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Health care donations follow the frontrunners

By Raymond Hernandez and Robert Pear

New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — In a reversal from past election cycles, Democratic candidates for president are outpacing Republicans in donations from the health care industry, even as the leading Democrats in the field offer proposals that have caused deep anxiety in some of its sectors.

Hospitals, drugmakers, doctors and insurers gave candidates in both parties more than $11 million in the first nine months of this year, according to an analysis of campaign finance records done for the New York Times by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that tracks campaign finance.

In all, the Democratic presidential candidates have raised about $6.5 million from the industry, compared with nearly $4.8 million for the Republican candidates. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has amassed the most of any candidate; her calls for broad changes to the health care system could pose serious financial challenges to private insurers, drug companies and other sectors.

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Clinton received $2.7 million through the end of September, far more than Mitt Romney, the Republican who raised the most from the health care industry, with $1.6 million. The industry’s drift in contributions toward Democratic candidates mirrors wider trends among donors, but the donations from this sector are particularly notable because of the party’s focus on overhauling the health care system.

People in the health care industry say the giving reflects a growing sense that the Democrats are in a strong position to win the White House next year. It also underscores the industry’s frantic effort to influence the candidates, as Democrats push their proposals to address what many polls show is a top concern among voters.

"Everybody in the industry knows that health care reform is on its way, and you have only two decisions: Sit on the sidelines or get on the field," said Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospital Association who is involved in a national coalition seeking a health-care overhaul.

But the donations could expose the candidates, particularly Clinton, to accusations of being captive to special interests, a charge that one of Clinton’s rivals, John Edwards, has leveled against her on the campaign trail, telling her during one debate that she would "negotiate and compromise your way to universal health care" with the insurance and drug industries.

The donations have come as the health care industry has been in the cross hairs of the Democratic candidates. Clinton and other Democrats have proposed barring insurance companies from "cherry picking" only healthy customers and want to have Medicare negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. And Sen. Barack Obama has called for actually limiting the profits of the insurance industry.

Phillip J. Blando, a political strategist who advises insurance and biotechnology companies, said the health care contributions to Democratic candidates were "smart politics."

"For many people in the industry," Blando said, "these contributions are a defensive measure. Health care is the No. 1 domestic policy issue, and they want access, a seat at the table."

Among all the candidates in both political parties, Obama, of Illinois, is the No. 2 recipient of donations from the health care industry, having raised about $2.2 million, according to campaign finance records.

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Two Republicans trail him in third and fourth place, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, with $1.4 million.

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