,000 from health and insurance interests, most of it last year when he began a public effort to develop an alternative to the president's plan. In the first three months of this year, Mr. Stark got 13 donations from individuals-all but one from physicians.
The pattern of Mr. Stark's donations indicates the breadth of the health lobby's campaign. His contributors ranged from major insurance carriers such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Cigna to obscure groups such as PACs for urologists and eye surgeons.
Mr. Stark's office also did not respond to requests for interviews.
Other large recipients of money include Rep. Mike Andrews (D-Texas), who pushed unsuccessfully for a managed-care alternative supported by the insurance industry. He was one of the panel's largest recipients of insurers' money, with $25,000 in donations.