Meet you with the lobby | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet you with the lobby

Posted By on Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 3:22 PM

Paul Barton checks in from Washington with another follow-the-dots report on U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln's personal ties to, and financial support by, the health industry lobby.

She need not worry, I guess, since U.S. Rep. Mike Ross has repeatedly assured us that Arkies are on the side of the insurance companies in the health debate.

BY PAUL BARTON

The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington political research organization devoted to exposing behind-the-scenes connections that influence policy, shines a light this month on the relationship between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and two prominent health care lobbyists.

 

In particular, an article on its Web site – sunlightfoundation.com – focused on the Democratic senator’s relationship with Blue Cross Blue Shield, which controls 75 percent of the market in Arkansas.

“Blue Cross Blue Shield does not need to only rely on campaign contributions to reach Sen. Lincoln, as they retain Lincoln’s former top health care policy adviser as a lobbyist. Elizabeth Barnett worked for Lincoln from 2000 to 2007 before leaving to become the top Democratic lobbyist for Blue Cross Blue Shield,” the article says.

The article further notes that Barnett herself has described her “primary responsibility” as representing Blue Cross Blue Shield and its 39 member plans before the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Democratic Leadership, and other key Senate committees and offices. Lincoln is a member of Senate Finance, which is deliberating on health care reform this week.

 Barnett also represents other health industry organizations including UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Bravo Health, Healthcare Leadership Council, Medco and the National Health Policy Group, the Sunlight Foundation notes.

Still another former Lincoln staff member also has prominent health industry connections.

Lincoln’s former chief of staff Kelly Bingel is a lobbyist specializing in health care at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc, the lobbying firm of Sen. Max Baucus’ former chief of staff David Castagnetti,” the Sunlight Foundation notes. “Bingel represents a who’s who of the health care industry including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Pharmaceutical Researchers & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). AHIP and PhRMA have been largely supportive of health care reform this year. PhRMA, in particular, has supported the current legislation with positive advertising after receiving concessions from the White House and the Senate Finance Committee. Bingel also represents the Business Roundtable, a group that has voiced opposition to health care reform.”

Baucus, from Montana, is chairman of Senate Finance.

The Sunlight Foundation, which also tracks lobbyists’ fund-raising on behalf of members of Congress, notes that Lincoln has benefitted “from countless fundraisers thrown by lobbyists,” including a June 24 get-together in Washington “hosted by health care lobbyists Nick Giordano (formerly of Sen. Max Baucus’ staff), Dick Meltzer (since moved on to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s staff), LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, Holly Bode, Francis Grab, Dave Koshgarian and Jeff Petrich. Contributions from this fundraiser will not be publicly available until the third quarter finance reports are filed.”

Lincoln, who the organization describes as having a “constantly shifting position” on the need for a public health care option, had received $29,500 in campaign contributions from Blue Cross Blue Shield through June 30, the Sunlight Foundation said. Overall, Lincoln has received close to $1 million for her 2010 re-election campaign from health-related industries, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. She is first among congressional candidates in contributions from health professionals and third in contributions from health insurance companies.

In response to the foundation’s story, Lincoln, in a statement, said: “I am only accountable to the good people of Arkansas and for any health care plan to win my support, it must benefit my constituents.  The truth is that the entire health care industry does not speak with one voice on how best to fix the system.  I always remember my Father’s advice, ‘never forget where you came from,’ and that’s why I’ll vote for what is best for Arkansas families.”

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