The Home School Legal Defense Association has historically steered clear of Capitol Hill health care debates, which did not seem relevant to its mission of keeping the federal government out of its business.
But this year the conservative group has joined a stampede of companies, trade associations and public entities that want a say in Congress drive to reshape the nations health care system.
We are new to the health care lobbying issue. I think everyone and their brother has gotten involved in it, said William Estrada, director of federal relations for the Virginia-based home-school advocacy organization. The group is concerned that a provision tucked into the legislation funding home visits to counsel expectant mothers would threaten parental rights.
The home-schoolers are one group of more than 800 companies and organizations that were not involved in health care at all last year and then listed the hot-button topic as an issue that they were lobbying on this year in disclosure reports filed with Congress. That is an increase of almost a third in the number of entities lobbying on health care.
Organizations and companies reported paying $187 million to outside firms during the first three quarters of 2009 to lobby on health care, though that number also captures additional lobbying issues. That is a $40 million jump from the same period in the previous year.
The amount of dollars spent by health-care-related companies and groups alone also rose by about 10 percent to $467 million in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2008. That figure does not count the millions of dollars shelled out by other groups that have been lobbying aggressively on health care, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions.
The roster of entities that have joined the health care debate this year ranges from national retail companies such as Home Depot, Best Buy and 7-Eleven, to nonprofits such as the League of American Orchestras and trade organizations such as the Puerto Rico Bankers Association. Cities, universities and local hospitals have also employed lobbyists on the issue as have American Indian tribes and farm advocates.
The Podesta Group topped the list of lobbying firms in terms of the increase in dollars from clients listing health care as an issue this year over last year.
The firm collected about $2.4 million more, or an 87 percent increase, in the first three quarters of this year.
Lobbying revenue increases usually follow issues that are front and center on the Hill. Health Care is undeniably one of those issues, said Missi Tessier, a Podesta spokeswoman. The percent increase in the firms health care related dollars was slightly larger than its overall growth rate this year of about 60 percent, she said. Tessier said the firm attracted health care clients in part because of the reputation of its health care team, including the firms founder, Tony Podesta, a former counsel to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who championed health care reform.
Podestas clients that listed health care as an issue this year included biotechnology firm Genentech and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, as well non-health-care-related companies such as Oracle and Nestle USA.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.