News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

November 21, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: A story of just one corporate lobby ‘investing in advocacy’

TERRE HAUTE — For those of you who know in your marrow that the president’s attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system proves his socialist agenda, take the day off. What reporter Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg News shared this past week will be of no interest to you.

Everybody else, take a look at the perfectly legal process of corporate power quietly buying the legislation it desires. And keep the process in mind as the newly configured Congress tries to dismantle the health care reform act in the name of “the American people.”

Armstrong’s report sprang from the annual public disclosure of tax records that is required of organizations under federal law. Specifically, he dug into the 2009 records of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a whopping, one-source donation of $86.2 million given to the Chamber last year. The gift, wrote Armstrong, “accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber’s $214.6 million in 2009 expenditures.”

The generous donor? Although unidentified on the tax disclosure forms (it’s not required), sources confirmed to Armstrong that the Chamber’s Daddy Warbucks was America’s Health Insurance Plans. That is the lobbying group that represents such companies as Cigna Corp., UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc., Aetna and WellPoint Inc., the insurance giant based in Indianapolis.

“The spending on the Chamber exceeded the insurer group’s entire budget from a year earlier …” Armstrong reported, and “reflects the insurers’ attempts to influence the [health care reform] bill … after Democrats in Congress and the White House put more focus on regulation of the insurance industry.”

Armstrong queried America’s Health Insurance Plans about the lobby’s huge donation. A spokesman for the group, Robert Zirkelbach, responded in an e-mail: “With so much at stake we, like other major stakeholders, invested in advocacy. We supported a number of leading health-care advocacy organizations and coalitions that shared our views.”

Zirkelbach “declined to answer other questions on the money.” So did the members represented by the lobbying group. Not one contacted by Armstrong deigned to comment. Why would they? The law says they and their influential millions may remain as silent as sphinxes and as anonymous as Mafia hit men.

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