During reform debate, senators still accepting mega industry cash

It should come as no surprise that health care companies, executives and lobbyists would target their political donations to the lawmakers who will guide this summer’s health reform debate. But, in a great piece revealing how moneyed interests literally buy influence in Washington, Dan Eggen of The Washington Post points out this morning that even among health care leaders, one Democrat stands out well above the rest in terms of the political contributions he’s vacuumed up from the very industry he’s in charge of regulating.

Sen. Max Baucus (D), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has received $3 million from the health and insurance industries between 2003 and 2008, Eggen reported, with less than 10 percent of the haul coming from his home state of Montana.

Baucus, a six-term moderate with a history of working closely with the Republicans on the panel, is currently crafting legislation to revamp the nation’s health care system. A central sticking point remains whether to include the option of a public plan — a central component of the Democrats’ strategy, but a nonstarter with almost all Republicans. Baucus is hoping to find some happy medium that satisfies everyone. He’ll have no trouble recognizing what would make the biggest health industries happy.

Top out-of-state corporate contributors included Schering-Plough, New York Life Insurance, Amgen, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield; individual executives such as Richard T. Clark, chief executive and president of drugmaker Merck, have also made regular donations. Most of these companies, particularly major insurers, strongly oppose a public insurance option, which is favored by President Obama and top House Democrats but has not received support from Baucus’s committee.

Aides for Baucus told The Post that the Finance chairman stopped accepting contributions from health care PACs after June 1 to eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. But he’s not doing a very good job following through. On June 15, according to the Federal Election Commission, Baucus accepted $5,000 from the Schering Plough Corporate Better Government Fund.

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Mike Lillis

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