In the summer of 2008, the three largest unions of government employees and a collection of left-wing organizations including ACORN, MoveOn.org, the Center for American Progress, Alliance for a Just Society, and USAction announced the creation of Health Care for America Now—a political pressure group with a single goal: to pass the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The group had a $40 million budget, primarily to be used for political ads and organizing. At their launch event that July they unveiled their initial $1.5 million ad purchase. “We began the campaign by attacking the insurance industry as the chief villain in the story,” the group summarized in its online history. “This message mobilized the progressive base and moved people in the ‘middle’.”
It was Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation created by Duty Free Shoppers Group co-founder Chuck Feeney, that made all of this activity possible. Atlantic launched the Health Care for America Now coalition with a 2007 grant, and put a total of $26.5 million into the cause over a two-year period. This direct intervention in political action was made easier by the fact that Atlantic is headquartered in Bermuda, freeing it from the federal prohibition on lobbying by U.S. foundations.
In the end, the Affordable Care Act passed without a single vote to spare in the U.S. Senate. Absent the investment by Atlantic Philanthropies, noted the Huffington Post and other observers, it is unlikely the legislation would have taken effect. And the Atlantic-financed campaign didn’t end with passage of the legislation.
“Once the bill became law,” explains HCAN’s online history, the group “fought back hard against the ACA-attacks in a myriad of ways. Working with unions like AFSCME and SEIU and our field partners, HCAN broadened its ‘which side are you on’ organizing around Obamacare to protecting Medicare and Medicaid and calling for wealthy Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.” Once it exhausted its funds, HCAN finally closed down as an organization.
- HCAN history, healthcareforamericanow.org/about-us/mission-history
- Profile of Atlantic Philanthropies then-director Gara LaMarche in Chapter 3, Agenda Setting: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Influencing Public Policy (The Philanthropy Roundtable, 2015)