WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration and Democrats wrangled over the timing, shape and cost of health care overhaul efforts during the first half of the year, more than half the $1.1 million in campaign contributions the Democratic Party's Blue Dog political action committee received came from the pharmaceutical, health care and health insurance industries, according to watchdog organizations.
The amount outstrips contributions to other congressional political action committees during the same period, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit watchdog organization. The Blue Dogs, a group of fiscally conservative lawmakers, successfully delayed the vote on health care overhaul proposals until the fall.
"The business community realizes that (the Blue Dogs) are the linchpin and will become much more so as time goes on," former Mississippi congressman turned lobbyist Mike Parker told the organization's researchers.
Since 1989, on average, Blue Dog Democrats netted $62,650 more from the health sector than other Democrats, while hospitals and nursing homes also favored them, giving $5,680 and $5,550 more, respectively according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit organization that tracks the influence of money in politics.
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Since 1990, Democratic members of Congress on average received $59,015 from the health services, insurance and pharmaceutical industries while Republicans received $81,086, according to public campaign finance data.
In July, Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, attended a campaign fund-raiser luncheon with seats starting at $500 a plate hosted by the c2group, a Washington company that has lobbied on such health care issues as Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
Chandler has received more than $255,000 in campaign contributions from the health care and insurance industries during his congressional career and ranks 34th among Blue Dogs in these contributions.
Chandler's office did not return calls for comment.
Chandler has said he thinks the health insurance industry needs revamping, but has stopped short of defending the president's proposal for a publicly run insurance plan.
The most recent spate of contributions to Blue Dogs came at a time when health care, insurance and pharmaceutical companies were mounting a campaign against a government-run public health insurance option, fearing cost controls and an impact on business.
The Blue Dogs' windfall also came at a time when the 52-member coalition flexed its muscle with both the White House and the House Democratic leadership as an increasingly influential bloc in the health care reform debate.
At the same time, many Blue Dogs were also rubbing shoulders with health care and insurance industry executives and their lobbyists at fund-raising breakfasts and cocktail receptions that cost upward of $1,000 a plate, according to public information compiled by the non-profit Sunlight Foundation, which advocates greater government transparency.
Since 2008, more than half of the Blue Dogs have either attended health care industry fund-raising receptions or similar functions co-sponsored by lobbyists representing the health care and insurance industries.
In June, as Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., who heads the coalition's task force on health care, publicly expressed the Blue Dogs' misgivings about the Democratic leadership's efforts, the former pharmacy owner was feted at a series of health care industry receptions.
Ross has received nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from the insurance and health care industries over his five-term career.