Once upon a time, Erik Paulsen was but a lawmaker on the prairie.
In 2001 the GOP state representative from Eden Prairie talked like a political special interest crime fighter.
"We must act to negate the very perception that special interest money controls the way our government is run," said Paulsen, who was speaking about candidates accepting money from political action committees.
Now in his third term in Congress, representing a district that curls from Bloomington west to Mound and north to Rogers, Paulsen has officially become the thing he used to despise.
He's a special interest tool.
Two years ago, Paulsen introduced a bill to kill the Medical Device Tax, a 2.3 percent hit on various equipment from MRIs to rubber surgical gloves that's a key part of funding Obamacare. Revenues from the tax are projected to be about $25 billion over 10 years.
Opponents have long argued for the toll's death based on industry job losses. Paulsen, along with Minnesota Democratic Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, has said the tax has forced employers to cut thousands of jobs with loss projections running as high as 40,000.
A report that came out earlier this year from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), however, concluded the tax's effects on jobs and medical device firms are "relatively modest." The CRS estimated that between 47 and 1,200 workers could be put out of work due to the tax.
Moreover, Paulsen's bill provides no replacement revenue if the tax is repealed.
Paulsen was the number-one recipient in all of Congress in campaign contributions from the medical supply sector last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that tracks money in politics. The industry gave him almost $100,000; finishing a distant second was Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) with $60,000.
In 2012 Paulsen was again the undisputed taking-campaign-cash-from-medical-supplies champion. Paulsen's nearly $120,000 crushed second place finisher Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) by close to $30,000.
When asked by a reporter in 2013 if campaign contributions from the medical supply industry played any role in his opposition to the medical device tax, Paulsen replied, "No, none whatsoever."
The House is expected to pass Paulsen's measure in the coming days then send it on to the Senate.
As coincidence would have it, Paulsen's grandstanding pushback to the tax began about the same time the industry's money trail found its way into his campaign coffers. CRP data shows the sector was a bottom dweller among the Republican's list of financial supporters in 2010.
Two years later when Paulsen came out against the Obamacare-related tax, the congressman was in the throes of a fundraising cycle that would see him benefit from the sector to the tune of close to $220,000.
Paulsen, the once-idealistic buck who a lifetime ago rallied against money's corruption of politics, may currently be more beholden to his special interest leash holders than ever before.
According to his first-quarter filing with the Federal Election Commission, Paulsen contributors have gifted the epic political disappointment more than $400,000.
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