Beaucoup bucks for Baucus

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Money doesn’t simply talk in Washington, DC — it whispers in the ears of the powerful and it silences all opposition. The recent career of Max Baucus (D-Montana), top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee since 2001, provides a case in point. As Dustin Hurst of the conservative watchdog.org reported just last month:

[T]he Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney detailed how more than $60 billion in corporate handouts found their way into the fiscal cliff bill. The handouts were copy-and-pasted by the White House into the bill, using the Baucus-created Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012 as the blueprint.

Things only grew worse for Baucus when Carney dug even deeper, finding that the multinational corporations benefiting from the handouts, known in Washington-speak as “tax extenders,” employ a number of the senator’s former staffers who’ve left public service for greener pastures.

Baucus, the Finance Committee’s current chairman, has collected over five and a half million dollars during the course of his career from the finance, insurance and real estate sector. Baucus’s top donor therein, tossing him nearly $100,000 since 1989, was financial titan Goldman Sachs. American International Group (AIG), which the Federal Reserve bailed out during the financial crisis of 2008, pitched the Senator $91,000, putting it in third place; on the other hand, New York Life Insurance Company, which ranks second on his donor list, declined TARP funds. JPMorgan Chase (sixth), whose two trillion dollars in assets make it the largest bank in the country, donated just over $75,000 to the Senator; its daughter corporation, Morgan Stanley (tenth), gave slightly under that amount. Citigroup (11th) and Wells Fargo (12th), two of the other Big Four US banks, each contributed a little over $70,000 to the Montanan. American Express (16th) and Prudential Financial (17th) tossed in about $60,000 as well.

His second largest source of funds, the health sector, has produced nearly four million bucks for his campaigns. This includes health insurance megafirms Blue Cross Blue Shield (fourth) and Aetna (fifth), which put in over $80,000 apiece, as well as Kindred Healthcare at 19th. Pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, which merged with Merck in 2009, ranked eighth, while pharmacy claims processor Express Scripts was 13th. Kidney dialysis company DaVita made it to 15th; biotech firm Amgen, which will sell its dialysis drug Sensipar to Medicare for up to half a billion dollars more (due to a paragraph Baucus helped insert into January’s “fiscal cliff” agreement) ranked 20th with $55,750.

What influence did these health care and insurance companies gain for their donations? As observers of negotiations over what’s now called Obamacare may recall, and as Wikipedia summarizes:

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus called the first Senate meeting of interested parties before the committee to discuss health care reform, including representatives from pharmaceutical groups, insurance companies, and HMOs and hospital management companies. The meeting was controversial because it did not include representatives from groups calling for single-payer health care.

The Washington Post‘s Dan Eggen reported at the time (July 21, 2009):

As his committee has taken center stage in the battle over health-care reform, Chairman Baucus (D-Mont.) has emerged as a leading recipient of Senate campaign contributions from the hospitals, insurers and other medical interest groups hoping to shape the legislation to their advantage. Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus’s political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this year’s reform debate.

Top health executives and lobbyists have continued to flock to the senator’s often extravagant fundraising events in recent months. During a Senate break in late June, for example, Baucus held his 10th annual fly-fishing and golfing weekend in Big Sky, Mont., for a minimum donation of $2,500. Later this month comes “Camp Baucus,” a “trip for the whole family” that adds horseback riding and hiking to the list of activities.

To avoid any appearance of favoritism, his aides say, Baucus quietly began refusing contributions from health-care political action committees after June 1. But the policy does not apply to lobbyists or corporate executives, who continued to make donations, disclosure records show.

Other major contributors to Baucus over his career so far include: accounting giant Ernst & Young (sixth); international law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (ninth); multinational conglomerate General Electric (14th); and telecom Verizon (18th).

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