The American Hospital Association is on pace to spend a record amount on congressional races this election cycle, saying it is shelling out $1.6 million in individual contributions to House races and another $244,000 for those in the Senate.
Additionally, the association, through its political action committee, spent $564,822 on mailings and radio ads in support of candidates in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 elections, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal election campaign contributions.
The outpouring from the nations largest hospital lobby comes at a time when the political climate in Washington could shift dramatically as Democrats ride anti-GOP sentiment that started in 2006 and could crest in a big way on Election Day. The party is poised to make inroads in both the Housewhere it already holds a majorityand more importantly in the Senate, where it could near the crucial 60-vote margin needed to pass most legislation.
Many interest groups, however, said that the abundance of tight races this year did not play a part in their decision to contribute to campaigns. Mark Seklecki, the AHAs vice president of political affairs, said that a number of factors go into deciding who the PAC will support, including input from state hospital associations as well as the candidates history on AHA-favored causes. But, he said, the amount it gives each election cycle is part of a broader plan, hatched several years ago, to grow its PAC. Giving more or (giving) less is driven by the size of our PAC and how much we are able to raise, he said. We didnt go into this saying there are going to be a lot of tight races. We stuck to our game plan.
Its a philosophy shared by several other main provider PACs. The Federation of American Hospitals, for instance, tallied $289,887 in campaign-giving this cycle, favoring Democrats in the House but Republicans in the Senate.
And other groups gave in big numbers, too. The American Medical Associations PAC has already spent $1.05 million on House races and another $113,700 on the Senate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
And from the payers perspective, Americas Health Insurance Plans PAC has given $128,500 to House races, $107,000 in the Senate.
Some of the top recipients of the AHAs largesse include hospital executive turned congressman Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), who landed $12,375 for his tight re-election bid, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who chairs the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee and is crucial to moving healthcare legislation in the House, received $10,000.
In the Senate, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and holds sway over Medicares purse strings, received $7,450 from the hospital group. The AHA also made sure it was a factor in two critical Senate races, backing Democratic candidates Mark Udall in Colorado and Mark Warner in Virginia, giving each $10,000.
In choosing which candidates to support, the FAH singled out lawmakers that have either taken on a leadership role in healthcare or play a key leadership role in the House or Senate, said FAH President Chip Kahn.
The FAH, which represents nearly 1,000 investor-owned hospitals and systems, singled out candidates who show a commitment to issues that are of interest to its members, Kahn said, including public policies on Medicare, Medicaid, the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, and covering more Americans.
The long list of the FAH donation recipients includes heavy hitters such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who received $2,500 and $5,000, respectively. Some of the FAHs more generous donations of $10,000 went to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, and other congressmen bearing leadership titles such as James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip, and House Minority Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Kahn stressed that the money for donations isnt guided by how a lawmaker voted on a specific issue. In the House, the FAH donated $122,000 to Democrats and $55,200 to Republicans. Contributions in the Senate leaned heavily toward the GOP candidates, with cash going to eight of the Republican senators who are up for re-election this week. Overall, the FAHs PAC donated $80,687 to Republicans and $32,000 to Democrats in Senate races.
In the Senate, We generally feel its good to have a strong minority. Its a good thing for policy in this country, said Kahn, of the FAHs generous support of Republican candidates, some of whom are running in very tight races.
Overall interest in the political process is greater, said David Jarrard, chief executive officer of Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, a healthcare public affairs firm in Brentwood, Tenn. Its natural at this time of year to focus on Washington, but for hospitals, supporting candidates has a much broader spectrum, he said.
In looking at total donations from the AMAs PAC, Democratic candidates in the House and Senate received $650,500, approximately $130,000 more than Republicans, who got $520,450 overall.
Some GOP lawmakers who voted against a crucial Medicare reform bill back in July, however, may be feeling the impact of the AMAs wrath in the form of emptier pockets. The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, which halted a 10.6% cut to Medicare physician payments through 2009, became law this past summer after the Senate voted 70-26 and the House voted 383-41 to override the presidents veto. The law took effect after months of partisan battles over the legislations funding sources, dueling bills and numerous votes in both chambers of Congress.
Barraged by criticism from the medical lobby, nine senators who initially voted against the bill eventually switched their votes to yea, in an effort to appease the AMA, not to mention angry doctors in their respective states. In looking at donation records from the AMAs PAC, this gesture may not have been enough to get the lobbying groups support.
Of those nine senators, only three appeared to benefit from their change of heart. These include: Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who received a donation of $1,000; Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who received $2,000; and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who received $2,500 for the 2008 election cycle from the AMA PAC. Chambliss, whos running a tight race against Democratic challenger Jim Martin, may benefit from the AMAs assistance. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in Georgia indicates that Chambliss was leading Martin by a margin of 50% to 44%, with other surveys reporting even tighter margins.
Other members in close races who did vote for the new Medicare law are clearly getting a leg up from the AMA. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who is facing an uphill battle against Democratic state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, received more than $82,000 in advertising support from the PAC over the past few weeks, in addition to a donation of $7,500.
Not all of the PAC donations seem to be driven by the vote on the Medicare bill, however. Of the 41 members who voted against the bill in the House, about half-received donations from the AMA PAC, including Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who got $1,000.
The AHAs Seklecki warns against looking too closely for cause-and-effect campaign giving. Weve got lots of issues in play every year and all the time, he said. Weve got a variety of issues that are dealt with in a variety of congressional committees, and a variety of issues that affect our members.