Almost three times the amount given to McCain

While some sunlight has been shed on the hefty sums shoveled into congressional campaign coffers in an effort to influence the Democrats' massive healthcare bill, little attention has been focused on the far larger sums received by President Barack Obama while he was a candidate in 2008.

A new figure, based on an exclusive analysis created for Raw Story by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that President Obama received a staggering $20,175,303 from the healthcare industry during the 2008 election cycle, nearly three times the amount of his presidential rival John McCain. McCain took in $7,758,289, the Center found.

The new figure, obtained by Raw Story through an independent custom research request performed by the Center for Responsive Politics -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics -- is the most comprehensive breakdown yet available of healthcare industry contributions to Obama during the 2008 election cycle.

Currently, the Center's website shows that Obama received $19,462,986 from the health sector, which includes health professionals ($11.7m), health services/HMOs ($1.4m), hospitals/nursing homes ($3.3m) and pharmaceuticals/health products ($2.1m). Miscellaneous health donations (from which Obama received $860,411) are also factored into the current total health sector numbers but are not accessible on the site.

Health insurance industry contributions, however, are not included within the Center's current health sector totals. Rather, contributions from the health insurance industry are contained within the site's finance and insurance sector. Seeking a more complete total, the Center culled health and accident insurance donations from this sector (for which Obama received $712,317) and combined them with his existing health sector total ($19,462,986) to arrive at his healthcare industry total ($20,175,303).

The Center employed the same methodology in its analysis for John McCain and based all of its findings on the latest data released by the Federal Election Commission.

Dave Levinthal, the Center's communications director, noted that Obama out-raised McCain in nearly all business sectors that contributed to the 2008 presidential candidates. In that regard, the healthcare industry figure is not in itself an anomaly.

But Levinthal underscored the significance of the industry's largess.

“What it also means when you look at it just on its own merit is that Obama definitely has a relationship with the health sector,” Levinthal told Raw Story. “When you raise $20 million from one group, obviously they’ve curried some favor with you and you have a lot of people in that sector who support you. So to say that just because he out-raised McCain overall doesn’t mean anything in the context of the health sector might not necessarily be true.”

“People want to be able to curry favor with those who are in power,” he added. “And one way to do that is by making donations to candidates and officials who are represented by the party in power. Or who look like they’re going to win.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Gary Jacobson, a campaign finance expert and political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, says the healthcare industry saw the writing on the wall and sought to “protect their interests.”

“Contributors expect access,” Jacobson, author of Money in Congressional Elections, told Raw Story. The healthcare industry “anticipated an Obama victory and they wanted to be in the game.”

While experts agreed that there is certainly nothing illegal about receiving such copious contributions from the industry within the current U.S. system of campaign financing, all emphasized the inevitable impact this money has in influencing public policy.

Obama’s considerable windfall from the healthcare industry merits attention, they said.

Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for government watchdog Common Cause, said that her organization has been mostly focused on what members of Congress have received in campaign contributions from the healthcare industry. But she called Obama's campaign receipts from the industry “not surprising.”

“The healthcare industry has been ramping up in recent years in anticipation of this healthcare debate, giving both to Democrats and Republicans,” Boyle explained in an interview with Raw Story.

Some experts who spoke with Raw Story also noted the rather stark evolution from candidate Obama, who once advocated for universal healthcare and was a vocal critic of mandated health insurance, to President Obama, who excluded single-payer advocates from White House healthcare summits and who has since strongly embraced mandates.

Obama delegate now takes umbrage with healthcare position

Historian and media critic Norman Solomon, who was also an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention, called the president’s transformation on healthcare since taking office “shameful.”

“Overall it’s been a very corporate friendly healthcare approach from Obama as president,” Solomon said in an interview with Raw Story. “Corporate friendly in a way that I believe is injurious to public health.”

He underscored the subtle but substantive change in healthcare language used by Obama and the White House.

“We don’t hear so much now about ‘healthcare reform,’” Solomon said. “We’re hearing a lot more about ‘health insurance reform.’ And that is absolutely in large measure driven by the White House.”

He also concurred with Boyle’s assessment on the success of the industry’s special interests.

“The funding from the healthcare industry to the Obama campaign, in retrospect, was not misplaced,” Solomon said. “It appears, based on policy, that those funders are getting what they would’ve hoped for."

“Let me put it this way,” he added. “Single-payer advocates literally couldn’t get into the White House. And you have [chief pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and former Republican congressman] Billy Tauzin and Big Pharma and all of these in-depth strategy meetings in the White House in mid-2009 cutting deals. And I think it’s shameful.”

But Boyle puts the blame more on the campaign financing system than on President Obama.

"It’s getting worse every year," she said. "This story line is going to continue until the end of time until we change the way we pay for our political campaigns. It’s the system. Everyone’s stuck in it. Everyone gets kind of caught up in it.”

Yet she believes these new numbers clearly show the industry was “trying to gain access and influence to the president, just as they have tried -- and been quite successful -- at gaining access to members of Congress.”

Boyle also noted the industry’s success in achieving this goal over the course of the healthcare debate.

“We've seen many examples of the healthcare industry’s interests – and we would argue that a lot of it has to do with the money – prevailing over the public interest,” she said. “The fact is, we have this broken system that allows interests that want the most out of government to have the loudest voice and to get that loudest voice by contributing the most money and spending the most money.”

Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter for Raw Story.