Health care nourishes campaigns Medical-related PACs lead list of contributors to state politicians

At least $1.5 million raised

Aug. finance reports show '98 pace on par with 1994 donations

September 22, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

For Maryland politicians with a need to fill their campaign coffers, there's no better source of wealth than health.

Locked in annual battles in the General Assembly over managed care and professional turf, special-interest groups in the health-care field have poured millions of dollars into statewide political campaigns and legislative races in the four years since Maryland's last general election.

Campaign finance reports at the state elections board show that health-care interests are well on their way to repeating their 1994 role as the leading industry sector for political contributions.

A recent scandal involving ties between managed-care companies and state Sen. Larry Young -- a recipient of generous industry donations before he was expelled from office in January -- appears to be having little effect on donations.

The amount of health-care influence on Maryland politics is almost impossible to quantify exactly. State statutes -- unlike federal laws -- do not require individual givers to list their employers and occupations. Corporate names often give few clues to companies' roles in health care.

But a review of 35 August campaign finance reports by political action committees with identifiable stakes in health-care policy shows they have raised more than $1.5 million and donated about $800,000 to Maryland political campaigns during the 1998 election cycle.

At the time, with three months to go before the general election, the PACs still had more than $330,000 in cash on hand.

The totals do not include races for Congress, which are governed by federal law, or donations made by companies and individuals involved in health care.

In the governor's race, the split of health-care dollars gives a vivid demonstration of the power of incumbency.

Computer searches for corporate names including such words as "health," "medical," "care," "dental" and "nursing" uncovered more than $150,000 in contributions to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, while Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey received $11,010 from such sources.

Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said health-care PACs were by far the largest category of contributors in the state's 1994 election. Seven of the top 20 PAC givers were health-related, she said.

Skullney said that in this election year, the health-care PACs appear to be ahead of their pace in 1994, when they spent $814,000.

Representatives of the various PACs say their contributions help them establish friendly relationships with legislators -- especially those who sit on the committees that oversee the state's regulation of health care.

'Doesn't buy anything'

"It doesn't buy anything. What it does is create some access," said Marvin Hoss, a member of the board of the Maryland Psychological Association PAC.

The various industries and professions in the health-care sector do not speak with one voice. Health-maintenance organizations and their four Maryland PACs, for instance, are consistently on the opposite side of issues from physicians, who operate the state's largest PAC in terms of money raised. (The trial lawyers' PAC is larger in terms of donations made in Maryland races.)

Maryland's professional health-care PACs cover the body politic from head to toe: the psychiatrists have a well-financed PAC, the podiatrists a modest committee. The eye physicians and optometrists both have PACs -- as do chiropractors, massage therapists and physical therapists.

By far the largest of the health-care PACs is the Maryland Medical PAC, affiliated with the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland.

As of the August report, the physicians' PAC had raised $530,311, of which $168,800 had been donated to Maryland political campaigns and health policy causes. The doctors had $68,061 remaining to carry them through election day. The medical PAC also contributes heavily at the federal level through the American Medical Association's PAC.

Running second in money raised was the Health Policy Leadership Alliance, an affiliate of the Maryland Hospital Association, with $114,145 raised and $68,435 in donations.

Two other large PACs filed reports riddled with contradictions and mistakes, making it difficult to determine where they rank.

The Maryland State Dental Association PAC -- which said last week that it had reported incorrect figures -- will submit a revised report showing that it raised $110,356 and donated $77,482 in Maryland races. Similarly the HFAM Nursing Home PAC will report that it raised $82,276 and spent $46,894.

HMOs spend on lobbyists

Another large player in health-care politics is the managed-care industry. But while HMO interests are among the heaviest spenders on lobbyists in Annapolis, they do not appear to have matched the cumulative campaign spending power of medical-care providers.

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