Open Secrets: The pharmaceutical industry’s largest trade association gave millions of dollars in grants to a number of conservative groups that pushed industry-friendly policies to the Trump administration and congressional lawmakers, new tax returns obtained by OpenSecrets reveal.
The influential Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the most powerful drug companies in the country, is already one of the top lobbying spenders. But the group also extends its reach to influential conservative groups that are aligned with drugmakers against controls on drug prices.
Among its top recipients was the American Action Network, which received $2.5 million last year. The conservative “dark money” group, which took in $10 million from PhRMA since 2016, has consistently advocated policies favored by drugmakers.
In August, the American Action Network announced a $2.5 million ad campaign to fight “socialist” price controls in Medicare Part D, a proposal strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. In June, the group announced a $3 million ad campaign to support President Donald Trump’s proposed drug rebate rule that favored pharmaceutical companies over insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. The Trump administration pulled the proposal in July.
Among other conservative groups PhRMA gave to last year are Consumer Action for a Strong Economy ($170,000), FreedomWorks ($100,000), Taxpayers Protection Alliance ($65,000), Institute for Policy Innovation ($35,000) and the Competitive Enterprise Institute ($25,000). Each of those groups signed on to a November 2018 letter opposing the Trump administration’s proposed rule to create price controls for drugs administered under Medicare Part B.
Numerous conservative groups that received funding from the pharmaceutical industry ran ads urging Trump not to embrace “socialist” price controls. FreedomWorks has run digital ads urging the rejection of “the socialist rate-setting scheme” and is fighting for PhRMA-favored provisions in Trump’s proposed trade deal. The conservative Heritage Action for America, which received $37,500 from PhRMA last year, ran ads urging members of Congress to reject the price control measure, also adopting the “socialist” branding.
The Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage, which received $725,000 from PhRMA between 2017 and 2018, took part in a July meeting with White House officials to push back on drug price controls.
PhRMA has consistently lobbied against price controls on drugs, a proposal that would deal serious damage to major drugmakers’ profits. The Trump administration insists it wants to lower drug prices, but its plans face strong opposition from conservative groups and Republican allies in Congress.
During a July Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug pricing bills, all but one Republican voted for an amendment that would prohibit the Trump administration from implementing one of its key goals, an international price index to set drug costs. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), once a supporter of a similar price control model, voted for the amendment and told reporters the pharmaceutical industry had “better ideas.”
In a statement provided with the group’s tax returns, PhRMA spokeswoman Holly Campbell said the industry faced “a number of challenging issues with significant ramifications for the future of biopharmaceutical innovation” in 2018.
“PhRMA used its resources to advance practical policy solutions that will lower medicine costs for patients,” Campbell said, adding that the group “worked to oppose harmful proposals that threaten patient access to treatment and hinder the development of new medicines.”
The trade group’s strategy of funding conservative forces isn’t new. In 2017, PhRMA gave millions to conservative groups, including $2.5 million to pro-Trump “dark money” group America First Policies, OpenSecrets reported.
The American Conservative Union, which received $150,000 from PhRMA in 2017, has also come out against industry-opposed measures, urging lawmakers not to adopt “socalist policies” that would cap the price of some drugs.
These conservative groups are naturally aligned with the pharmaceutical industry on such issues. But PhRMA has also given to influential organizations that might not have the same incentives to back drugmakers.
This summer, the National Sheriff’s Association, which represents thousands of elected sheriffs, ran a six-figure television ad campaign urging Trump to reject proposals opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, OpenSecrets reported. Specifically, the group tried to argue that allowing the importation of generic prescription drugs from Canada presented a safety risk.
Bloomberg later revealed that the cash-strapped trade group received at least $900,000 in grants from the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a nonprofit funded by PhRMA.
PhRMA’s 2018 tax returns reveal that it gave more than $8.5 million to the Addiction Policy Forum and an affiliated group, organizations that aim to fight the opioid epidemic. The group announced last year it would accept funding from PhRMA, which drew controversy from addiction advocates. The group gave nearly $14.5 million to the RX Abuse Leadership Initiative, which is working with law enforcement to fight the opioid epidemic.
The group chipped in $175,000 to RetireSafe, a GOP-linked seniors group that opposes House Democrats’ drug pricing package.
In addition to giving to conservative groups, PhRMA gave more than $1.4 million to Center Forward and $50,000 to Third Way Foundation, organizations that push center-left policies, underscoring the drug industry’s widespread attempts to influence policy.
PhRMA brought in a record $459 million in revenue last year, up slightly from its 2017 haul. Drugmakers are facing tremendous pressure from Washington lawmakers as they fight drug pricing proposals from congressional Democrats and the Trump administration. That’s while also pushing for an industry-friendly trade deal, handling the ramifications of the opioid crisis, combating state-level efforts to reduce drug prices and preparing for Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals to take on the pharmaceutical industry.