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Business Groups Invested in Races, Now Wait for Returns

THE NATION

After a hefty push for Republican candidates, industry organizations form their wish lists.

November 08, 2004|Tom Hamburger | Times Staff Writer

The drug industry was the biggest spender of any industry in the 2000 and 2002 elections. Its contributions, always difficult to trace, were even more obscure this cycle.

In 2000 and 2002, it sent money to nonprofit groups with names like Citizens for Better Medicare that ran millions of dollars worth of broadcast ads in key states. The industry spent $30 million to $50 million on those campaigns during each of those cycles.

This year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn., an industry trade association, has been less visible in part because campaign finance laws limited the use of corporate funds in broadcast political ads. Some organizations that PhRMA backs ran print ads and did mailers in key states and made calls urging support for candidates who supported the Bush Medicare proposal and opposed drug importation from Canada. Drug companies were significant donors to the Chamber of Commerce campaign efforts this year.

PhRMA spokesman Jeff Trewhitt declined to discuss campaign-related spending but said the organization had two major priorities: keeping the Bush Medicare drug plan on track in 2006 and blocking efforts to permit importing drugs from Canada. The association's members were concerned about proposals by Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry that would encourage Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices.

Banking and investment houses are excited about the president's plan for social security reform and health savings accounts that include private investment accounts. In addition, banks and credit card companies list bankruptcy reform on the priority list. Bankers also want legislative and executive branch action allowing them to move into real estate, a move opposed by realtors, another major group of donors.

Coal and utility companies continued to be a significant source of support for Republicans. Their wish list includes an energy bill and a market-based plan to control mercury and other pollutants.

Oil and gas companies that have been loyal benefactors of the Bush-Cheney ticket are likely to see immediate results. The Interior Department is expected to announce decisions in the next few weeks that would permit some oil and gas drilling on once-protected land on Colorado's Roan Plateau and New Mexico's Otera Mesa.

The business trade associations that advocated most strongly for Bush have as a top item on their list a new kind of health insurance that the groups could offer their members. Association health plans would allow small businesses to pool together to offer greater health insurance options than they could on their own.

The associations say such plans would provide health coverage for uninsured small-business employees, a group that suffers because small firms often cannot afford to offer health insurance. The sale of such insurance could yield substantial revenue for trade associations themselves, which would in some cases become the marketers of these plans.

The president publicly backed association health plans in the final days of the campaign.

"We are fresh from having proved to ourselves that we can change the outcome of elections," said Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Assn. of Manufacturers. "Using the same tools -- employee involvement and education -- we can change the outcome in policy terms across the wide spectrum of issues from legal reform to tax relief."

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A winning investment

Business organizations spent millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates in this year's election. Now many hope their wish lists will be fulfilled.

Contributions to federal candidates and parties in 2004:

*--* % given to Total given to GOP GOP of total Industry (in millions) contributions Real estate $43.0 59% Securities/investment $34.7 51% Health professionals $34.0 63% Insurance $18.8 67% General contractors $15.5 75% Commercial banks $15.4 64% Oil and gas $14.4 81% Business trade groups $1.7 85%

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Source: Federal Election Commission data analyzed by Center for Responsive Politics

PAUL DUGINSKI / Los Angeles Times

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