CongressDaily: House Mental Health Bill Opponents Gave More To Members

March 7, 2008

HEALTH - House Mental Health Bill Opponents Gave More To Members
Fawn Johnson
CongressDaily, © National Journal Group, Inc.

Groups that opposed a mental health parity bill that passed the House Wednesday gave five times the amount of campaign contributions to lawmakers than proponents over the past two years, according to data from MapLight.org, a nonprofit organization that tracks campaign money and members' votes. The average contribution from the bill's opponents, generally businesses and insurers, was about $37,000 from 2005 to 2007. Two-thirds of the members who received those contributions voted against the bill, translating into a $22,000 average contribution for a no vote. Proponents, including mental health caregivers and some religious groups, spent just over $6,000 per member. About three-fourths of those members voted for the bill. "More money went into a 'no' vote versus a 'yes' vote," said Maplight Communications Director Pamela Heisey. Maplight's "spotlight" on the mental health parity bill is the first of its kind from the two-year-old group, which shares contribution data with the Center for Responsive Politics.

Maplight's data showed AFLAC Inc., the National Restaurant Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce among the big spenders who opposed the mental health parity bill. Among the proponents of the bill, the American Psychiatric Association was the most frequent contributor. Other contributors included the National Association of Social Workers and Families USA.

The business community's lobbying against the House parity bill hit a fever pitch this week in an attempt to keep the vote relatively balanced. After five committee markups, several Republicans were on record supporting the bill, and many more listed themselves as co-sponsors. "Key vote" letters from the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Chamber did sway some GOP members in the opposite direction, although 47 Republicans voted for it.

NRF Employee Benefits Policy Counsel Vice President Neil Trautwein, who chairs an ad hoc business coalition opposing the House bill, said active lobbying on the part of his group kept the 268-148 vote well below a veto-proof margin, which was a concern. The business coalition favors a Senate mental health parity bill, and its members have repeatedly said they cannot depart significantly from the Senate version toward the House bill. Negotiations now move behind closed doors as House and Senate lawmakers attempt to hammer out the differences between the two bills. Supporters of the House bill likely will tout not only the floor vote, but the bipartisan committee votes as evidence that Senate sponsors should cede some ground.