State’s medical industry spending millions lobbying Congress

Amounts spent on lobbying this year by some of Minnesota’s leading companies in the medical industry. The figures are based on federal lobbying disclosure documents through Sept. 30,  2009.
REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Amounts spent on lobbying this year by some of Minnesota’s leading companies in the medical industry. The figures are based on federal lobbying disclosure documents through Sept. 30, 2009.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the high-stakes battle over health care escalates in Congress, Minnesota’s medical industry is pouring millions into lobbying with Medtronic and United Health Group alone spending more than $6.7 million this year to make their case to lawmakers.

“Medtronic is gangbusters for lobbying,” said Dave Levinthal, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics.

The medical device manufacturer spent $3.2 million on lobbying this year and United Health paid out more than $3.5 million as Congress considers sweeping changes in the nation’s health-care system.

According to newly filed documents, Medronic  funneled $962,000 toward lobbying in just the third quarter of 2009, which runs from the beginning of July through the end of September. It spent about $2.3 million during the first two quarters.

“[In the first two quarters] that puts them at number one for companies that have lobbied on behalf of the medical device industry,” Levinthal said.

Medtronic — Minnesota’s 10th largest company by revenue and 18th largest employer – isn’t the only medical device maker spending money on lobbying. It is joined by St. Jude Medical of Minnesota and Boston Scientific, which is based in Massachusetts but employs more than 5,000 workers in Minnesota, making it the state’s 28th largest employer.

In the first six months of this year, St. Jude Medical spent $250,000 and Boston Scientific  $930,000 for lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the third quarter of this year, Boston Scientific spent another $480,000 on lobbying — up from $410,000 in the third quarter of 2008.

Although United Health and Medtronic are on par with what they spent on lobbying during the first three quarters of 2008, the Center for Responsive Politics found that many of the big spenders in the health sector, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Pfizer, increased their lobbying efforts significantly in the second quarter of 2009 compared to the second quarter of 2008. (The center has not yet analyzed and compared third quarter reports.)

Lobbying over key provision
Of course, all this political action is not a coincidence. The medical device manufacturers are aggressively working against a provision in a key health care bill. Tucked into the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the health care legislation is a $40 billion fee on medical device makers that would be enacted over the next 10 years.

Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have been working to have that fee decreased or eliminated, saying it would be bad for economic development and health care innovation and for Minnesota, where the industry employs thousands of people.

Since they were elected to the Senate, Klobuchar and Franken have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the  medical device industry.

Klobuchar received $50,850 from the industry’s employees and special-interest political action committees (PACS), according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (These numbers do not include contributions reported in October filings.)

“This definitely puts her toward the upper end of members in terms of contributions received by people and PACS associated with the medical supply industry,” said Levinthal.

Franken, who took office in July, has received $14,420.

Levinthal noted that the number was “not insignificant given the short amount of time that he has been in the Senate.”

“It is actually well ahead of some members that have been in the House and Senate for a longer period of time,” Levinthal said.

Among Minnesota’s House delegation, the Republicans have been the industry’s favorites, with Michele Bachmann bringing in $52,650 in contributions and John Kline $42,550. GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, who has been in Congress since January, has already raised $29,050 from the medical device industry’s employees and political action committees.

The numbers only go back to the 1990 election cycle.

Contributions to Minnesota’s House Democrats break down as follows: Betty McCollum, $16,150; Keith Ellison, $16,000; Collin Peterson,  $8,500;  Tim Walz,  $8,450; and Jim Oberstar, $750.

As the Senate and House continue to combine and hammer out the different versions of their health care bills, it remains unclear what kind of bang the medical device industry will actually get for its sizable bucks.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and authored the bill that contains the medical device fee, has received $254,016 from the industry since 1990 — placing him as the second largest benefactor in Congress behind Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. 

In an interview with reporters Monday, he said that the issue of the $40 billion fee was still being negotiated but that he thought the industry should pay its fair share.

Other lobbying efforts
Medical device manufacturers aren’t the only health-related organization in Minnesota with an interest in the legislation.

Health insurers, too, have been spending heavily on lobbying, with United Health Group spending $2.5 million in the first half of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (This figure does not include lobbying spending by United Health subsidiaries.) In the latest filing, the state’s second largest company by revenue reported an additional $1 million spent on lobbying in the third quarter of 2009.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield reported spending more than $4.4 million on lobbying. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota, which is a subsidiary of the parent group, spent $69,000 during the first six months of the year and nearly doubled its quarterly lobbying efforts in the third quarter, reporting another $62,800 in spending.

The Health Services/HMOs industry as a whole has given Klobuchar $43,450 and Franken $47,600 since they took office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (These numbers don’t include October filings.)

The industry has favored Kline among Minnesota’s House delegation. Since his election, the health services/HMO industry has given Kline $48,250. Paulsen came in second with $27,350, followed by Peterson with $18,250, Ellison with $16,533, Bachmann with $15,000, McCollum with $11,250, Walz with $11,200 and Oberstar with $7,100.

Still, the state delegation’s numbers are tiny compared to the top recipients of contributions from the health services industry.

Of the lawmakers still in Congress, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Baucus lead in contributions with $539,790, $501,703 and $467,350, respectively. (Again, these numbers do not include October filings.) 


Notably, President Barack Obama tops the list both for medical device manufacturer contributions — raising $361,521  — and for health services/HMO industry contributions, receiving more than $1.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn., is also making its presence felt in Washington this year. The Mayo Foundation employs about 37,000 people in Minnesota, making it the second largest employer in Minnesota behind the state itself.

In the first half of this year, the Mayo Clinic spent $510,000 on lobbying — more than it spent during all of 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Since July, it has spent an additional $230,000, according to newly filed reports.

House leaders have been meeting to merge the three versions of their health care bills. Meanwhile, Senate leaders have also been convening behind closed doors to combine the bill that passed out of the Health Committee with the one that passed out of the Finance Committee this month.

In addition to the fee on medical device manufacturers, other issues that matter to the health care industry in Minnesota are still in dispute, including the government-run public option and Medicare payment reform issues.

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Scott on 10/22/2009 - 11:44 am.

    Great piece, great reporting.

  2. Submitted by Bob Willlems on 10/22/2009 - 12:18 pm.

    How is this news?

  3. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 10/22/2009 - 12:41 pm.

    Bob, Bob, Bob. It’s news because it’s factual data on who is greasing the skids for whom. And it’s noteworthy because it has not cherry-picked a party to skew. If you knew all of these figures and had inwardly digested them, hurrah! It’s news to me.

  4. Submitted by William Juntunen on 10/22/2009 - 02:05 pm.

    Check the link to the Center for Responsive Politics included in the story. In 2008 the contributions were essentially the same for these Minnesota companies. In fact, Medtronic contributed more last year. This is how our system works – like it or not. The story is factual but misleading in the sense that the 2009 contributions are because of the pending legislation. It seems these highlighted companies are spending about what they have spent before. I wish there was a better system!

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/22/2009 - 04:32 pm.

    Question: What special interest spends the most on lobbying and contributing to American political campaigns?

    Answer: The NEA

    Question: How are American public schools faring against the rest of the world?

    Answer: According to Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

    “There was no measurable change in the percentage of either U.S. fourth- or eighth-graders performing at or above the advanced international benchmark in mathematics between 1995 and 2007 (grade four: 9 v. 10 percent; grade eight: 4 v. 6 percent).”

    Question: What special interest spends the most on lobbying and contributing to Minnesota political campaigns?

    Answer: Education Minnesota

    Question: What does Minnesota spend on it’s public schools every year?

    Answer: 40% of the entire state budget.

    Question: What is the graduation rate of the two largest public school districts in Minnesota?

    Answer: 62 and 66% respectively.

    You want to ban special interest lobbying and campaign contributions? Count me in.

  6. Submitted by Bob Anderson on 10/22/2009 - 06:00 pm.

    Thomas, you are spot on and don’t forget all the unions too!. You can count me in also

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/22/2009 - 07:06 pm.

    Thomas: The difference is that the NEA and other unions are lobbying using their own money, while the insurance companies include their lobbying costs (plus advertising/marketing, claims denial specialists, et cetera) in the price of the premiums we pay and the medical device and drug manufacturers include it in the product prices we pay.

    When unions lobby, they are hoping to make life better for ordinary people. When insurance companies lobby, they want to further enrich their management and shareholders.

  8. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/22/2009 - 08:31 pm.

    The school lobbyists (using their own money taken from members) are trying to get taxpayer money, the medical/insurance companies (using money they earned selling products) are trying to save their private dollars. Unions try to make things better for union members, which makes sense as all lobbyists are looking out for their own interests.

    If indeed lobbying money is “buying” votes as various members of Congress claim, then they should name names or shut up. It makes sense to lobby the majority party as they create the legislation (if you are in favor of the legislation) and it makes sense to lobby the minority party and moderates (if you oppose the legislation).

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/23/2009 - 10:25 am.

    Generally, school lobbyists are trying to get more money to fund schools — partly so teachers don’t have to buy supplies out of their own pockets as they do in many schools.

    Unions have historically bettered the lives of every ordinary worker in America by negotiating for livable wages and benefits that employers, even those who don’t allow unions, must extend to all or most employees in order to get them to work for them.

    In today’s anti-union climate, unions are painted as “greedy,” but that has never been and is not now the truth. And with today’s high unemployment rates, companies can get away with paying almost nothing to workers who are desperate for work – any work – and do not have unions to represent their interests.

  10. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 10/28/2009 - 11:18 pm.

    These folks seem to have managed to purchase Amy Klobuchar. Nary a word comes out of her mouth on the health care reform issue that was not first fed to her by these big money folks.

    At the same time, Amy seems to have turned her back on the middle class. Despite the terrible times being experienced by the middle class and its strong support for a public option to help soften the blow of a terrible recession, Amy could care less about a public option and the middle class.

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