An Investment in Their Future

Karen Tumulty and Micheal Scherer of Time have a very important article out looking at the influence of the drug industry in  the American political process as our current debate over healthcare unfolds.

To begin with the sheer number of the drug industry's registered lobbyists is mind-boggling. They number 1,228, or 2.3 for every member of Congress. And the drug industry's campaign contributions to current members of the Henry Waxman chaired Energy and Commerce committee have totaled $2.6 million over the past three years. But what's most stunning is this: in the first six months of this year alone, drug and biotech companies and their trade associations have spent more than $110 million -- that's $609,000 a day -- to influence our elected representatives.

Judging by the euphoria, that investment in their future seems to be paying off.

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."

The Time article is also remarkable in that it sheds light on competing interests of different healthcare-related lobbies and on the growing influence of the biotech industry. The Time piece looks at the battle over how much legal protection to give the manufacturers of a class of drug products known as biologics, drugs produced from living matter. Biologics are very expensive to produce and the biotech industry argued that they should be afforded 12 years of "data protection." That's seven years longer than the five that traditional pharmaceutical developers currently receive.

On the other side of the coin were the generic drug producers who were allied with the AARP, labor unions, insurance companies, health-maintenance organizations and health-reform advocacy groups, each for various reasons but generally under the realm of cost containment.

It should come as no surprise that the biotech lobbying group, the  Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which spent $7.6 million in its lobbying efforts in 2008 has so far come out ahead of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association which only spent $1.9 million in lobbying Congress in 2008. It should also be noted that it is Anna Eshoo, a liberal Democrat from bio-tech rich Palo Alto, who is leading the charge to protect the biotech industry. It should also be noted that the largest contributor to Representative Eshoo's campaigns is the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Makes you wonder whose side she is on?

Tags: healthcare reform, lobbying, Money and Politics, Representative Anna Eshoo, US Pharmaceutical Industry, US Politics (all tags)

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