Exclusive: How Dems set stage for corporate-backed health care campaign

Friday, October 16, 2009 - 11:55am

At a meeting last April with corporate lobbyists, aides to President Barack Obama and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) helped set in motion a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, primarily financed by industry groups, that has played a key role in bolstering public support for health care reform.

The role Baucus’s chief of staff, Jon Selib, and deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina played in launching the groups was part of a successful effort by Democrats to enlist traditional enemies of health care reform to their side. No quid pro quo was involved, they insist, as do the lobbyists themselves.

The result has been a somewhat unlikely alliance between an administration that came into power criticizing George W. Bush for his closeness to Big Business and groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the American Medical Association.

The previously undisclosed meeting April 15 at the offices of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee led to the creation of two groups — Americans for Stable Quality Care and a now-defunct predecessor group called Healthy Economy Now — that have spent tens of millions of dollars on TV advertising supporting health reform efforts.

In the most recent ad sponsored by Americans for Stable Quality Care, Obama speaks directly into the camera for 60 seconds, extolling the virtues of health care reform, while text at the bottom of the screen encourages viewers to visit the websites of the White House and the Finance Committee, which this week approved a 10-year, $829 billion health overhaul.

Both coalitions operate independently of the administration and Senate Democrats, and spokesmen for both the White House and Baucus said that no pressure — implicit or otherwise — to join the pro-health-care reform groups was applied to industry representatives at the meeting.

After arriving late, Messina delivered a presentation to what was one of many such “outreach” meetings he has attended, and he left before the other participants began talking strategy. Selib, who had convened the gathering, “didn’t ask anyone for money,” said a Baucus aide.

Indeed, attendees describe a more subtle dynamic: The Democratic officials made no overt demands. Rather, they brought together the players and laid the groundwork for the creation of the coalition, and that was followed by more direct solicitations from an outside Democratic consultant, Nick Baldick, retained by Healthy Economy Now, asking attendees at the meeting to join the coalition and contribute to its ad campaigns.

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