Campaign for Responsible Health Reform

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Campaign for Responsible Health Reform is a program sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce to convince people to preserve employer-sponsored health insurance and oppose a public insurance plan option in health care reform in the U.S. The Campaign, which was launched in mid-2009, aims to convince people that a government-sponsored plan is "fiscally reckless," will "lead us down the road to total government control of our health," and that it will make those with private insurance pay even more.[1]

The Campaign says that "a government-run plan that would have broad and unrivaled power to negotiate for low-cost services of doctors and other health care providers could put private insurers out of business."[2]

The group's Web site has a "Take Action" page that says "We can’t afford to let a government-run plan raise our taxes and create long waits for treatment." It urges people to write their Congress members to oppose "government-run health care."[3]

Campaign activities

The Chamber of Commerce/CRHR created a 30-second ad set to run from approximately August 17 through Aug. 23 on 9NEWS (Denver) at a net cost of $121,677.[4]

The CRHR carries out bus tours to rally people to oppose a public health care option. [5]

The Campaign for Responsible Health Reform is running print and online ads, organizing events, placing opinion pieces in local media outlets, and generating letters and calls to members of Congress in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina. Chamber members have already sent more than 78,000 letters to their legislators opposing a government-run plan.[6]

Providing political cover for insurance companies

Thomas J. Donohue is the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which in turn sponsors groups such as Campaign for Responsible Health Reform. James Verini of the Washington Monthly writes that Donohue "has a well-developed talent for self-promotion. He makes a point of being the last person on any stage, and he leaves no detail to chance. The Chamber's event staff is famously fastidious: one of Donohue's parties involved corralling a Clydesdale horse into the Chamber's lobby. Such grandiosity is of a piece with how Donohue treats his station. He travels in a chauffeured Lincoln and a leased jet, and his salary, $3.7 million last year, makes him the sixth highest paid lobbyist in the country.

"This requires funding, which Donohue secures with exceptional skill. Among his office decorations is a desk plaque that reads, "SHOW ME THE MONEY." "He used to pound his fist on the desk and say, 'Show me the money!'" a former Chamber lobbyist recalls. "He got his rocks off on it."

"In 2009 the Chamber doled out somewhere in the area of $120 million on lobbying alone, five times what its nearest cohort, Exxon Mobil, spent. Much of that money went to an advertising and grassroots blitz attacking the congressional health care legislation, making the Chamber very likely the biggest spender in the debate."

The Washington Monthly goes on to say, "a large part of what the Chamber sells is political cover. For multibillion-dollar insurers, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers who are too smart and image conscious to make public attacks of their own, the Chamber of Commerce is a friend who will do the dirty work. "I want to give them all the deniability they need," says Donohue. That deniability is evidently worth a lot. According to a January article in the National Journal, six insurers alone—Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group, and Wellpoint—pumped up to $20 million into the Chamber last year.

"It used similar tactics against health care reform, launching a campaign that was even larger and more elaborate. The Chamber recruited local political operatives and had them set up front groups to oppose the House and Senate bills, and it also coordinated a national ad onslaught. In Arkansas's second district, for instance, the Chamber aired ads directly attacking Democratic Representative Vic Snyder for his support of the House bill. (Vic Snyder has since announced that he won’t seek reelection, such an uphill battle is he now facing.) It also established a branch of a front group, the Campaign for Responsible Health Reform, and hired a Little Rock Republican strategist to run it. The strategist, Bill Vickery, told me that his activities were "backed solely" by the Chamber."[7]


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  1. Campaign for Responsible Health Reform The Campaign, Web page, accessed August 18, 2009
  2. Campaign for Responsible Health Reform FAQs, accessed August 18, 2009
  3. Campaign for Responsible Health Reform Take Action, accessed August 18, 2009
  4. (Denver) TRUTH TEST: A check-up on a health care reform ad, accessed August 18, 2009
  5. Campaign for Responsible Health Reform The Colorado CRHR bus tour had great turnout over the weekend in Greeley and Grand Junction, undated Web page. Accessed August 18, 2009
  6. Cape Fear Business News U.S. Chamber Announces Campaign to Protect Workers’ Employer-Sponsored Health Care July 24, 2009. Accessed August 18, 2009
  7. James Verini, "Show Him the Money", Washington Monthly, July/August 2010.