Pharmaceutical companies have been among the biggest political spenders for years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. As Mike Ludwig of Truthout reported, based on CRP data, large pharmaceutical companies made over $51 million in campaign donations during the 2012 presidential election, nearly $32 million in the 2014 elections, and, as of September 2015, they had already put $10 million into the 2016 election. During the 2014 elections, Pfizer led drug companies with $1.5 million in federal campaign donations, followed by Amgen ($1.3 million) and McKesson ($1.1 million).
Although these are large sums of money, campaign donations by large pharmaceutical companies pale in comparison to how much they spent on lobbying politicians and influencing policies outside of elections. As Ludwig reported, according to data gathered on the 2014 election, the industry spent seven dollars on lobbying for every dollar spent on the election. The $229 million spent by drug companies and their lobbying groups that year was down from a peak of $273 million in 2009, the year that Congress debated the Affordable Care Act.
According to records from MapLight’s lobbying database, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has been the drug companies’ lead lobbying group. Since 2008, PhRMA has spend over $163 million on lobbying, making it the fifth largest lobbying spender in the nation, outspending powerful defense contractors (such as Boeing and Northrop Grumman), the oil and gas industry (e.g., ExxonMobil), and Koch Industries, among others. Pfizer is among the nation’s top 25 lobbying spenders, having spent over $101 million since 2008 and $9.4 million in 2015 alone.
What do big pharmaceutical companies hope to achieve through lobbying? As Ludwig wrote, “lobbying allows Big Pharma to take advantage of Washington’s revolving door and directly influence legislation.” Specifically, records filed by drug companies and their lobbying groups indicated the industry’s top concerns, including policy on patents and trademarks, management of Medicare and Medicaid, and international trade. For example, Ludwig’s article described how the pharmaceutical industry sought to persuade the Obama administration to pressure India to tighten its laws on generic drugs. India’s less strict patent laws have allowed some manufacturers to make generic versions of drugs used in developing countries to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, undermining the monopolies created by US patent laws that permit drug companies up to twenty years before generic versions of their drug, which would drive down prices, can enter the market. Pharmaceutical lobbyists also consistently lobby to prevent Medicare from negotiating drug prices. Pharmaceutical lobbyists also consistently lobby to prevent Medicare from negotiating drug prices. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders advocated on behalf of Medicare price negotiations during their 2016 presidential campaigns. A PhRMA press release dramatically said that Clinton’s proposed plan would “turn back the clock on medical innovation and halt progress against diseases that patients fear most.”
Since Ludwig’s September 2015 report, updated records published by the Center for Responsive Politics indicate that the 2016 campaign has followed the pattern of past election seasons. As of May 16, 2016, Pfizer had made $1.27 million in campaign contributions (with 64 percent going to Republican candidates) in 2015–16, followed by Amgen (over $939,000, with 60 percent to Republicans) and Celgene (over $848,000, with nearly 90 percent to Republican or “Conservative” candidates). Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America made over $242,000 in campaign donations, nearly 75 percent of which has gone to Republican candidates.
As in previous years, the pharmaceutical industry’s investment in lobbying has dramatically outpaced its campaign contributions. Based on data from the Senate Office of Public Records, as of April 25, 2016, PhRMA had spent over $5.98 million on lobbying in 2016, followed by Pfizer ($3.28 million), Merck ($3.26 million), and Novartis (over $3.13 million). Collectively, pharmaceutical and health product lobbying for the first months of 2016 (through April 25) totaled over $63.1 million.
As Ludwig wrote, the pharmaceutical industry includes some of the most profitable companies in the world, and the industry has “a clear interest in maintaining the political status quo.” While representatives of the industry assure the public that profits go to the research and development of new drugs, a closer examination of Big Pharma’s spending on political contributions and, especially, lobbying reveals that it spends hundreds of millions of dollars to influence US politics, health care policy, and international trade.
Although the cost of prescription drugs has been a major issue in the 2016 presidential election campaign, corporate news coverage has failed to report the extent to which the pharmaceutical industry engages in political lobbying. Apart from articles published by CNN and US News & World Report, which both drew on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, drug companies’ campaign donations have received limited news coverage. Also citing the Center for Responsive Politics, a February 2016 article in the New York Times briefly mentioned the amount spent by the pharmaceutical industry on lobbying. Otherwise, this topic appears to have gone significantly underreported, despite the corporate news media’s nonstop coverage of the 2016 electoral campaign.
Mike Ludwig, “How Much of Big Pharma’s Massive Profits are Used to Influence Politicians?” Truthout, September 30, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/33010-how-much-of-big-pharma-s-massive-profits-are-used-to-influence-politicians.
Student Researcher: Harrison Hartman (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Debora Paterniti (Sonoma State University)