Brian Bilbray Wants A Tax Break For His Big Campaign Donors

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On June 7, Rep. Brian Bilbray joined Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jim Gerlach in a Roll Call op-ed opposing the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices that is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Bilbray says the tax would mean $30 billion in savings for the manufacturers of medical devices. What he didn’t mention is that a sizable chunk of that windfall could benefit him too—through big campaign contributions.

The health sector has always been a big Bilbray backer, coming in as his second biggest group of supporters, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But in the month ending in the June 7 release of Bilbray’s op-ed, our analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows that the health sector’s proportion of Bilbray’s campaign money went through the roof.

  • In fact, between May 8 and June 1, as Bilbray was raising money ahead of the primary election, he took in $35,250 from the health sector—more than one-third of the money he raised during that time.
  • Donors during the month before his primary election include the PACs of Abbott Laboratories ($3,000), Life Technologies Corporation ($5,000) and the Medical Device Manufacturers Association ($1,000). Abbott and the Medical Device Manufacturers both lobbied in 2012 on the ACA and medical device fees. He also received $1,000 in May directly from Todd Gillenwater, a lobbyist for the California Healthcare Institute who has personally lobbied against the medical device tax.
  • So far in the 2012 cycle, Bilbray has received at least $79,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry (which includes medical device manufacturers). During his career, he has received over $390,000.

Bilbray will say this is all about reducing taxes to create jobs, but donations like this raise questions as to the influence of special interests over his policy decisions. But as Robert Kirsch of the Roosevelt Institute wrote, this tax break would "increase health care costs on middle-class families in order to protect one of the most profitable industries in the country."

The people in his district may wonder how much they would have to pony up to get such preferential treatment.