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Health Insurers Gave $86.2M to Chamber of Commerce in 2009, Report Says

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Updated at 5:20 p.m. ET with a statement from AHIP

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the biggest detractors of President Obama's health care overhaul, was largely funded by a single donation from health insurers last year, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

Tax records disclosed this week showed that the Chamber, a business lobbying group, received a donation of $86.2 million from a single group in 2009. The Chamber is not required to disclose its donors, but unnamed sources told Bloomberg that the money came from America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an industry trade group that represents companies like Cigna and UnitedHealth Group.

AHIP's donation accounted for more than 40 percent of the contributions the Chamber received in 2009, which totaled $205.4 million. The Chamber and its combined affiliates had revenues of $261.1 million in 2009.

Tom Collamore, senior vice president of communications for the Chamber, told Hotsheet that the business group strongly backs the privacy of its member companies and would not confirm that the donation came from AHIP. However, Collamore said the contributions it received supported the Chamber's "efforts to advance a market-based health care system and advocate for fundamental reform that would improve access to quality care while lowering costs for all Americans."

The Chamber used the money for public opinion polling, nationwide grassroots mobilization, national advertising, media outreach and other efforts related to advancing its agenda on health care reform.

AHIP spokesperson Robert Zirkelbach said in a statement to the Hotsheet that AHIP chose to invest in advocacy in 2009 to try and preserve the employer-based health care system, ensure those who like their coverage can keep it and reduce medical costs.

"While the new law helps millions of people obtain coverage, it fails to bend the health care cost curve," he said.

Meanwhile, the group ChamberWatch, a watchdog group formed by labor unions, railed against the Chamber for doing the bidding of one industry.

"With a single, breathtakingly large check, the U.S. Chamber has given up the right to call themselves the voice of American business; they are the voice of the insurance industry," Christy Setzer of ChamberWatch said in a statement.

As the debate over health care reform began last year, the health insurance industry initially cooperated with Mr. Obama to try to bring down health care costs. However, at the height of the intense partisan debate that erupted in August of 2009 over health care reform, the partnership between Democrats and the industry broke down. Insurance companies began urging their employees and customers to oppose the reforms, while Democrats began casting the industry as the enemy.

The $86.2 million donation the Chamber reportedly received from AHIP was made in August, Bloomberg reports.

That month, the Chamber was in the middle of its campaign against the Democrats' plan, running ads such as this one, which warned of "tax increases, swelling deficits [and] government control."

The campaign against the reforms continued after Mr. Obama signed them into law in March of 2010.

Opponents of the overhaul have spent $108 million since then to advertise against it, the New York Times recently reported -- six times more than supporters have spent.

And amid split public opinion over whether the bill should be repealed, Republicans are putting together a strategy to roll back the reforms.

Meanwhile, the White House and the Chamber signaled today they are ready to mend their rocky relationship.

In a speech this morning, Chamber CEO and President Tom Donohue said he is ready and willing to work with Mr. Obama, the New York Times reports.

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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