HHS Contenders: A crop of politicians with major funding from health sector

By: Soo Rin Kim

Elevators close on Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) at Trump Tower Wednesday. Price and the other politicians in the mix to be HHS Secretary have received major backing from the health care industry over the years. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson declared Tuesday that he has no interest in a position in the Trump cabinet and instead wants to serve the administration as an outside advisor because he doesn’t have any governing experience.

The former neurosurgeon was a leading contender to head the Health and Human Services Department or the Education Department in the new regime next year. And as the budget committees in the both chambers of Congress plan to swiftly pass a reconciliation bill that they say will repeal Obamacare, the jockeying to be named the official who will help shape a replacement bill and Trump’s other health care policies is being closely monitored.

But one thing seems pretty certain at the point: The fate of the Affordable Care Act looks dim under any of the rumored health secretaries.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.): Shortly after Carson announced he won’t be serving in the Trump cabinet, Politico reported the Georgia Republican is being considered for the top Health and Human Services spot.

Price was an early Trump loyalist and has been a leading promoter of the Trump’s rally to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But his anti-Obamacare movement goes way back to the 111th Congress in 2009 when he sponsored the Empowering Patients First Act as an alternative to the current Obamacare’s predecessor, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. Price introduced the bill again in 2015 as H.R. 2300, but the legislation hasn’t seen much action yet.

Currently the House Budget Committee chair and also a member of the Subcommittee on Health under the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Price has raised a total of $15 million in campaign contributions over the past decade, nearly a third ($4.8 million) of which came from individuals and political actions committees in the health sector.

Given his past as an orthopedic surgeon, it’s no surprise that Price’s top donors throughout his career are in a similar line of work: Resurgens Orthopaedics, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons and Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic.

Before he took office in Congress in 2005, Price contributed a total of $22,565 to the Republican Party of Georgia and a number of GOP candidates, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

His leadership PAC Voice for Freedom donated a total of $292,500 to House and Senate Republican candidates this year, but none to Trump.

Gov. Rick Scott: The second-term Florida governor built and ran the biggest hospital empire in the United States until 1997 when he resigned amid a criminal inquiry of the company.

Investigations revealed that Columbia/HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) had been systematically overcharging the government for reimbursements, filing false reports, making illegal deals with heath care agencies and providing doctors with illegal loans. In 2002, the government reached a settlement with HCA and its subsidiaries totaling $1.7 billion, the largest amount ever paid to the feds in a health care investigation.

Scott played an essential part in the president-elect’s victory by running one of the biggest pro-Trump super PACs, Rebuilding America Now. Backed by Californian real estate developer Geoffrey Palmer and coal mining giant Murray Energy Corporation, this outside group spent over $19 million on ads attacking Hillary Clinton and supporting Trump this cycle.

According to campaign finance data compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Scott has raised $84.4 million in campaign contributions since 2010, 71.4 percent of which came from his own pocket.

Scott wrote checks totaling $60.3 million to his own campaign in his first gubernatorial race six years ago. Outside of that, he managed to raise only about $7.1 million for his campaign, while his Democratic opponent raised $17.5 million.

His rival also got more financial support from individuals and PACs in the health sector that election, receiving $626,112 when Scott only received $125,537 from the sector.

Overall, though, the health sector’s gifts to the governor over the years total up to $666,381, the second biggest sum after the finance sector’s $1.8 million.

Scott himself has donated $160,000 to the Republican party and candidates over the years, including $10,000 to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. And he maxed out at $5,400 to Florida Rep. Francis Rooney (R), who won Florida’s 19th Congressional District last week.

The former healthcare mogul has long been an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, so much that he started a 501©(4) social welfare nonprofit in 2009 called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, which spent over $10 million in two years to rally against the overhaul.

Gov. Bobby Jindal: The former Louisiana congressman and current governor is not quite like some other Trump loyalists. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, he called the president-elect a “narcissist” and an “egomaniacal madman.”

But then he continued, “I think electing Donald Trump would be the second-worst thing we could do this November, better only than electing Hillary Clinton to serve as the third term for the Obama administration’s radical policies,” concluding the article with an endorsement for Trump.

Jindal, who ran the Louisiana Health and Hospitals Department in his mid-20s, holds a number of titles: the youngest president of the University of Louisiana System, the second Indian American in Congress, the first Indian American governor in the U.S., and the second youngest governor of Louisiana. He is no stranger to the federal Health and Human Services Department either, as he was an assistant secretary there early in President George W. Bush’s administration.

From 2005 to 2007 as a member of the House, Jindal raised a total of $4.6 millionin contributions. He garnered the most financial support from individuals and PACs in the health sector, who donated a total of $728,772. This includes $413,195 from health professionals, $121,641 from the pharmaceuticals industry, $105,750 from hospitals and $83,131 from the health services industry.

During his one unsuccessful Louisiana gubernatorial campaign in 2003 and two subsequent successful campaigns, he raised a total of $35.2 million. The health sector again topped contributions by giving $1.9 million over the years, closely followed by the finance sector, including $37,500 from nursing care provider Magnolia Management and $20,000 from Louisiana Hospital Association.

During the brief period he ran for the presidency this election cycle, his campaign collected $1.4 million contributions; outside groups, including his single-candidate super PAC Believe Again, raised and spent about $4.5 million on his behalf. At the presidential level, the energy and natural resources sector gave the most to Jindal’s campaign and pro-Jindal outside groups, totaling $1.4 million. Health professionals still gave the most direct in contributions to his campaign ($74,451).

Louisiana oil industry boatbuilder Gary Chouest, whose company Edison Chouest Offshore was awarded the very first contract with the state government after Jindal took office in 2008, donated $1 million to Believe Again this cycle. The longtime Jindal supporter has donated a total of $16,900 to his state and federal campaigns over the years.

Social welfare group America Next also spent $392,648 in “independent expenditures” supporting Jindal for his brief presidential campaign last year; the nonprofit is chaired by Jindal. As a 501©(4) group, America Next does not disclose donors, but a tax filing obtained by the Center for Public Integrity shows the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America donated $50,000 last year to the pro-Jindal group.

(America Next and Believe Again also seem to have shared a common consultant, as they paid $781,572 and $2.6 million each to vendor OnMessage Inc., run by Jindal campaign’s chief strategist and senior GOP fundraiser Curt Anderson.)

Another strong critic of the Affordable Care Act, the governor is known for helping privatize hospitals and Medicaid in Louisiana over the years.

Mike Huckabee: Having blasted Florida Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich for not endorsing Trump and saying they don’t deserve a microphone, the former Arkansas governor would in some ways seem ripe to be rewarded with a cabinet slot in the new administration.

Not surprisingly, Huckabee has also advocated for repealing the Affordable Care Act, calling for an expansion in the employer-based healthcare system instead.

OpenSecrets Blog could not obtain campaign finance information from Huckabee’s first gubernatorial election in 1998 (it was not available electronically). But for his re-election campaign in 2002, Huckabee collected about $2.5 million in contributions, including $267,380 from the health sector. Nursing care provider NHS Management LLC and the Arkansas Hospital Association were among his biggest health sector donors, giving $5,000 and $4,000 each.

The Arkansas Republican raised $16 million and $4.3 million respectively in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016. He received the biggest support from the finance sector in both years, though the health sector also was among his big contributors.

Outside groups including Pursuing America’s Greatness raised about $6 million to support of Huckabee in this election, including $3 million from Ronald Cameron, a big political donor in Arkansas and the owner of poultry giant Mountainaire Corp.

Cameron donated a total of $6.7 million this election cycle, including direct contributions of $2,700 to Huckabee, $5,400 to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and — yes! — $8,100 to Donald Trump.

Huckabee and his wife Janet personally have given more than $61,050 to a number of candidates over the years, including $2,700 to Republican Mark Harris this cycle, who didn’t make it past the primary in North Carolina’s 9th District.