Tips for Tracking Political Donations and Health Policy in Your State

Published on
April 6, 2012

Editor's note: Edwin Bender is executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks the influence of campaign money on state-level elections and public policy in all 50 states. In the coming months, he'll be writing about how you can use the Institute's data to report on how political donations affect state-level health policy and legislative decisions.

campaign contributions, politics,, Edwin Bender, reporting on health, healthcare, health reform, health journalismYou can't inoculate health care policy against the ills of politics. You can, however, evaluate the money-in-politics angle by identifying the major parties on each side of the issue and noting how much they contributed to campaigns. In particular, look at the sponsors and authors of proposed legislation to see who may have their ear as the bill wends through the legislative process.

For example, on February 23, 2012, California Assemblyman Richard Pan introduced AB 2109, a bill that would require individuals and parents to obtain the signature of a health care practitioner for a philosophical exemption to vaccination. Current law allows parents to decline vaccines by signing an exemption at the school.

Proponents argue that the signature ensures parents who don't vaccinate their children are making an informed medical decision under the guidance of their doctor. Pan himself believes "this bill empowers them [parents] with up-to-date, accurate information about immunizations." Opponents call the bill an unnecessary and expensive intrusion into the rights of parents, intended to increase vaccination rates by making it more difficult to claim the exemption.

Who might benefit economically from this proposed legislation? Why might a legislator give it a second look? Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes and Senator Lois Wolk are listed as coauthors of the bill. Log onto and type the legislator's name in the search bar on the top right of the home page. In this case, look for Pan, then Fuentes, and Wolk. The results page allows you to sort by contributor, candidate, committees, lobbyists, lobbyist clients, and ballot measures. In this case click on "candidate." Click on the candidate's name to see their career profile, which provides a broad look at their top contributors, top contributing industries, and top contributing economic sectors over the course of their state political career.

How much did the pharmaceutical industry contribute to the bill's sponsor, freshman legislator Richard Pan? Table 3, Top 15 All Time Industries shows that donors from the pharmaceutical & health products industry gave him $6,600 for his recent campaign. Pan's fellow Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes raised $110,515 from the same industry donors over the last two election cycles. Senator Lois Wolk has received $70,990 from this industry since the 2002 elections.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics is the only nonpartisan, nonprofit organization publishing the facts on campaign money in state-level elections in all 50 states. It's up to you to connect the dots and tell the stories.

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