In 2016, the phrase “Drain the Swamp” entered into our vernacular during the hotly contested Presidential race. Many mainstream media outlets believed the rally-cry was used by then-candidate Donald Trump to support his belief that special interest groups, a.k.a. lobbyists, had overrun the Nation’s Capital to direct the United States lawmakers to look out for big industry’s agenda ahead of the common person’s needs.
So is there any validity to this “corruption” claim and, if so, how does healthcare factor into the swamp allegations? I started my investigation where all 21st Century people begin their information quests: the internet. Turning to the website OpenSecrets.com, a plethora of lobbying information was quickly at my fingertips. The website, which bills itself as the Center for Responsive Politics, had compiled lists concerning lobbying dollars for the era 1998-2016.
My first question was whether lobbying in terms of dollars and cents had actually grown over time, and if so, by how much. According to the data gathered by OpenSecrets.com, the dollars spent on lobbying our Congressional leaders and political decision makers mushroomed by doubling from $1.45 billion in 1998 to $3.12 billion in 2016. Interesting, the $3 billion threshold was first crossed in 2008 with peak years of 2009 ($3.51 billion) and 2010 ($3.52 billion). Also, the $2 billion threshold was first reached in 2003 ($2.06 billion), but it was just 5 years later that the $3 billion mark was surpassed. Our country has had nine consecutive years in the $3 billion range for lobbyist spending.
While there might not be any correlation to amount spent and the total number of lobbyists, in terms of the lobbyist population in D.C. the numbers have been declining since the peak of 14,822 in 2007. Every year since the 2007 record, the total number of lobbyists has decreased with the current head count sitting at 11,143.
In our next drill down, we took a look at the top industries in terms of total dollars spent lobbying our politicians from 1998-2016. At the top of the list is Pharmaceuticals/Health Products with $3.515 billion spent. Right behind is the Insurance industry with $2.42 billion. Coming in at number nine is Hospitals/Nursing Homes with $1.45 billion tossed to lawmakers. That means three of the top 10 lobby spending sectors are related to healthcare, including No. 1 and No. 2. Just outside the Top 10 at number 14 is Health Professionals with $1.31 billion invested. That makes the total number spent by healthcare lobbyists from 1998 to 2016 somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.75 billion.
So who are the top spenders from 1998-2016? At the top is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with $1.33 billion spent lobbying. But coming in at number 3 is the American Medical Association at $351 million and two spots behind is the American Hospital Association with $316 million spent. Nipping at the AHA’s heels is the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America with $310.5 million dropped on lobbying. Not to be overlooked at No. 7 on the chart is Blue Cross/Blue Shield, who spent $296 million on lobbying from 1998 to 2016.
Interestingly, with the ACA teetering on the brink of collapse, the amount these lobbying groups spent in 2016 ramped up with Blue Cross/Blue Shield shooting up to No. 3 on the list with $25 million spent followed closely at No. 4 by the AHA ($20.9 million) and No. 5 Pharmaceutical Research ($19.7 million).
Judging by the election results, many Americans are in favor of making the dollars accepted by lawmakers much more transparent as well as reported. Draining the swamp might be an impossible task, but at least knowing how big the mosquitoes are and limiting their power might be a start for the new administration.