Yesterday, Chris Frates of National Journal broke the story that health insurance companies secretly funneled over $100 million into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for advertising. The Chamber, during the period in which the money was accepted, orchestrated one of the largest electioneering outside money efforts in American history to help weaken health reform and elect lawmakers, mostly Republican, running on platform to repeal health reform.

The news comes on the heels of another disclosure, reported by SNL Financial, that the health insurance company AETNA plowed some $7 million into both the Chamber and the American Action Network, another secret money 501(c) group that ran wall-to-wall ads during the midterm elections.

The money is significant for many reasons. First, the disclosures reveal that both the Chamber and American Action Network’s public claims about their identities are completely disingenuous. The Chamber claims to represent thousands of small businesses, so when the public saw the $75 million in electioneering ads or the tens of millions in general anti-health reform ads aired from 2009 to 2010, most probably assumed these ads were representative of the views of the business community. In reality, almost all of the money came from multinational insurance and financial conglomerates hoping to influence policy.

American Action Network also positions itself as a voice for conservative activists and small businesses. But again, in reality their budget came mostly just from one insurance company, AETNA. I asked Rob Collins, at the time the head of the American Action Network, to explain one of his attack ads shortly after the midterm election. The ad portrayed Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) literally stepping on the face of a child. The citation to back up the claim that she was smothering children? Her vote to expand health insurance. Watch Collins attempting to justify his misinformation:

This is the true tragedy of Citizens United. The ads misinformed the public, swept into office some of the most pro-corporate lawmakers in recent memory, and now that money has resulted in repeated attempts to undermine American health and well-being and drive up corporate profits. And not only has this money corrupted our government, we didn’t even find out about it until two years after it was spent since it was hidden in 501(c) groups, which are far more dangerous than Super PACs.

If the insurers are successful with continuing to elect pro-repeal politicians using secret cash, it’s likely we will continue to live in a country where up to 45,000 people die every year due to lack of insurance, and millions lose coverage due to so-called pre-existing conditions and other denials of care.

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Filed under: Lobbying

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