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Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 presidential candidate, joins hospital workers, union members, and local politicians in protest against the imminent closure of Hahnemann University Hospital at a rally in Philadelphia on July 15, 2019. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Which 2020 Democrats Are Taking Money From the Healthcare Industry?

No Democratic candidate has pulled in more from the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries than Biden

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called on fellow Democratic presidential candidates to reject contributions from the healthcare industry this week, a renewed effort to distinguish himself from a progressive field that has often adopted his policy positions.

The Vermont senator’s announcement came days after campaigns filed their second quarter finance reports, which showed that a number of the 2020 presidential candidates, including Sanders, had accepted contributions from healthcare and pharmaceutical executives.

The pledge states that Sanders will not take “contributions over $200 from the PACs, lobbyists, or executives of health insurance or pharmaceutical companies.” During the second quarter, his campaign received thousands from these donors, including a $2,800 contribution from a lobbyist at Beacon Health Options, $2,000 from the CEO of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and $1,000 each from two Pfizer executives, according to an OpenSecrets review of FEC filings.

Sanders, whose campaign has said it will refund past contributions that do not comply with the pledge, was not the only candidate to receive contributions from the healthcare industry during the second quarter.

FEC filings suggest that most of the 2020 Democratic hopefuls received at least one contribution from a healthcare or pharmaceutical executive. One executive at Missouri health insurer Centene gave at least $1,250 each to Sanders, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries nonetheless make up a miniscule fraction of the money raised by Democratic presidential hopefuls. Combined, the 2020 Democrats have raised less than $600,000 from those in the two industries — less than 1 percent of the total haul so far.

None of the candidates have received a dollar in PAC contributions from the health-related industries — and likely won’t because they are all rejecting corporate PAC contributions entirely. Those who have pledged to reject lobbyist contributions have mostly kept their word as well.

No Democratic candidate has pulled in more from the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries than Biden, who raised more than $97,000. The former vice president took in more than $11,000 from affiliates of industry giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield, including the maximum $2,800 from Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross who sits on the board of a major health insurance trade group that is fighting to defeat Sanders’ Medicare for All healthcare plan.

Buttigieg is runner-up, taking home nearly $94,000. His list of donors includes executives from Aetna, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer and Indiana’s Eli Lilly & Co. The Midwestern mayor has questioned the merits of Medicare for All, but has also put forth his own plan, Medicare for Those Who Want It, which the healthcare industry also opposes.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) rounds out the top three, taking more than $65,000. She’s received $39,000 from employees at Medtronic, the world’s largest medical device company that has its U.S. headquarters in Minnesota, as well as the maximum $2,800 from executives at private insurers UnitedHealthcare and Medica.

Biden and Klobuchar have panned Sanders’ healthcare plan as being unrealistic at this time, introducing their own proposals to instead incrementally expand healthcare coverage and reduce drug prices.

Harris, along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is among the cosponsors of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate, though all three have said they don’t support the Vermont senator’s proposal to eliminate private health insurance.

Harris has accepted $55,000 from pharmaceutical companies this cycle. Her donors include employees of Roche Holdings, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

Gillibrand, who was criticized by progresive groups earlier this year for attending a fundraiser hosted by Pfizer executive Sally Susman, has received $39,500 in contributions from the healthcare industry this election cycle.

Booker announced in 2017 that he would put a “pause” on taking contributions from pharmaceutical companies after accepting $161,000 from their PACs during the 2014 election cycle. The New Jersey senator has stuck to his promise not to accept corporate PAC money during his presidential run. But he has taken $35,000 from healthcare industry employees, including a $2,800 contribution from a GlaxoSmithKline executive during the second quarter.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has received plenty of contributions from the healthcare industry over the years despite her endorsement of Medicare for All and her call to send executives to jail for their role in the opioid crisis. Between 2013 and 2018, she took $428,395 from healthcare-related industries. Although the Massachusetts senator has eschewed traditional fundraisers during her presidential run, she has received $44,000 in contributions from the same industries this cycle.

Sanders has said Democrats “can’t change a corrupt system by taking its money,” arguing that healthcare industry lobbying and campaign contributions have corrupted Washington to the point where it can maintain the status quo.

Notably, Sanders’ pledge omits contributions from hospitals, an industry that also opposes his healthcare plan. Private hospitals have organized to defeat Medicare for All, which would steeply cut down on the industry’s revenue by paying out less money than private insurers.

Although they don’t often agree on much, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurers are working together to stop Sanders’ proposed healthcare plan from gaining even more traction within the Democratic party.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Karl Evers-Hillstrom

Karl Evers-Hillstrom

Karl Evers-Hillstrom is a money-in-politics reporter for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

Jessica Piper

Jessica Piper

Jessica Piper is a reporting intern at the Center for Responsive Politics.

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