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January 4th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Lobbying for Your Health: Strange bedfellows

Editor's Note: Health care reform is big business in Washington and it's made for some strange bedfellows. Groups you'd never expect are teaming up both for and against the bill. In part one of this American Morning original series, Carol Costello keeps tabs on who is "Lobbying for Your Health."

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello

Imagine that you are playing a word association game and someone says the word "lobbyist." What's the first word that might come to your mind?

The word "crook," as in convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff might be a bit too harsh, but for many people the word they'd choose wouldn't be very flattering. And that's one reason why Congress over the years has passed legislation seeking to shine light on how lobbyists influence congressmen and legislation.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 was followed by the "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007." These laws attempted to throw light on the federal lobbying process, including the requirement that lobbyists register quarterly with the House and Senate.

All of which brings us to the current health care bills that have attracted Washington lobbyists like moths to a light bulb. How many lobbyists?

The Center for Responsive Politics says 951 firms and organizations registered to lobby just the House version of the bill. The group, which tracks campaign contributions and lobbying dollars, counted more than 3,000 individual lobbyists who have spent at least $400 million dollars lobbying Congress on health care reform.

We looked at the list of 951 and were not surprised by organizations that you would expect to lobby a health bill, such as United Health, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the American Hospital Association.

But, we were so curious about why some other very unlikely groups were so interested in health care legislation that we asked some of them.

The Gun Owners of America lobbied to make sure the health bill doesn't "use gun-related health data" to prevent people from owning firearms.

The American Association of Museums lobbied to make sure health care costs wouldn't "jeopardize the charitable gifts" that wealthy Americans donate to museums and other charities.

And then there's the soft drink industry. Their lobbying arm, the American Beverage Association, spent $7 million dollars, much of it on television advertising.

So why would the people who represent Coke and Pepsi and other soft drink companies spend all that money on health care reform?

One word: FEAR, according to Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He told CNN's Carol Costello that it was all about "defensive lobbying." They were afraid that Congress would try to fund the health bill in part by taxing sugared soft drinks.

But was Congress ever serious about doing this? Jacobson says no. "There never has been and there really isn't a champion now" in the Congress for taxing sugared drinks.

Susan Neely of the American Beverage Association disagrees. "We were counseled by very smart people in Congress that in some quarters this might be a viable idea again because the pressure for funding was so enormous, rightly so, and you couldn't take anything for granted."

Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says the "beverage industry saw a threat on the horizon [and] realized that they had a short window of opportunity to remove it, and they threw everything they had at it."

And then there's this: fifteen beverage industry lobbyists have made legal campaign contributions over time to 14 members (Democrats and Republicans) on the Senate Finance Committee, the very committee that had the power to kill the idea.

And what happened? The idea of a tax on sugary soda, which consumer groups have been supporting for years, never made it out of the Finance Committee.

Filed under: Lobbying for Your Health • Politics
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Kawad

    Carole,the relationship between lobbyists and members of both houses is simply disgusting and never more apparent than with the health care issue. We have greed on Wall Street and we have even more greed in the Senate and House with members putting themselves first and citizen's second or in many cases not at all. These guys have the best health care available and they are refusing the American citizen the "right" to the same options. Frankly, it's scary that the system is so poisoned. I'm certainly beginning to think corruption isn't only in countries that we fear and criticize. We have full blown corruption here in the US with the banks, Wall Street and our own representatives who aren't representing! I'm sick to my stomach and feel the pain of President Obama who really tried to bring change.

    January 5, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  2. Jill Piasecki

    The saddest part of this is that while all the special interest groups were heard by our legislators, the people who are actually delivering care, the doctors, were not. They do not have the money or time (because they're seeing patients) to lobby congress. They are too ethical to strike or refuse to see patients and they are being completely taken advantage of in health care reform. Their voice needs to be heard.

    Would adding a tax to sugary beverages do anything to decrease the health of Americans? NO.

    Will decreasing payments to physicians while asking them to see more patients change the way health care is delivered in our country? YES.

    Our government needs to hear from doctors – the ones who deliver care. Health coverage for all is not health care for all.

    January 5, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  3. Mark

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if there was a national election regarding lobbyist. How many people would be in favor of keeping them? It's amazing that these people have so much influence over national policy. Maybe Congress and the President would do a better job making the right decisions for our country if lobbyists and special interest groups had less access to them.

    Also, when have lobbyists actually improved government policy? I can't remember when they pressured Congress to pass a law that actually benefitted the majority of Americans. Considering all the money they spend, this sure seems to be a huge waste.

    January 4, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  4. William Courtland

    Finding the bottom dollar

    Lobbyists are like grocery store chains and their flyers.

    Where the lobbyists are the flyers themselves.

    In the mail every week, in the paper that comes to the door, in masses of junk mail I receive numbers of flyers from the big chains.

    In my nieghbourhood up in Ontario: it is Foodland, Sobeys, Zerhs, the Superstore, Walmart, Loblaws and many others: some as located no where near: cities away.

    So each one of these flyers cost the chain store three cents to produce, three cents to deliver, and a cent to manage.

    So with each household plus every paper getting these things wedged in them. The overall cost increase to the final store product is met by that cost in advertising. At the same time the television adds and many other media advertisments advise me of deals and the fact that they exist. But like most people you either go to the closest one or choose one or two and stick with them. As for the coupon clippings: the deals offered promotions by the manufacturer of the individual products.

    In all the cost of the total price at the check out is massively increased by years end.

    The corruption of lobbyists just adds to that total final product cost: as the companies which have concern doll out money to promote the people into action to complain about something the government has no real business being involved in.

    The lobbyist then replace the action of what the true representative is meant to do, and requires the representative to have a secretary: which allows for the peoples concerns about 'that which is not government business' to be registered without bothering the true representative who could not possibly deal with every citizen in their districts due to the size.

    The real solution to both is in updating the whole of the government method to better reflect the truth of this modern age. The flyer should be found on a digital screen where coupons and advertisments are found released by the companies of manufacturer and not the market distributer. Using a modernized postal service to shop and compare prices online would allow the people to find deals and seek the best suited market for their expectations. This would require the people to be uniformly involved in the internet, a weekly trip to the free access provided at a local library would be all that is required: while a digital currency pass issued by the government for such coupon registration along with currency would allow the manufacturers coupons to be uniformly accounted to those who use the advertisment medium of online shopping.

    The Federal government does not really have the right to raise taxes on individual products: the State is meant to be the sole force in the taxation of the people: while municipalities tax residents. The Federation can tax all that is imported based upon the need for the navy to protect those shipments. Beyond that the Federation can not levy tax on individual products without the right of taxation provided by an amendment for representation of that taxation: and then the tax is still levied by the individual State and is payed via census account of the number of people to the federation by that State.

    The Federal government has a restricted truth of jurisdiction and as the party system has invoked a method of policy governing pass that of representation by amendment: they allow the need for lobbyists and thus invoke the ability to gain funding from those companies to manage the policies which are concerning them.

    When Cocacola lobby's the federal government: it should be related to international trade agreements and the want to expand its market into nations which are not found respected by the federation.

    The Federations jurisdiction is not the people: it is first the Constitution: and by that Constitution manages the way the whole of the union deals with the outside world. The Fed should not have concern for the citizens unless the people have demanded that via the ratification of such an amendment. The public health care bill is such a requirement of ratification. The meat of the idea not in question by the amendment: that a policy issue after ratification; the question is should the union provide health care.

    When it comes to insurances and other such methods of business: the Senate is more in concern than that of Congress, but this falls back to an issue of the State Senate: as the Federal senate would only concern itself with those insurance issues which cross international boundaries and concern the American citizen. So if one gains international coverage: the Federal Senate would review the policy method of the concerned item of trade.

    10 000 people would run your nation well, while only 435 people struggle with the total work load: and seek small victories while daunted and over powered by the true bigger problems which directly return to the fact of the lack of command structure and general representation of the whole of the people and their opinions.

    If one would use the Internet to contact their federal representative: by ideal and by constitutional law that internet contact should be held to account of the standards of the United States Postal Service: and should have that level of security to insure delivery. Currency is just one issue. While the public lobby is only in existance because so few must represent so much: and it is easier just to pay more instead of doing the work required to fix the real issues or admit to the real problems.

    For me the flyers just land in the trash: when I need milk I do not concern myself that Sobeys is a dime cheaper this week than IGA, but when I go to pay for that milk I understand that no matter where I went to purchase it: the cost is always a dime more because I bought that flyer without the choice or intent of purchasing its information.

    A unified communications network of code: while private carriers still apply and can use the network to channel its calls equally through the infrastructure.

    The idea of a functional government: to watch many individuals come together to promote the welfare of the people and provide for the best argument and the highest level of solution, or watch the parties argue over little else than illegal points of law and letting the rest fall for the private concerns to mount until it becomes so life threatening that the civil environment itself is threatened. The Party is a bias the government does not need, no proof of God: yet to afford an election the party is almost manditory when the people are so uninformed to the true intent and method of a real and functional government which would be based upon the Constitution.

    The Representative should not need a secretary, while the lobbyist should be involved without the need to spend a dime but for travel costs to meet with a committee when in session; and a true lobbyist interest is to promote an ideal which some have in concern while enough people do not exist in each individual district to negotiate change or insinuate the importance and are so looking to by-pass their individual representative in hope of finding a different ear for the problem: this is the job truly of the Senators, and in last hope the administration itself in attempt to prevent or promote the President to sign.

    The party method corrupts... the President should not have an opinion until a bill is infront of him or her, or should report the concerns felt via an address to the hill as part of speech concerning the State of the Union, outside that address: the President has a representative in his home district he can turn to. Otherwise the President is only responsible for what is in and of the Constitution itself and thus the business that applies to it in department and administration leadership.

    The real lobbyist just applies for a patent registration.

    January 4, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  5. Dee Jones

    Lobbyists do not benefit the american public. It's time to make lobbying illegal. It seems that congress has forgotten that it is supposed to be working for the people not the other way around.

    January 4, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  6. Roman

    Good morning. It amazes me how so many fight not to change health care even when it is at the very heart of so much misery in this country. Just goes to show how many people still don't get it. They just don't care enough about their fellow man. What will it take to change the hearts of men?

    Our country should be ashamed of itself. The corruption of lobbyist, the corruption of Senators and Representatives.

    I saw Rush Limbaugh was taken to a hospital with chest pains and when he was released he comes out and makes a statement about our health care system was just fine. Do you think he staged this?

    I do. Maybe Rush needs a real eye opener.

    January 4, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  7. William Courtland

    If the American people demanded a Federal Amendment to be ratified to the Constitution by the many States, and if that Amendment passed: then taxing any high risk activity or secondary nutritional suppliment would be under the realm of taxation with representation.

    The idea that 435 people can somehow represent the three hundred million registered American citizens is then the first part of the problem.

    Parties are not the best method for a democratic republic of the people, the argument of "but that is how it works" is defeated by the fact that it doesn't actually work it just can not be changed without the income level which lobbyists provide the party ingrained in the system.

    Lobbyists fund the party: the parties then use jerrymandering as an excuse not to follow the ideas of the Constitution in having one district for every thirty thousand people. This allows the people to require money to gain access to representation: and that remarks of the old corrupt ways of the old monarchies which would only hear the petitions from those who could bribe the Lords and other lawmakers to petition their case to the court.

    Representation has become a business, and in that the people have lost their respect for the system: without that respect there is no interest, and without interest they do not get informed. Without being informed they vote at whim: as the individual vote becomes meaningless. Most would just vote senselessly for those of a party base; assuming this would invoke their style of change: instead of the idea of promoting the best to the duty and understanding the duty which is to be charged.

    The question a voter should ask themselves when finding a representative is: what person will be listen to my views and who is then wise and intelligent enough to understand and make a rational decision.

    The party system owns the election method with money: it gains money far beyond that of any possible re-imbursement owed to any one representative and this causes loyalties of those elected to be swayed away from that of the President and the citizens and turns it to become loyal to the funders. In the case of lobbyists their money creates the bond of loyalty.

    Parties weaken the idea of a peoples democracy. To defeat them however we would need a news agency which would promote the truth about the parties and not just allow the corruption to allow the interviews of those aligned to the method.

    So lobbyists are represented, and those who can afford the cost of entry to a lobby will not always have the best interests of the people or the nation at heart. The fact that the party selects the people viable for nomination is a simple screening process to remove those who might be loyal to the Federation first and would fight the party once in office.

    The party is a slogan: it was done to allow the people to understand the elected without ever needing to meet them: the idea of power and control by total domination: this when the Constitution removed power from any one individual thus allowing power to build and be corrupted. To vote for a slogan: such a thing will not truly run a nation. The slogan was meant for the illiterate mind to find the party suited to their notions: while the party defeated the true notion of what the federation was meant to be.

    January 4, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  8. Bill in Texas

    Lobbyists are crooks. The working sector gets it, it's only congress, the recipients to their missions of greed, that turn a deaf ear and blind eye. The proof is always in the pudding and common logic screams that all of our problems, not just health & economic, are created by the lobbyists and allowed to continue by the elected officials that lie in bed with them.

    January 4, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  9. John

    All Lobbying should be prosecuted for what it really is, bribery.

    January 4, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  10. michael

    This is the cause of the fall of our Goverment!It is no longer we the PEOPLE ,its we the $$$$$$$!I give it ten years and the people will awake and take it back!All of the members of congress and the administration are less then street walkers,Im being nice.And the lobbiest are the hand that feeds these power hungry corrupt pigs!Money needs to get out of politics!Example,a private in the service puts his or her life at risk for poverty pay,and congress gets 175 thousand dollars a year with lifetime benefits for doing nothing but greasing their buddies pockets,all taking lobbist donations should be jailed for treason!BOTH PARTIES MAKE ME SICK!

    January 4, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  11. Eric

    Lobbying our elected officials, through campaign contributions, is nothing short of "Leasing" the US government for personal gain and favor.

    How this is even legal is disturbing. Just about every business in this country has specific policies in place to prevent this type of influence, especially when a conflict of interest is evident. Yet, our government has an open door money policy?

    "Of the People, By The People, For The People..........with the most to disposable capital to purchase favor"? Some how that just doesn't ring true!

    January 4, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  12. Kat Kramer

    Simply put...LOBBYISTS STINK. They should be illegal, and completely derail our system of government, skewing it towards the needs of corporations, and undermining the needs of the people.

    January 4, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  13. renee

    CNN anti health care reform!!!!!lobbying!!!! what a surprise, that explains all of the partisanship on your shows!!!! disgusting!!!!!

    January 4, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  14. Rick Burns

    It seems you forgot to tell your viewers that the American taxpayer foots the bill for all this lobbying by special interest because all those lobbying dollars are tax deductible...

    January 4, 2010 at 7:38 am |