How the Pharmaceutical Industry Bought Its Way Into Congress’ Heart

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This Time article by Karen Tumulty and Michael Scherer is a must-read. Some key graphs:

[I]n the first six months of this year alone, drug and biotech companies and their trade associations spent more than $110 million — that’s about $609,000 a day — to influence lawmakers, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics. The drug industry’s legion of registered lobbyists numbers 1,228, or 2.3 for every member of Congress. And its campaign contributions to current members of Waxman’s committee have totaled $2.6 million over the past three years.

The return on that investment has been considerable, both in the House and in the Senate. “We’ve done very well,” says lobbyist Jim Greenwood, a former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania who was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and now heads the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). “We carried a majority of the Democrats and a majority of the Republicans in each of the committees, and by very clear margins.”

Despite promises to reign in lobbyists, Congress and the White House have done little to affect the actual situation on the ground. The Obama administration has laid the ground work for what could be a promising new system for lobbying disclosure in their limited lurches at the lobbyist complex in Washington — requiring disclosure of lobbyist contacts for bailout and stimulus funds. The current lobbyist disclosure system, however, does not seek to help the public or affect K Street, but instead is aimed at providing lawmakers with an up-to-date list of the people who keep calling their offices. Earlier this year, I wrote about the need for lobbyist contact disclosure. Here are some key graphs from that post to think about when you’re reading the Time article on pharmaceutical lobbying:

Debate over previous lobbying regulation bills (the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946, the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007) acknowledged that the disclosure by lobbyists is not only due to the potential for corrupting activity, but because they serve an important role and their existence needs to be revealed, not only to the public, but for lawmakers and officials to better understand with whom they are meeting. In fact, the general thrust of the debate during consideration of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 surrounded the need for lawmakers to be informed of who they are meeting and discussing policy. While this has served the legislative need to know the bias of a caller, it has not served the public interest nor has it helped the factions and interests that hire lobbyists to better police each other.

…The reason why the disclosure of contacts is important is not because we are worried that lobbyists are engaging in a quid-pro-quo but because of associational bias. In her legal essay, St. John’s University law professor Anita Krishnakumar explains that, “…[T]he public perceives that lobbyists receive special face time with elected officials. Irrespective of where that face time occurs — in scheduled meetings, on a train ride, over a game of power, or on the golf course — it creates opportunities for lobbyists to persuade elected officials of their clients’ positions, opportunities that ordinary citizens do not have. In other words, the public’s concern is not just that elected officials will engage in blatant vote-selling to lobbyists, but, more subtly, that they will be partial to the causes of lobbyists’ clients because they spend a lot of time in lobbyists’ company.”

The disclosure of lobbying contacts provides not only the public with a better view of which interests and factions are trying to influence outcomes, but it also provides a chance for those same interests and factions to view the actions of their opposition. If union officials are putting a full court press over the Employee Free Choice Act, business groups will be able to see which lawmakers they are targeting and can prepare a better response. Groups can help educate the public on which lawmakers are more supportive of their causes, or if they are in opposition. And some lawmakers, exposed by the sunlight, may find it in their interest to meet with more groups to not only provide a more bipartisan public record, but to also gain insight from a more diverse group of interests.

The need for a better system of lobbying disclosure, that increases registration and disclosure, is necessary to provide the public, interests and lawmakers with the information that actually matters and to provide the professional legitimacy that the lobbying industry needs.

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  • John Thacker

    “The Obama administration has laid the ground work for what could be a promising new system for lobbying disclosure in their limited lurches at the lobbyist complex in Washington — requiring disclosure of lobbyist contacts for bailout and stimulus funds.”

    Then why was it the Obama Administration that negotiated a deal with PhRMA whereby the health reform wouldn’t hurt pharamceutical interests (and would make them more money instead) in return for PhRMA supporting reform and not lobbying or running ads against it?

    There are a lot of ways to get power in DC, and money is but one. And the more DC controls the economy, the more success will depend on lobbying and having friends in Washington, whether you’re Goldman Sachs, an auto company, or pharmaceutical companies.