In a column on reforming Medicare’s payment system at Kaiser Health News, Brian Klepper, who is credited as an independent health care analyst and Chief Development Officer for WeCare TLC Onsite Clinics, writes that “in 2009, records show that some members of Congress collected $1.2 billion in health care lobbying contributions—more than it had ever received from an industry on an issue—from health care interests.” The statistic might be interesting if it were true. But that’s not what the source he provides actually says.
Klepper links to an article on health industry lobbying published by the Center for Public Integrity, a investigative journalism non-profit. Here’s the passage where the $1.2 billion figure seems to come from:
Despite the recession, 2009 was a boom year for influence peddling overall with business and advocacy groups shelling out $3.47 billion for lobbyists to represent them on all kinds of issues, according to the nonprofit group Center for Responsive Politics.
Much of that money went to fight the health reform battle, according to Center for Public Integrity data. Businesses and organizations that lobbied on health reform spent more than $1.2 billion on their overall lobby efforts. The exact amount they spent on health reform is difficult to quantify because most health care lobbyists also worked on other issues, and lobby disclosure rules do not require businesses to report how much they paid on each issue. [bold added]
So, all totaled up, businesses that lobbied on health reform one way or another spent $1.2 billion on overall lobbying activities, including other issues. That figure doesn’t tell us very much. As the authors explicitly note—and as Klepper seems to have missed—it’s not clear how much of that actually went to lobbying for or against the health care overhaul because that figure includes money spent on lobbying that wasn’t directly related to health reform. So it’s reasonable to presume that the total amount spent lobbying on the health care overhaul was actually less than $1.2 billion.
Indeed, it was probably significantly less—maybe even a relatively tiny fraction of that amount—given that the $1.2 billion figure includes groups like the Chamber of Commerce and GE, which lobbied on health reform but also spent big bucks lobbying on other issues (financial reform, etc.).
More importantly, it’s wrong to say that “some members of Congress collected” this vast amount of money. Whatever money that was spent directly on health care lobbying went to pay for things like lobbyist salaries and their associated work expenses. But money spent on lobbying isn’t the same as money spent on campaign contributions. There may be some spending that indirectly benefits a member of Congress, but as far as I can tell, it’s not money that any of them can put in their own bank accounts or the accounts of their campaigns. It’s not really “collected” by legislators.
For a better argument about the state of health care lobbying in Washington, read Timothy Carney. And remember that many of the so-called industry villains actually supported some form of the health care overhaul.