WASHINGTON -- The health care industry pumped $5.9 million into the campaign coffers of the 38 members of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, including Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, over the last decade, according to a Common Cause study released yesterday.
Ways and Means, which oversees tax legislation, is also responsible for handling much of the health legislation that moves through the House and will be at the center of the debate over the health care plan President Clinton is expected to introduce tomorrow.
Mr. Cardin, first elected to Congress in 1986, received nearly $210,000 in contributions from political action committees operated by the health industry, said the Common Cause study. The Baltimore Democrat ranked 12th on the list of Ways and Means recipients. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., topped the list with $646,000 collected from the industry.
Often members of Congress, including Mr. Cardin, accept contributions from political action committees that have conflicting interests.
Mr. Stark is chairman of the Ways and Means health subcommittee, which includes Mr. Cardin among its members. The subcommittee will have a key role in handling President Clinton's health care reform package.
"If you sit on Ways and Means -- and particularly on the health subcommittee -- you are going to get that money," said Josh Goldstein, project director for the Center for Responsive Politics, who tracks campaign contributions.
Added Richard H. Wade, vice-president of the American Hospital Association, which gives to most Ways and Means Members, "That's our gatekeeper committee in terms of health stuff. Whoever is on it is going to be a player on health issues."
Although he is the only Marylander on Ways and Means, Mr. Cardin was not the top Maryland recipient of health industry contributions over the 10-year period covered by the study of the Ways and Means Committee.
That distinction went to Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, who has been in Congress since 1981 and is a member of the House leadership. Mr. Hoyer received $254,580 over that period, according to Common Cause.
The study released yesterday focused only on contributions by political action committees and did not touch on the millions of dollars given by individuals who work in health care. The study is the third in a series called "Hazardous To Your Health" that Common Cause has done this year. One of those studies said that medical industry political action committees had given $45.2 million to current members of Congress in the last decade.
Mr. Cardin said he has never had a group seek special treatment in exchange for campaign contributions. They simply want to be involved in the process, he said.
"But my constituents do not believe that," he said, adding that as a result he has restricted donations from medical committees to no more than $500 for the 1994 election, "strictly because of the public perception out there."
Mr. Cardin, who introduced his own health care reform proposal during President George Bush's administration, has been involved in developing the proposals President Clinton will present to Congress tomorrow.
His main interest in the last few months has been in protecting Maryland's "all-payer" system for controlling hospital costs, according to Debbie Curtis, congressional affairs director for Citizen Action, a consumer advocacy group. Maryland regulates the rates that hospitals can charge for various health services, and everyone pays the same rates.
"They have been able to keep hospital cost growth below everyone else in the nation" in recent years, she said of Maryland's efforts.
Political action committees representing medical professionals have been the biggest single contributors to Mr. Cardin, giving him $95,133. Of that, $31,563 came from the American Medical Association, which refused to discuss its donations. The insurance industry was next with $56,810.
"He is always willing to listen," said Gordon Wheeler, director of federal affairs for the Health Insurance Association of America. "A lot of members are not willing to."