The Doctor’s Advocate | First Quarter 2016
Government Relations Report
The 2016 Election Is in Full Swing
Political activity is vital to our mission of advancing, protecting, and rewarding the practice of good medicine. Our top priority in every election cycle is to elect public officials who will support and protect medical liability reform.
Medical liability reform benefits everyone in the community, by protecting the practitioners of good medicine and by promoting widespread access to healthcare through stabilizing the cost of medical liability insurance. Stable premiums enable our members to maintain a full range of high-quality services and allow them to continue offering services to underserved populations.
Helping candidates who agree with our views on medical professional liability (MPL) reform (or who are at least open to our perspective) get elected or re-elected is a much more effective long-term strategy than relying entirely on changing votes on a particular piece of legislation. We support candidates with funding from The Doctors Company’s political action committees, or DOCPACs. Our members should know how that works.
How Do Candidates Use Campaign Contributions?
Many people mistakenly believe that political campaign contributions are used to buy votes or to personally enrich candidates. The reality is that, by law, campaign contributions cannot be made on a quid pro quo basis. A political contribution may not be explicitly contingent upon a particular outcome, such as a vote on a piece of legislation, and it cannot be used for personal expenses (for example, to buy a house or a car). Instead, candidates must use the funds for their election campaigns.
Campaigns can be prohibitively expensive. Funds are used to buy advertisements on television and radio, send mail to voters, and operate field, ground, and social media campaigns. Additionally, campaigns hire operatives, consultants, and fundraisers to advise on the most effective messaging and tactics for reaching voters. It is all about getting votes, which requires an enormous expenditure.
For example, a relatively inexpensive campaign for a state legislative race in a small district with a relatively low-cost media market will still cost $250,000 or more. On the other end of the spectrum, some political pundits have speculated that spending in California’s upcoming U.S. Senate race could top $1 billion.
The most expensive Congressional House of Representatives election in 2014 was between incumbent Representative Ami Bera, MD, and former Representative Doug Ose in California. In all, $24 million was spent on this single election. Representative Dr. Bera narrowly prevailed in a hard-fought race, garnering 50.4 percent of the vote. With a total of 183,587 votes cast, about $130 was spent per voter. Members of the House of Representatives run for re-election every two years—which means that an average of $32,500 needs to be raised during every single day of the two-year fundraising period!
All of the effort and expense the candidates expend is in the quest for citizens’ votes on election day. Every vote counts.
How Does DOCPAC Decide Whom to Support?
In order to maximize the impact of our spending on political campaigns, we consider how to allocate PAC contributions strategically. The candidate’s support for, or openness to, protecting and advancing medical liability reform is a critical factor, but it is not the only consideration.
Other important factors are:
- Viability and electability.
- Leadership roles.
- Interests and committee assignments.
We seek support from candidates representing both political parties. The best outcome in any legislative environment is a bipartisan coalition of legislators that supports MPL reform.
Part of gaining support from candidates and gauging their openness to medical liability reform measures involves education. Many would-be legislators begin with little knowledge of medical liability reform. We actively engage candidates early in the election process, directly and through coalition building with other organizations, such as the Health Coalition on Liability and Access, Californians Allied for Patient Protection, and state and national medical societies. We educate them on our issues and work hard to support candidates who understand the nexus of MPL reform and access to healthcare. Our government relations staff and our contracted state and federal lobbyists accomplish this by:
- Conducting candidate interviews.
- Hosting fundraisers and meet-and-greet events.
- Participating in independent expenditure campaigns.
Our membership’s participation is vital. Each year many members contribute by writing personal checks directly to candidates’ campaigns, attending events, speaking to candidates directly, and even personally hosting events. Here are examples of member participation:
U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz, MD, an emergency medicine physician representing California’s 36th Congressional District in the Palm Desert area, attended a meet-and-greet hosted by DOCPAC in his district: “I really enjoyed meeting my colleagues and constituents to share our ideas about how to improve access to quality healthcare in the region.”
Dr. Debra Johnson, a Sacramento plastic surgeon, attended several events cohosted by DOCPAC: “The opportunities DOCPAC has provided me to meet with legislators of both parties has been gratifying. It’s essential for physicians to engage our elected officials. Both incumbents and challengers appreciate doctors taking the time to discuss our issues with them and helping them develop a greater understanding of practicing medicine in today’s environment.”
Last November, Siobhan Dunnavant, MD, FACOG, a member in Richmond, Virginia, went a step further and ran for the Virginia State Senate. Senator Dr. Dunnavant won with support from the local medical community, our government relations staff, and DOCPAC. “I am honored to represent the medical community in the senate. It was wonderful to have the support of DOCPAC and my colleagues for my campaign,” Dr. Dunnavant said after the election.
In 2014, our DOCPACs supported 448 candidates for state and federal office. Of those, 417 won their races. We value the support you give to our PACs. You make it possible for us to help reform-minded candidates succeed.
The Doctors Company has worked relentlessly for 40 years to achieve a better balance between the rights of plaintiffs and defendants and to ensure that the legal system is fair to physicians and patients. This protects the practice of good medicine and safeguards patient access to quality healthcare.