Screengrab from American Action Network Breakthroughs Ad – Captured via YouTube
The top drug company lobby group has given millions of dollars to prominent “dark money” groups who have passed industry-friendly messages to lawmakers and voters for 2020.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America raised nearly $ 527 million and spent approximately $ 506 million last year, according to new tax filings from OpenSecrets. That’s a record for the organization funded by the world’s most powerful pharmaceutical companies.
The trade association made its largest political donation in 2019 – $ 4.5 million – to the American Action Network, a dark money group that supports the House Republicans. The conservative nonprofit and its pharmaceutical donor despise proposals to regulate the price of prescription drugs.
The same year it received the PhRMA donation, the American Action Network launched several multi-million dollar advertising campaigns against President Donald Trump’s proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. That year, the group launched multi-million dollar advertising campaigns against the House Democratic bill to lower drug prices and ads promoting at-risk Republicans who supported an alternative bill that was seen as much friendlier for drug makers .
The alliance between drug manufacturers and GOP groups is not new. PhRMA has contributed $ 14.6 million to the American Action Network since 2016. During this time, the American Action Network made an important contribution to GOP issues. During the 2020 electoral cycle, $ 26.4 million was given to the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican’s top super PAC that helped get several freshly baked Democrats off the field.
In several major races in 2020, the American Action Network battled a democratic group that was also funded by drug manufacturers. PhRMA gave nearly $ 1.6 million to Center Forward, a dark money group that teams up with moderate Blue Dog Democrats, last year. This nonprofit provided most of the funding for an allied super PAC that spent $ 3.3 million in support of the House Democrats. The pharmaceutical industry-backed GOP and Democratic groups faced each other in several major House races, including a highly competitive New York race that won only a handful of votes.
Late last year, when Congress was debating drug price bills, Center Forward flew House employees to San Francisco to meet with drug company executives. The board members of the non-profit organization also advocated pharmaceutical interests. Republicans in Congress are the vocal opponents of government efforts to regulate drug prices – a measure that would hurt drug manufacturers’ profits – but the Blue Dog Democrats also pushed back more aggressive proposals to lower drug prices.
Drug maker bankroll groups bring Trump to industry talks
Prominent drug makers have spent much of 2020 developing vaccines to fight COVID-19, and the threat from drug pricing legislation in Congress has subsided in the face of the pandemic. But Trump has continued to push drug industry action on prescription drugs.
PhRMA used creative tactics to convince Trump not to keep his campaign promise to aggressively lower drug prices. During the Trump era, the trade association funded conservative groups that have access to the president.
The American Conservative Union, which hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, received $ 150,000 from PhRMA in 2019. Led by Trump’s ally and corporate lobbyist Matt Schlapp, the conservative nonprofit launched the Coalition Against Socialized Medicine late last year to oppose efforts to regulate drug prices and make proposals for pay-in health care.
Almost all members of the coalition have received funding from drug manufacturers in the past two years. Big Pharma’s trading group gave American Commitment $ 505,000, Americans $ 78,500 for a balanced budget, and last year alone $ 60,000 for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance launched a six-digit advertising campaign last month aimed at killing the “surprising” medical billing laws and calling them a “handout” for large insurance companies.
New tax returns also show that the drug manufacturers’ trade group donated $ 200,000 to the National Sheriffs Association, a nonprofit that represents thousands of law enforcement officers. The group launched a six-digit advertising campaign last year warning of Trump’s proposal to import drugs from abroad, a move bitterly opposed by drug manufacturers. These ads were specifically aimed at Trump, who aired on his favorite Fox News programs in Washington, DC.
Trump finally approved a plan to import drugs from Canada in September, but the scope was limited. He also went on with a rule that would allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of drugs based on the price paid by foreign governments, another measure that is firmly opposed by drug manufacturers.
Although Trump has pushed action against the industry, his GOP allies in Congress have not made drug pricing legislation a priority. Republican lawmakers and their aides regularly receive opinion pieces and advertising campaigns from conservative groups urging them to oppose “socialist price controls”.
Republicans ran political ads in 2020 reflecting the talking points of key healthcare industry players. Super-PACs, in line with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Attacked Democrats for their support for a public health insurance option, a proposal that could hurt drug makers’ profits. Those advertisements cited a study by the Partnership For America’s Health Care Future, a conglomerate of insurers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies that received $ 300,000 from PhRMA last year.
Long-standing pharmaceutical ally receives a seven-figure gift upon retirement
One of PhRMA’s biggest gifts for 2019 was a $ 2 million donation to the Orrin Hatch Foundation, a think tank and research library founded by former Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The trading group gave the foundation $ 140,000 between 2017 and 2018.
Hatch, who retired in January 2019, was known as the “man on the hill” of the pharmaceutical industry at the end of his 42-year tenure. Hatch was involved in shaping the current laws regulating generics and opposed measures to restrict the monopoly protection of drug manufacturers. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch was seen as the main obstacle to changes in drug prices proposed by Democrats and Trump.
The pharmaceutical and health products industry has donated $ 2.8 million to the Hatch Campaign Committee since 1998, more than any member of Congress who did not run for president. When Hatch faced a major challenge in 2012, PhRMA gave a Super-PAC $ 750,000 to help drive its re-election campaign.
During Hatch’s final years in office, his allies reportedly asked drug companies and K Street lobbyists for donations to help fund the Orrin Hatch Foundation. In 2018, the foundation invited large companies, including the pharmaceutical giant Merck, to a fundraising campaign in a luxury mountain resort.
While the foundation will serve as a library to catalog Hatch’s government service and provide civic education, it has also published policy reports on pressing issues. The most recent report looks at how lawmakers can “develop meaningful solutions to both promote innovative biologics and contain skyrocketing drug prices”.
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Karl joined the Center for Responsive Politics in October 2018. As a CRP reporter for money in politics, he writes and edits articles for the news section and helps lead a team of hardworking writers. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Karl graduated from the State University of New York in New Paltz in 2016 with a BA in Journalism. He previously worked for The Globe, a regional newspaper based in Worthington, Minnesota. His email is [email protected]