Republicans reaped nearly $3.3 million in federal political contributions from the medtech industry in the 2017-18 election cycle, compared with $1.85 million for Democrats, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group.
Medtech has “historically been a little more Republican than the average industry,” said Andrew Mayersohn, political action committees researcher at the center, which runs the opensecrets.org website. Indeed, Republicans pulled in more than $4.6 million in contributions in the 2015-16 election cycle, compared with $2.85 million for Democrats.
Federal law prohibits corporations from making political contributions, but individuals and political action committees (PACs) associated with corporations tend to contribute to members of Congress who represent the district or state where that company is located, Mayersohn added. The center’s data also revealed that medtech executives, employees, immediate family members and PACs contributed to members of Congressional committees that influence policy affecting the industry, such as the medical device tax.
None of the companies associated with contributions to House or Senate candidates or organizations would comment for this story. Nor would national trade groups AdvaMed and the Medical Device Manufacturers Assn. The heads of Massachusetts-based MassMEDIC and Minnesota’s Medical Alley trade groups declined to comment on specific Congressional races, but spoke generally about industry goals.
“Repealing the medical device tax permanently remains the top priority for the entire medical device industry,” said Brian Johnson, president of MassMEDIC and co-founder and former Medical Design & Outsourcing publisher. “Most of our members will probably be defined as purple, rather than red or blue. We want to work with both sides of the aisle and really what we want is stable leadership that won’t interfere with business.”
That’s what any CEO wants from Washington, Johnson continued. “Predictability is the most important thing for businesses,” he said. “To the extent that government can be predictable, that’s what our members would hope for.”
Medical Alley recently formed a political action committee, but it only contributes to candidates running for in-state offices and to state-based organizations, according to president & CEO Shaye Mandle. The trade group is in regular touch with the Minnesota Congressional delegation, most recently about tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and about tax policy.
“The industry broadly tends to support candidates who are supportive of the industry,” Mandle said.
Half of the top 20 medtech corporate contributors gave more than 50% of their donations to Republican candidates and organizations in the 2017-18 election cycle as of Sept. 24, according to data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics. Others were more even-handed, with just a handful targeting most of their money at Democrats.
Privately held Starkey Hearing Technologies (Eden Prairie, Minn.) topped the list at $880,810 in donations. Republican candidates received $411,700 and Republican committees got $357,700 from individuals at Starkey. Democratic committees and the Democratic PAC Follow the Northstar Fund pulled in a total of $118,000 from Starkey executives and employees, while U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) received $1,410. Starkey CEO William Austin and his wife, Tani Austin (Starkey’s chief of philanthropy) together contributed $619,718, mostly to Republicans.
Starkey was 19th on the list in 2015-16, with contributions of $135,678 — 99% going to Republicans. Topping the list during that cycle with $1 million in contributions (all to outside spending groups) was Puerto Rico-based home and hospital delivery company Clinical Medical Services. The Center for Responsive Politics includes medical device companies and medical supply companies in the same category.
In 2017-18, Medtronic came in second, divvying up its $511,902 more evenly, with 52% going to Democrats and 47% to Republicans. Unlike Starkey, most contributions originating within Medtronic came from PACs. Among candidates, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) logged $40,574 from the within the company, and Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) received $10,250. Paulsen is co-chair of the House Medical Technology Caucus and chief sponsor of bills to repeal the medical device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Medtronic’s donors gave members of the House Ways and Means Committee a total of $77,250 and Energy and Commerce Committee members, $63,631. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (which deals with medtech issues) landed $28,662 and its Finance Committee members received, $26,591.
In third place overall for 2017-18, Boston Scientific people and PACs donated $ 476,343, with most going to Republicans. Nearly $358,000 of that total came from PACs within the company, while individual contributions accounted for $105,600 and the rest was listed as soft money.
Recipients of Boston Scientific’s political largesse included the National Republican Senatorial Committee (including $14,950 from senior vice president of global government affairs Brenda Becker) followed by $11,500 to Paulsen and $10,400 each to retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)
Medtronic and Boston Scientific came in second and third in terms of contributions in 2015-16, followed by wound-healing company Kinetic Concepts (San Antonio, Texas) and patient monitoring company Masimo (Irvine, Calif.). Medtronic’s contributions were more evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, while 75% coming from within Boston Scientific went to Republicans. Nearly 92% of Masimo contributions went to Democrats.
In the current election cycle, individuals and PACs associated with Masimo gave 76% of their $304,504 total contributions to Democrats. Of that total, $186,300 came from individuals associated with the company. Like most other medtech companies looking to ensure their business interests are known, Masimo’s PAC gave to Republicans as well, including $5,000 each to Paulsen and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) Massie sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and its Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Masimo also contributed $5,000 each to Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Todd Young (Ind.), both members of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Indiana is also home to several medtech companies, including Zimmer Biomet and Cook Medical. Hatch is retiring, but analysts from the Cook Political Report and 270 to Win consider his seat safe for a Republican win.
Among all House and Senate candidates, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) came out on top in terms of medtech contributions in 2017-18 with $86,709, followed by Young with $50,750. Casey’s district includes power wheelchair and scooter manufacturer Pride Mobility Products, listed with $204,691 in donations, mostly from individuals. In the House, a dozen Republicans topped the list of candidates receiving medtech money, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) at $83,000, followed by Paulsen with $79,950. Walden chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
All of the Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are expected to win, according to analysts. A couple of Republican seats on that committee may flip, however. Orange County, California’s Mimi Walters, a strong supporter of President Trump, has a challenger in consumer advocate and University of California Irvine law professor Katie Porter. Redistricting in Pennsylvania has made it likely that the seat held by Republican Ryan Costello will flip to the Democrats. Costello chose not to seek re-election, citing the “political environment” as his reason.
On the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the seats of Democrats Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Casey are all considered safe. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is considered likely to retain her seat, and Minnesota’s Smith’s seat is leaning Democratic, analysts said. Hatch’s seat on the committee is the only one held by a Republican that is up for grabs in November.
(See more on medtech’s political contributions here.)