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Sunlight Foundation sheds light on Pharma big money lobbying

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The Sunlight Foundation whose stated purpose is to increase governmental transparency at all levels teamed up with the Center for Responsive Politics to determine how much and who received lobbying monies in the form of contributions to various Senators and House members.

Congressional members made out big time during the health care debate, especially those members sitting on committees with direct responsibility for some aspect of health care legislation.

We found that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and author of the main health care reform bill now being debated in the Senate, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this one-two punch from lobbyists and the interests they represent. Between January 2007 and July 2009 (the period we studied), Baucus collected contributions from 37 outside lobbyists representing PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry’s chief trade association, and from 36 lobbyists who listed drug maker Amgen Inc. among their clients.

In all, 11 major health and insurance firms had their contributions to Baucus boosted through extra donations from 10 or more of their outside lobbyists. (See our visualization and the full list from CRP.)

Nor was Baucus alone—other members also received contributions from the employees, their family members and political action committees of health care firms and from the outside lobbyists that represented them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., collected lobbyist “bundles” from 14 major health care organizations. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., actually led the list, with 22 organizations—though much of that money was directed at his presidential campaign last year. (see the full list.)

Because regulations require not only reporting from the lobbyist for actual campaign contributions and the member receiving the donation also must report the donation, lobbyists circumvent the rules by donating directly to the members’ own PACs which remain loosely regulated to the point of no regulation and allowing the members to use their PAC money any way they they wish.

Interestingly, about one-third of the contributions were given not to the members’ campaign committees, but to their leadership PACs—separate funds that members control—but that get far less media scrutiny than their reelection campaigns. The leadership PACs also have higher contribution limits, enabling lobbyists to give well beyond the nominal $2,400 limit that applies to campaign committees.

The rules for politicians need to change…but they won’t be rewritten until the people in each state change the gerrymandered districts to allow new, moderate players onto the field. We must demand more of our representatives by way of looking out for our interests, rather than just the interests of lobbyists and other special interests who rig the system in their favor, preventing us from enjoying the benefits of true competition or being ripped off by companies who use the system to steal our money while leaving us to pay the bill.

We must eliminate gerrymandering which enables safe seats for Congress members who use lobbying money as a “free” money-pot from which to enjoy all the pleasures they seek while giving away our money, our futures, and our livelihoods.

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