Even as Democratic presidential candidates continue to push proposals like Medicare-for-all that scare the health care industry, donors linked to Big Pharma and related sectors continue to pour money into their coffers.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., leads his rivals with $237,934 in campaign contributions from individuals linked to the pharmaceuticals and health products industries, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
The amount is just a fraction compared to his $19.1 million third-quarter campaign haul.
Buttigieg is followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders with $180,454 and former Vice President Joe Biden with $149,728. President Trump's campaign weighed in with $122,592, although adding in pharmaceutical-health products industry-related donors' contributions to outside groups supporting him bumps the president up to number one.
Buttigieg, Sanders and Biden represent very different approaches to national health care policy. Sanders touts his background as the architect of Medicare for all, which would eliminate private health insurance, while Buttigieg has distanced himself from his previous support for Medicare-for-all.
Meanwhile, Biden is focused on strengthening the Affordable Care Act, which passed while he was Barack Obama's number two.
Harsh headlines for Buttigieg
Buttigieg has faced some skepticism for his Medicare-for-all about-face and connections to the pharmaceutical industry.
Media outlets like HuffPost and Sludge published headlines including "A Pharmaceutical Industry Executive Hosted A Fundraiser For Pete Buttigieg" and "As He Attacks Medicare for All, Mayor Pete Gets Campaign Cash From Health Care Executives" in October.
Buttigieg campaign spokesman Sean Savett pushed back against any narrative that Buttigieg was cozy with "Big Pharma."
He "sued pharmaceutical companies over their culpability in the opioid crisis as mayor and will hold them accountable for price-gouging through his Affordable Medicine for All plan by penalizing those companies that refuse to negotiate with Medicare for lower prices and that raise prices by more than the rate of inflation — as well as taking away patents from the worst offenders who engage in the worst elements of price gouging," Savett told FOX Business.
The Buttigieg camp also denies that the mayor ever voiced unequivocal support for today's interpretation of Medicare-for-all after he tweeted the following in response to a request that he express support for such a platform in 2018:
"I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All, as I do favor any measure that would help get all Americans covered."
Buttigieg has said Democrats need to pull out all the stops to beat President Trump.
Big Pharma and Big Oil
Democratic candidates including Warren and Andrew Yang have tried to separate themselves from money in the fossil fuel industry.
In addition, former Texas lawmaker Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the race last week, said in April he was returning a check from a Chevron lobbyist — for a mere $250.
Liz Hempowicz of the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight said she sees similarities between Big Pharma and Big Oil.
“We put pharmaceutical companies up there with extractive industries in terms of areas that use dollars to impact policies — not necessarily politics, but policymaking,” Hempowicz told FOX Business.
Yang spokesman S.Y. Lee highlighted the candidate's pledge to not accept corporate PAC money or donations from fossil fuel, defense, and gun manufacturer executives when asked about the roughly $60,000 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical industry-linked donors.
"Money is currently clogging the pipes of our democracy, and we need to get rid of it to return the power in our democracy to our people," Lee said.
Sanders spokeswoman Belen Sisa said that the campaign returns all donations made by health care executives.
"The people in the health care industry giving to Bernie are nurses, doctors, anesthesiologists and other health care professionals," Sisa told FOX Business. "It's no surprise the working Americans who interact with patients every day know that health care is a human right and that in the richest country in the history of the world no one should die or be in massive debt because they can't afford the care they need,"
The Center for Responsive Politics' list of pharmaceutical/medical equipment-linked donations to 2020 campaigns was compiled according to Federal Election Commission data released electronically on Oct. 16.
This post has been updated with a statement from the Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns.