Conservative Democrats' dark money-funded rural voter project has everything to do with sinking Medicare for All

Conservative Democrats' dark money-funded rural voter project has everything to do with sinking Medicare for All
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (Minot Air Force Base).

Two conservative former Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have launched the One Country Project, a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization that aims to attract rural voters to the Democratic Party. However, according to Maplight’s Andrew Perez, working in partnership with The Intercept, the organization is also a “dark money” group, using the two former lawmakers to push an anti-Medicare-for-all agenda.


Perez found that “the One Country Project’s website is registered to an executive at Forbes Tate Partners, a lobbying and public relations firm founded by former Clinton administration officials.” Forbes Tate Partners is leading lobbying efforts for Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), which, according to Maplight, is a “health industry-backed nonprofit created to crush momentum for a comprehensive universal health care system.”

Heitkamp had previous ties to Forbes Tate Partners, hiring a subsidiary called Columbia Campaign Group for polling and media campaign consulting for her 2018 Senate bid. Her former chief of staff, Tessa Gould, is now a partner there. The Heitkamp campaign, Perez reports, paid Gould $35,000 for consulting in March, part of the over $6 million the campaign had left over from a last-minute infusion of donations after Heitkamp declined to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Heitkamp railed against Medicare-for-all in a May op-ed for The Washington Post, writing that “polling indicates that most Americans are satisfied with the health care they receive and do not want their coverage options taken away and replaced with a one-size-fits-all government program.” Both Heitkamp and Donnelly campaigned against such a proposal in their reelection bids, and both lost to Republicans.

Two conservative former Democratic senators, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have launched the One Country Project, a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization that aims to attract rural voters to the Democratic Party. However, according to Maplight’s Andrew Perez, working in partnership with The Intercept, the organization is also a “dark money” group, using the two former lawmakers to push an anti-Medicare-for-all agenda.

Perez found that “the One Country Project’s website is registered to an executive at Forbes Tate Partners, a lobbying and public relations firm founded by former Clinton administration officials.” Forbes Tate Partners is leading lobbying efforts for Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), which, according to Maplight, is a “health industry-backed nonprofit created to crush momentum for a comprehensive universal health care system.”

Heitkamp had previous ties to Forbes Tate Partners, hiring a subsidiary called Columbia Campaign Group for polling and media campaign consulting for her 2018 Senate bid. Her former chief of staff, Tessa Gould, is now a partner there. The Heitkamp campaign, Perez reports, paid Gould $35,000 for consulting in March, part of the over $6 million the campaign had left over from a last-minute infusion of donations after Heitkamp declined to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Heitkamp railed against Medicare-for-all in a May op-ed for The Washington Post, writing that “polling indicates that most Americans are satisfied with the health care they receive and do not want their coverage options taken away and replaced with a one-size-fits-all government program.” Both Heitkamp and Donnelly campaigned against such a proposal in their reelection bids, and both lost to Republicans.

Before Donnelly left the Senate, he told CNN’s Dana Bash that “when you talk Medicare-for-all … you start losing the people in my state.” He added, “When we start talking about, ‘Hey, we’re going to work together with the insurance companies to lower premiums,’ that’s what connects.”

In addition to his work with the One Country Project, Donnelly joined lobbying Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, which also has ties to anti-Medicare-for-All efforts through its lobbying for health care industry clients, who have also donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

According to reporting by Alex Kotch in Sludge, “Vic Fazio, a senior advisor at lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and former California Democratic congressman, has raised nearly $130,000 for the DCCC this year. He has lobbied for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a PAHCF member and the nation’s largest pharmaceutical trade association.”

Support for broader health coverage is growing among Americans, though they remain divided on terminology, and on whether to abolish private insurance. According to an April 2019 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 56% of Americans support a national health plan or Medicare-for-all.

“Yet,” the KFF report continues, “how politicians discuss these different proposals does affect public support.” The poll found 63% of respondents said they support Medicare-for-All or universal coverage, while 59% say they support a national health plan, and 46% support socialized medicine. The most common theme, researchers report, “is a desire for universal coverage.”

A February poll from The Hill-HarrisX found that just 13% of respondents favored a health care system controlled entirely by the government with no private insurance and 32% of respondents favored universal coverage, operated by the government, that still included room for supplemental private insurance. Another 26% want a public option that doesn’t compete with private insurance.

Mostly, there’s a lot of confusion. As Mohamed Younis, editor-in-chief of Gallup, told The Hill TV’s Krystal Ball, “Folks are clearly saying the system is still sort of broken to some degree, but there isn’t a lot of consensus around how to fix it in one way or another.”

Neither Heitkamp nor Donnelly responded to Maplight’s requests for comment.

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