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Health care interests donate to Speaker’s term-limits campaign

As the Capitol debate intensifies over California’s health care system, key players are pouring money into a campaign backed by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to ease term limits. The latest donation, $35,000, came Wednesday from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the well-heeled pharmaceutical coalition made up of some of the world’s largest prescription drug makers.

California hospitals contributed $100,000, the optometrists donated $150,000 and the dentists gave $25,000, according to financial disclosure records at the secretary of state. Blue Cross of California donated $50,000, and a long-term care workers union affiliated with SEIU also donated $50,000.

Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for the speaker, said the contributions had no impact on the speaker’s health-care policies. “The speaker has a firewall between policy and contributions,” Maviglio said, adding that one of the donors, Blue Cross, had been sharply criticized by the speaker earlier in the week.

Though united now on the term limits issue, SEIU and PhRMA clashed at the ballot box in 2005, when the drug manufacturers spend $80 million to defeat a measure that would have set price controls on prescription drugs.

Some $2.2 million has been raised in donations of $5,000 or more during the past 10 weeks to change the term limits that voters approved in 1990 for lawmakers and statewide constitutional officers. Under current law, statewide officials are limited to two, four-year terms and legislators are limited to three, two-year terms in the Assembly and two, four-year terms in the Senate. The law allows a person to serve a total of 14 years in the Legislature.

The speaker’s plan would cut the maximum time to 12 years, but it would allow a lawmaker to serve the entire time in one house. A detailed report on the donations to the committee, officially called the Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform, will be available by the end of the month.

The donations from health-care interests come at a critical point, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers attempt to reach agreement on extending California’s health care coverage to millions of uninsured people. Last year, the Republican governor vetoed legislation authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, that would have set up a government-run, universal health care system known as “single payer.” Two years before, voters repealed a bill passed by the Legislature that would have required most businesses to provide health care to their workers.

PhRMA donors include $44,000 each from the pharmaceutical corporations Pfizer, Novartis, Mereck, Abbott, Amgen, Eli Lilly and Astellas.

In 2005, PhRMA spent some $80 million to defeat an effort to allow the importation into California of low-cost drugs.

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