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Recalcitrant Blue Dogs Raked In Health Industry Cash

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The seven Blue Dog Democrats holding up health care reform legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have received tens of thousands more dollars from health and insurance interests than other Democrats on the same committee, a new report finds.

An analysis of campaign finance data by the Public Campaign Action Fund finds a fairly strong correlation between private industry donations and opposition to health care reform. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate who voted against proposed legislation this congressional cycle, the report found, received roughly 65 percent more money from health and insurance interests than those who supported the bills.

When it came to the Blue Dogs in particular, that data showed that the seven members who sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee -- Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Charlie Melancon (La.), Jim Matheson (Utah), John Barrow (Ga.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and Zach Space (Ohio) -- have received, on average, $711,828 from the health and insurance sectors. Other Democrats on the committee, by contrast, have received an average of $628,023.

Not all the Blue Dogs partook at such high levels. Space, for instance, has raised only slightly more than $200,000 from those two sectors, according to Public Campaign Action Fund. But on the whole, these self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives have found their coffers filled by the industries over which they now have massive legislative sway. Gordon has received more than $1.4 million in donations; Matheson got slightly more than $1 million. Ross, who is leading the Blue Dog negotiations, took in more than $980,000.

In the world of campaign finance, it is almost always the case that money follows power. And on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Blue Dogs have carved out a powerful niche for themselves through their willingness to buck the party leadership. In recent weeks, the seven members of the committee have held up the passage of health care reform legislation by demanding further negotiations and compromises on measures they say would contain costs. In short order, they have become the crucial votes for health care in the House.

Good government groups have questioned whether their demands are driven by philosophical or electoral motives.

The connections between the Blue Dogs and the health and insurance industries extend beyond campaign donations. An analysis of lobbying reports done by the Huffington Post reveals that several former staffers for these seven Energy and Commerce Committee members have also served as lobbyists for major pharmaceutical companies. For instance, after serving as Gordon's legislative director, Louis Finkel was employed by Lent, Scrivner & Roth. The firm earned $920,000 in lobbying fees from Pfizer between 2001 and 2006, with Finkel acting as a lobbyist for the client.

And since leaving Barrow's office as a legislative assistant, Carl Gist Jr., has taken a position with the firm TCH Group. In the first quarter of 2009, he lobbied on behalf of AMGEN -- another major pharmaceutical company -- charging a fee of $40,000.

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