Pharma cash rolls into Congress to defend an embattled industry
In the heat of the most ferocious battle over drug prices in years, pharmaceutical companies are showering U.S. senators with campaign cash as sweeping legislation heads toward the floor. A new Kaiser Health News database tracks campaign donations from drugmakers over the past 10 years. In the first six months of this year alone, political action committees run by employees of drug companies and their trade groups have given the 30 senators expected to run for reelection nearly $845,000, the latest update to Kaiser Health News' "Pharma Cash to Congress" database shows. That hefty sum stands out with Election Day more than 14 months away. Lowering drug prices is one of the rare causes that has united Democrats and Republicans, and at least one proposal that would change the way the industry does business could get a vote in Congress this year. One of the most promising and aggressive updates would cap drug prices under Medicare so they do not outpace inflation. The number of big contributions and the lawmakers receiving them signal the industry is building loyalty as voters push candidates to talk about drug prices in the 2020 elections. For the drug industry, the stakes are high. "If the Senate flips" to Democrats, "then PhRMA's probably going to have to double its budget," said Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official who has tracked political money for decades, referring to the industry's biggest lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Most of the biggest donations in the first half of 2019 have gone to Republicans, who control the Senate and tend to be more reluctant to restrict drugmakers. And even those who do not serve on committees that oversee the industry or represent states with significant industry ties have benefited from drugmaker cash this year.