Healthy Campaign Contributions

April 03, 1994

It's all about money. Your money. Much of what Congress or the General Assembly does affects your pocketbook. Problem is, it also affects other pocketbooks. Sometimes deep ones. Owned by people who don't mind sharing a little of their wealth with the legislators whose decisions affect how well those pocketbooks are filled. Two articles last Monday neatly illuminated the connection.

Reporter John W. Frece explained from Annapolis how the bills drawing the most attention in the legislature's closing weeks involve one business interest battling another. The overt debate is usually how best to serve the public. But in most cases it's really about who gets a larger cut of the pie, or at least preserves the share it has.

It's interesting how often those clashing interests are health providers. Of the dozen fierce political battles Mr. Frece listed, half were related to medical care. The retiring Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, groused: "The one thing I'm not going to miss when I leave this place is the greed in the health care industry, whether it is the docs, or the hospitals, or the HMOs."

So why don't legislators resist this greedy approach to lobbying? For the answer turn to another article Monday by John Fairhall, of our Washington Bureau. Health is a hot topic on Capitol Hill these days, too. President Clinton's attempt to restructure the nation's medical care system affects not only the health of its citizens but also the wealth of a lot of practitioners and insurers.

Always heavy spenders on campaign contributions, the health and insurance companies are pouring millions of dollars into political coffers. Where does most of that money land? In the war chests of the legislators who have the most power over health and insurance matters, naturally.

Among Maryland's House delegation, by far the heaviest contributions from these special interest groups went to Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat who is the fourth-ranking leader in the House, and Rep. Benjamin Cardin, the Baltimore Democrat who is a key member of the leading committee dealing with health care reform. They took in at least four times as much as any of their colleagues in the Maryland delegation.

Giving or accepting contributions from special interest groups is not inherently evil. But it is hypocritical hogwash to say contributions have only benevolent motives. At the least they purchase a friendly ear, and that could be an invitation to trouble.

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