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Big Pharma, Having Long Favored Republicans, Now Splits Donations Equally

Oct 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

After a decade of placing the bulk of their financial backing with Republicans, many in the health care industry are now evenly splitting contributions between Republicans and Democrats. Lobbyists and industry executives say the change is a result of Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, expecting to increase their majorities, and possibly winning the White House, all of which will strengthen their voice on health policy.  “There’s a new world order,” said Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Drug companies’ profits now rely heavily on government decisions, and leading Democrats have offered proposals to further expand the public sector’s role in financing and delivering health care.  In the past, Congressional Democrats severely criticized drug makers and health insurance companies, with Republicans working closely with them on many issues, and stopping countless proposals for stricter regulation.  But, according to data reported by Pfizer, Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, other companies, and trade associations, an emerging trend in campaign contributions indicates a shift in power.  For instance, in the 2008 election cycle, pharmaceutical companies, including their employees and political action committees, donated $20 million to federal candidates and the parties—49 percent to Democrats and 51 percent to Republicans—according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that tracks campaign finance.  The last time a split such as this was seen was in 1990.

Fred P. DuVal, Democratic Governors Association treasurer and a government relations consultant explained, “Parity between the parties is now the operating principle for many corporate political action committees in the health care industry.  That’s a sea change.” DuVal’s clients include Pfizer and Aetna.  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, leading pharmaceutical industry campaign contributors in 2007-8 have been Pfizer, Amgen, and Johnson & Johnson and all three heavily favored Republicans in the last four election cycles.  Today, each company is splitting their funding between both parties.  “People in the pharmaceutical industry have not suddenly changed their spots,” said Representative Pete Stark, California Democrat and House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health chairman. “They understand who will be writing legislation in the next few years.  They want to be at the table,” he added.

Republican party presidential nominee, Senator John McCain has taken a nonparty stand toward the industry and many feel this may be a factor.  McCain supported legislation to allow the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to obtain lower Medicare beneficiary pricing, something industry strenuously opposes; wants to permit prescription drug imports from Canada and other countries; has defied brand name drug makers by pushing legislation to hasten approval of lower-cost generics; and has backed legislation to codify patients’ rights, a bill strongly opposed by insurers and President Bush.  While many in the health care industry praise Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, for his commitment to cover the uninsured, drug makers and insurers worry that his policies could lead to a larger federal role.

Drug companies say they do not coordinate their campaign contributions; however, their lobbyists and fundraisers do meet periodically.


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