The looming ban on so-called "soft money" campaign donations does not seem to faze healthcare providers.
"We're pleased that we are not going to be asked to participate in that arena in the future," said Al Jackson, vice president of political affairs and grass-roots advocacy at the American Hospital Association.
The health provider community historically has not been a big contributor of soft money-the unlimited, unregulated funds given by businesses and individuals to national political parties. Under the recently enacted campaign finance reform law, such contributions will be illegal after the November elections.
But healthcare providers have made their presence known.
In the two-year 2000 election cycle, hospitals and nursing homes gave nearly $2 million in soft money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington-based research group that tracks political money. By comparison, the entire healthcare community donated nearly $25 million in soft money in the 2000 election cycle, with the lion's share, $15 million, coming from the pharmaceutical industry.
Although soft money donations for the 2002 election cycle are not completely in, the most recent figures released by the Federal Election Commission show healthcare providers appear to have kept pace with the 2000 cycle.
The Federation of American Hospitals and its members were at the top of the soft money list for healthcare providers in both election cycles. In the 2000 cycle, the federation gave $365,566. The most recent FEC figures show it has given $236,250 in soft money donations in the 2002 cycle.
The AHA and its members contributed $144,000 in soft money donations in the 2000 election cycle. "We felt it was necessary because so many folks we are often lobbying against are very substantial players in the soft money arena," Jackson said.
He said he doubted the association would give more soft money in the 2002 election cycle than the $180,370 reported thus far. Instead, it will focus on its grass-roots lobbying and political action committee, he said.
The AHA's PAC donated $1.4 million to federal candidates in the 2000 election cycle. The most recent figures show that the AHA has given $567,059 to federal candidates in the current cycle.
Reluctantly signed by President Bush on March 27 and under attack in court by those who question its constitutionality, the recent law also faces scrutiny from those trying to interpret its language. Some providers are waiting for the dust to settle before making campaign contribution decisions.
"At this point, all we can do is speculate," said Richard Coorsh, federation spokesman.