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Big Pharma Doles Out Cash to Key Democrats With Laser Precision

By Victoria Knight, Rachana Pradhan and Elizabeth Lucas at Kaiser Well being Information

The Biden administration and Congress are embroiled in high-stakes haggling over what pressing priorities will make it into the ever-shrinking social spending bill. However for the pharmaceutical business there’s one agenda: Heading off Medicare drug price negotiation, which it considers an existential risk to its enterprise mannequin.

The siren name to include rising drug prices helped catapult Democrats to energy, and the concept is standard amongst voters no matter their politics. But granting Medicare broad authority to intervene in setting costs has nonetheless divided the social gathering.

And so, because it usually does, the drug business gave generously to members of Congress, in keeping with new information from KHN’s Pharma Cash to Congress database. Contributions masking the primary half of this yr present that a few of its greatest donations have been delivered with surgical-strike precision to sympathetic or average Democratic lawmakers the business wants to stay in its nook.

Marketing campaign donations to members of Congress—which should be reported to the Federal Election Fee—are the tip of the iceberg, signaling far better exercise in affect peddling that features spending tens of millions on lobbying actions and promoting campaigns.

Unusually, within the first half of this yr Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been just about neck and neck in pulling in drug business cash, in keeping with a KHN evaluation of marketing campaign contributions. In prior years, Republicans dominated giving from that sector, typically by enormous margins.

Pharmaceutical corporations and their lobbying teams gave roughly $1.6 million to lawmakers in the course of the first six months of 2021, with Republicans accepting $785,000 and Democrats $776,200, the Pharma Cash to Congress database shows. For the reason that 2008 cycle, the business has typically favored Republicans. The exception was 2009-10, the final time Democrats managed each chambers of Congress and the White Home.

Democrats once more narrowly maintain each the Home and Senate, and political scientists and different money-in-politics specialists mentioned the contributions seemingly replicate who’s in energy, which lawmakers face harder reelection bids subsequent yr, and who has outsize sway over laws affecting the business’s backside line.

A number of pharmaceutical corporations paused contributions to Republican lawmakers who voted towards certifying the outcomes of the 2020 election, blunting the GOP’s complete fundraising haul and general business giving in contrast with different years.

“She’s not seen as an extremist, which is the form of one who would sometimes absorb more cash.”

The drug business’s marketing campaign contributions are markedly strategic, mentioned Steven Billet, an affiliate professor on the Graduate Faculty of Political Administration at George Washington College.

“This can be a actually well-organized industrial sector,” Billet mentioned. “If I’m one in all these PACs, I’ve surveyed the panorama on the entrance finish of the method, selected our agenda and funds, and found out who I could possibly get to and who I wouldn’t be capable of get to.”

Of the highest 10 recipients of funding, Republican lawmakers accounted for six; Democrats, 4. Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) acquired probably the most cash of any member of Congress, with $63,900 in contributions within the first half of the yr. Peters, whose San Diego-area district contains a number of drug corporations, has constantly accepted cash from drugmakers since he took workplace in 2013, in keeping with KHN’s database. Proper behind Peters was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who acquired $50,000 from the business within the first six months of 2021. McMorris Rodgers was chosen this yr to be probably the most senior Republican on the Home Vitality and Commerce Committee, which has important affect on pharmaceutical points. Peters sits on the identical committee.

“They’re sometimes going to saturate the committees which are related to their business,” mentioned Nick Penniman, CEO of Subject One, a nonprofit that advocates reforming cash’s affect in politics.

Subsequent in line was Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who accepted $49,300, probably the most of any senator this yr regardless of not dealing with reelection till 2024. The vote of Menendez, a longtime ally of the business, could be essential for Democrats to move any proposal giving the federal government better management over drug costs. The pharmaceutical business is a significant employer in New Jersey, residence to headquarters of behemoths like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi.

Menendez mentioned he’s ready to see the proposal, “which I count on will embrace language to permit Medicare to barter drug costs.”

“The main focus of any proposal should be decreasing affected person prices,” he mentioned, “and that can drive my evaluation.”

Amongst different average Democrats is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), whose vote is also vital to passage. She acquired $108,500 in pharma contributions in 2019-20, in keeping with the KHN database. Nevertheless, within the first half of this yr, she acquired solely $8,000. She has not mentioned publicly the place she stands on the present pricing proposal.

As Billet sees it, the pharmaceutical business knew permitting Medicare to barter drug costs would seemingly be on the desk, and drug corporations shored up members, similar to Peters and Menendez, who’ve sided with them prior to now. Plus, “proper now, the Democrats are driving the practice, and due to that they are going to get a couple of extra contributions,” Billet added.

Peters acquired funds from almost two dozen corporations or business teams, together with Eli Lilly, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Pfizer, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, EMD Serono and Amgen. Menendez’s donors included Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck, Gilead Sciences, Eli Lilly, Teva and Novo Nordisk. A spokesperson for Peters didn’t reply to request for remark.

Controlling drug costs has broad help amongst adults no matter political social gathering, in keeping with polling from KFF (KHN is an editorially unbiased program of KFF). However dealing with business opposition, Democrats have but to agree on a plan as lawmakers weigh which insurance policies make it into an enormous home spending invoice to develop the social security internet and deal with local weather change. Central to the business’s argument is that better authorities intervention in setting costs would hurt new drug growth; nevertheless, drug pricing specialists typically say this argument is overblown. Republicans stay unanimously opposed, which suggests Senate Democrats can’t afford any defections to advance laws.

Fourth in business contributions was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), a freshman lawmaker on the highly effective Senate Finance Committee, which oversees laws pertaining to federal well being applications like Medicare. Cortez Masto acquired $46,000, with money flowing in from corporations like Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt Prescription drugs, the latter of which filed for chapter in 2020 after being swamped with litigation over its alleged function within the opioid disaster. One in every of her latest aides, Eben DuRoss, was employed as a lobbyist this yr by the Pharmaceutical Analysis and Producers of America, or PhRMA, federal disclosures present.

“A number of pharmaceutical corporations paused contributions to Republican lawmakers who voted towards certifying the outcomes of the 2020 election.”

Cortez Masto is up for reelection subsequent yr in a battleground state that’s been aggressive between Republicans and Democrats in latest elections. She was narrowly elected in 2016, and up to date polling confirmed she held a small lead towards her anticipated Republican challenger in 2022, former Nevada legal professional basic Adam Laxalt.

However her contributions dwarf these of different Senate Democrats in shut races. For instance, within the first half of this yr, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who additionally sits on the Senate Finance Committee, reported having accepted $6,000.

Two different lawmakers in aggressive seats, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), didn’t obtain funding from the pharmaceutical sector.

Sarah Bryner, analysis director of OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks cash in politics, famous a number of causes Cortez Masto would pull in more cash. Along with her committee seat and aggressive race, politically she’s extra average than progressive lawmakers who’ve been greater agitators towards the drug business.

“She’s not seen as an extremist, which is the form of one who would sometimes absorb more cash” from political motion committees, Bryner mentioned.

Cortez Masto was additionally a latest previous chair of the Democratic Senatorial Marketing campaign Committee and due to this fact closely concerned within the social gathering’s nationwide fundraising efforts to protect Democrats’ Senate majority. These relationships with company and different donors might be leveraged for her personal race, Bryner mentioned. “When you’ve made all of the relationships, it’s not like they only disappear,” she mentioned.

Nonetheless, the freshman Democrat has openly supported permitting Medicare to barter prescription drug costs, in distinction to Menendez, who voted towards the concept in 2019. The Nevada senator just lately instructed KHN that she “completely” backs the coverage and that the pharma money flowing into her marketing campaign coffers doesn’t affect her choices.

“I’ve already supported it in Finance and truly voted to move laws to do exactly that,” Cortez Masto mentioned. “We have to cut back the well being care prices for thus many on this nation, and that’s what I’m centered on doing, together with lowering prescription drug prices.”

Peters — who unseated a Republican in 2012 — was one in all 4 average Home Democrats who in September voted towards a plan to present Medicare broad authority to barter prescription drug costs. They backed a narrower various that features caps on out-of-pocket spending and limits the scope of Medicare’s negotiating authority to a smaller set of medicines.

The cash Peters and McMorris Rodgers acquired from drugmakers ($63,900 and $50,000, respectively) considerably jumped from the identical intervals in previous cycles. Within the first half of 2019, Peters acquired $19,500, and through those self same quarters in 2017 he acquired $36,000. McMorris Rodgers’ haul for the primary six months of 2019 was $2,500, and two years earlier it was $3,000. Nevertheless, Menendez acquired extra funding within the first half of 2019 ($52,000) than this yr.

“Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) acquired probably the most cash of any member of Congress.”

That some drugmakers—together with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead and Eli Lilly—in addition to PhRMA and the Biotechnology Innovation Group, one other lobbying group for the business, paused contributions to Republicans after the occasions of Jan. 6 appears at the very least partially to account for general pharma contributions dropping compared with different years. Within the first half of 2019 drugmakers gave $3.7 million, and within the first half of 2017 they gave about $4.4 million, versus 2021’s $1.6 million.

Nevertheless, different drug firm PACs and their business teams saved up contributions or didn’t void checks they’d issued to those that refused to certify the election outcomes, in keeping with a KHN evaluation of the FEC information.

They embrace Merck, Novo Nordisk, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Genentech, Boehringer Ingelheim, Amgen, Teva, EMD Serono and the Affiliation for Accessible Medicines, which all gave $1,000 or extra to at the very least one of many 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election outcomes.

Direct contributions to lawmakers’ political accounts are just one approach for the business to channel money to Congress. Corporations additionally give cash to commerce associations and 501(C)(4)s, that are nonprofits that usually perform as “darkish cash” teams as a result of they aren’t required to reveal their donors.

“We all know that they’re giving; they didn’t cease giving. Their giving went underground,” mentioned Carlos Holguin, analysis director for the Heart for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that tracks cash in politics.

Teams additionally funnel cash into promoting—in September, PhRMA announced a seven-figure advert marketing campaign opposing Democrats’ drug pricing plan—or into advocacy groups from which it might finally trickle all the way down to political candidates.

One other issue? Hail Mary covid-19 vaccines, developed and distributed in document time, which will have shored up goodwill with lawmakers. Or that, regardless of all the things lawmakers have mentioned about decreasing drug prices, the business suspects drug pricing laws will stall as soon as once more and don’t wish to spend their political capital on the difficulty.

“I feel, frankly, drugmakers know they’ve received the match in the case of drug pricing. This entire query of the price of prescribed drugs, it has come up for actually a long time now they usually have efficiently shut it down, yr after yr,” Penniman mentioned. “At a sure level, they know they’ve pushed the nail far sufficient within the wooden they usually don’t have to do rather more.”

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is likely one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.

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