Big Pharma Delivered Campaign Cash to Key Lawmakers With Surgical Precision

Congress and the Biden administration are locked in high-stakes negotiations about which priorities will be included on the ever-shrinking Social Spending Bill. The pharmaceutical industry has a single agenda: It wants to stop Medicare drug price negotiations, which it considers a threat to its business model.

Democrats were able to win power thanks to the siren call to control rising drug prices. This idea is popular with voters, regardless of their political views. However, the party has been divided by the fact that Medicare was given broad authority to set prices.

According to new data, the drug industry gave generously, as it does every day, to members of Congress. KHN’s Pharma Cash to Congress database. The industry needs to continue to be in its corner, as contributions from the first half of the year show that some of its largest donations were made with surgical-strike precision.

Campaign donations to members of Congress — which must be reported to the Federal Election Commission — are the tip of the iceberg, signaling far greater activity in influence peddling that includes spending millions on lobbying activities and advertising campaigns.

According to a report, it was unusual for Republicans and Democrats to be virtually tied in the first half this year in securing drug industry money. KHNAnalyse of campaign contributions. In previous years, Republicans had a dominating role in this sector’s giving, often by large margins.

In the first six months 2021, $1.6 million was donated to lawmakers by pharmaceutical companies and lobbying groups. Republicans received $785,000 while Democrats received $776,000. the Pharma Cash to Congress database shows. The industry has favored Republicans since the 2008 cycle. 2009-10 was the exception, when Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress.

Democrats again narrowly hold both the House and Senate, and political scientists and other money-in-politics experts said the contributions likely reflect who is in power, which lawmakers face tougher reelection bids next year, and who has outsize sway over legislation affecting the industry’s bottom line.

Several pharmaceutical companies paused contributions to Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election, blunting the GOP’s total fundraising haul and overall industry giving compared with other years.

The drug industry’s campaign contributions are markedly strategic, said Steven BilletAssociate Professor at the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University

“This is a really well-organized commercial sector,” Billet said. “If I’m one of these PACs, I’ve surveyed the landscape at the front end of the process, decided on our agenda and budget, and figured out who I may be able to get to and who I wouldn’t be able to get to.”

Six out of the top 10 recipients were Republican lawmakers, while four were Democrats. Rep. Scott PetersWith $63,900 in contributions during the first half of 2013, Senator (D-Calif.), received the most money of any member. Since 2013, Peters, whose San Diego-area District includes multiple drug companies has accepted money from drugmakers consistently, according to KHN’s database. Peters was followed closely by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington. She received $50,000 in industry support during the first six months 2021. McMorris rodgers was selected this year as the most senior Republican to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee has significant influence on pharmaceutical matters. Peters also serves on the same committee.

“They’re typically going to saturate the committees that are relevant to their industry,” said Nick Penniman, CEO of Issue One, a nonprofit that advocates reforming money’s influence in politics.

Next up was Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who accepted $49,000. This is the highest amount of any senator, even though he does not face reelection until 2024. Democrats would need Menendez’s vote to pass any proposal that gives the government more control over drug prices. Menendez is a longstanding ally of the industry. The pharmaceutical industry is a major employer in New Jersey, home to headquarters of behemoths like Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi.

Menendez said he’s waiting to see the proposal, “which I expect will include language to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.”

“The focus of any proposal must be lowering patient costs,” he said, “and that will drive my analysis.”

Sen. Kyrsten Silena (D-Ariz.), who is a moderate Democratic, is one of the key to passage. According to the, she received $108,500 in pharma donations in 2019-20. KHNDatabase. She received $8,000. However, this was only the first half. She has not yet made it public about her current pricing position.

Billet believes that the pharmaceutical industry knew that Medicare would negotiate drug prices, so drug companies bolstered members Peters and Menendez who have sided in the past. Plus, “right now, the Democrats are driving the train, and because of that they’re going to get a few more contributions,” Billet added.

Peters received funds almost from two dozen companies or industry associations, including Eli Lilly and Takeda Pharmaceutical, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline (EMD Serono), Amgen, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck. Menendez’s donors included Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck, Gilead Sciences, Eli Lilly, Teva and Novo Nordisk. Peters spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the, adults support controlling drug prices regardless of political affiliation. pollingKFF (KHNKFF has an independent editorial program. However, Democrats are still unable to reach an agreement with the industry as lawmakers weigh which policies should be included in a massive domestic spending bill that will expand the social safety net and address climate changes. Central to the industry’s argument is that greater government intervention in setting prices would harm new drug development; however, drug pricing experts generally say this argument is overblown. Republicans remain unanimously opposed, which means Senate Democrats can’t afford any defections to advance legislation.

Fourth place in industry contributions was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto(D-Nev.), a new lawmaker on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. This committee oversees legislation that affects federal health programs such as Medicare. Cortez Masto received $46,000, with cash flowing in from companies like Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, the latter of which filed for bankruptcy in 2020 after being swamped with litigation over its alleged role in the opioid crisis. Eben Dross, one of her aides, was hired this year by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Federal disclosures reveal that.

Cortez Masto is up for reelection next year in a battleground state that’s been competitive between Republicans and Democrats in recent elections. Recent elections have narrowly endorsed her election in 2016. pollingShe showed a slight lead over her expected Republican challenger in 2022: former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt.

Her contributions are far greater than those of Senate Democrats in close races. For example, in this year’s first half, Sen. Maggie Hassan(D-N.H.), who is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee, reported that he had accepted $6,000.

Two other lawmakers are in competitive seats Sen. Raphael Warnock(D-Ga. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), didn’t receive funding from the pharmaceutical sector.

Sarah BrynerOpenSecrets, an organization that tracks money in politics and research, said Cortez Masto would be more successful if she had several reasons. In addition to her committee seat and competitive race, politically she’s more moderate than progressive lawmakers who have been bigger agitators against the drug industry.

“She’s not seen as an extremist, which is the kind of person who would typically take in more money” from political action committees, Bryner said.

Cortez Masto was also a recent past chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and therefore heavily involved in the party’s national fundraising efforts to preserve Democrats’ Senate majority. Bryner stated that those relationships with corporate and other donors could potentially be leveraged for her race. “Once you’ve made all the relationships, it’s not like they just disappear,” she said.

The freshman Democrat remains. has openly supportedMenendez, who voted against this idea in 2019, argued for Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs. Recently, the Nevada senator said KHN that she “absolutely” backs the policy and that the pharma cash flowing into her campaign coffers doesn’t influence her decisions.

“I’ve already supported it in Finance and actually voted to pass legislation to do just that,” Cortez Masto said. “We need to reduce the health care costs for so many in this country, and that’s what I’m focused on doing, including reducing prescription drug costs.”

Peters — who unseated a Republican in 2012 — was one of four moderate House Democrats who in September voted against a plan to give Medicare broad authority to negotiate prescription drug prices. They backed a narrower alternative that includes caps on out-of-pocket spending and limits the scope of Medicare’s negotiating authority to a smaller set of medications.

The amounts Peters and McMorris rodgers received from drugmakers ($63,000.00 and $50,000, respectively) was significantly higher than the same periods in previous cycles. Peters was paid $19,500 in the first half 2019 and $36,000 in the same quarters of 2017. McMorris Rodgers’ haul for the first six months of 2019 was $2,500, and two years earlier it was $3,000. Menendez received $52,000 more funding in the first six months of 2019, compared to $3,000.

That some drugmakers — including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead and Eli Lilly — as well as PhRMA and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, another lobbying group for the industry, paused contributions to Republicans after the events of Jan. 6It is possible that overall pharma contributions have dropped in comparison to other years, at least in part. In the first half of 2019 drugmakers gave $3.7 million, and in the first half of 2017 they gave about $4.4 million, versus 2021’s $1.6 million.

However, other drug company PACs and their industry groups kept up contributions or failed to void checks they’d issued to those who refused to certify the election results, according to a KHNAnalysis of the FEC data.

These include Merck, Novo Nordisk and GlaxoSmithKline as well as Genentech, Genentech, AstraZeneca and Genentech. Amgen, Teva, EMD Serono, and the Association for Accessible Medicines. They all donated $1,000 or more to at most one of the recipients. 147 RepublicansWho voted to reverse the election results.

Direct contributions to lawmakers’ political accounts are only one way for the industry to channel cash to Congress. Companies also give money to trade associations and 501(C)(4)s, which are nonprofits that often function as “dark money” groups because they are not required to disclose their donors.

“We know that they’re giving; they didn’t stop giving. Their giving went underground,” said Carlos Holguin, research director for Center for Political Accountability (a non-profit that tracks money in politics).

Groups also funnel money into advertising — in September, PhRMA announced a seven-figure ad campaign opposing Democrats’ drug pricing plan — or into advocacy groupsIt could eventually trickle down to politicians.

Another factor? Hail Mary covid-19 vaccines were developed and distributed in record-breaking time. This may have helped to build goodwill with lawmakers. Or that, despite everything lawmakers have said about lowering drug costs, the industry suspects drug pricing legislation will stall once again and don’t want to spend their political capital on the issue.

“I think, frankly, drugmakers know they’ve won the match when it comes to drug pricing. This whole question of the cost of pharmaceuticals, it has come up for literally decades now and they have successfully shut it down, year after year,” Penniman said. “At a certain point, they know they have driven the nail far enough in the wood and they don’t need to do much more.”