09/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Divining The Motives Of The Blue Dogs, Part Three

Hello, and welcome back to our ongoing series of posts, madly speculating on what factors might be driving the Blue Dog Democrats to busy themselves with watering down the health care reform bill.

In our last iteration, we discussed how an essential part of Blue Dog alienation comes from a mythological electoral status that allows them to cast themselves as a thing apart from the rest of the Democratic caucus, who are presumably allowed to be as liberal as they like!

It's said that the Blue Dogs explain their nickname thusly: "When a dog is left out of the House, they stay outside in the cold and turn blue." And the essential visualization of their outcast state comes from a series of "Blue Dog" paintings by Lafayette, Louisiana artist George Rodrigue.

Fun fact! One of Rodrigue's painting hung in the office of Louisiana Representative Billy Tauzin, himself a Blue Dog until August of 1995, when he flipped parties. Even more fun fact! Now Tauzin heads up the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which funnels lobbyist cash to Blue Dog Democrats. Circle of life!

And that leads to the third possible driver of Blue Dog behavior, which is...

The Blue Dogs have basically been bought.

It's said that most people are hardwired to respond to fear or greed. This is most certainly true on Capitol Hill. And if the fear factor is not entirely relevant in this particular debate, rest assured that the greed factor is in full force. America might not get health care reform, but the Blue Dogs at the center of the debate are getting paid in full.

As our own Sam Stein noted recently:

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.

Sam points out that the Blue Dog members of the committee had outraised the Democratic committee colleagues, $711,828 to $628,023. And the Blue Dog Caucus as a group is doing even better business. As Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reports:

the group has set a record pace for fundraising this year through its political action committee, surpassing other congressional leadership PACs in collecting more than $1.1 million through June. More than half the money came from the health-care, insurance and financial services industries, marking a notable surge in donations from those sectors compared with earlier years, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

A look at career contribution patterns also shows that typical Blue Dogs receive significantly more money -- about 25 percent -- from the health-care and insurance sectors than other Democrats, putting them closer to Republicans in attracting industry support.

Most of the major corporations and trade groups in those sectors are regular contributors to the Blue Dog PAC. They include drugmakers such as Pfizer and Novartis; insurers such as WellPoint and Northwestern Mutual Life; and industry organizations such as America's Health Insurance Plans. The American Medical Association also has been one of the top contributors to individual Blue Dog members over the past 20 years.

The Sunlight Foundation has been on top of the money as well, and has noted that the health care industry has historically been generous to the Blue Dogs:

When examining health sector campaign contributions over the careers of the 51 members of the Blue Dogs, the numbers jump up dramatically. For their collective careers (some spanning decades, others only one or two election cycles), the Blue Dogs have raised a total of $17.6 million from the health sector. Two members -- Gordon and Pomeroy -- have received over $1 million in contributions. Three more -- Jim Cooper, Matheson and Tanner -- are close to reaching that mark.

And, on a side note, if you haven't already seen it, I commend you to Sunlight's "visualization" of "the Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex." If the health care industry is The Matrix, then Baucus is the Hugo Weaving character.

In general, it's impossible to discern where the Blue Dogs end and the organized network of health care industry lobbyists begins. And the health care industry is spending over a million dollars a day in their efforts to hamstring and handicap health care reform. One wonders: If I could give Mike Ross and his committee cohorts more than the $711,000 they have received, could I get them to start singing single-payer gospel? I suspect I could! Naturally, campaign finance regulations make it hard for me to do that. Not the industry though!

Of course, all this money leaves trails and draws attention. Would the Blue Dogs really risk going down in history as the force that prevented comprehensive health care, in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars? Would it be worth it to run the risk of being despised as transparent money-grubbers? Well, in fairness, transparent money-grubbers have historically done quite well in America, but in our final installment, we'll examine the possibility if all this hullabaloo is nothing more than a chance to earn a modicum of respect.

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