Trump blamed drug prices on campaign cash … so even more flowed in – Daily News

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By Sydney Lupkin and Elizabeth Lucas

“The cost of medicine in this country is outrageous,” President Donald Trump said at a rally in Louisville, Ky., two months after his inauguration. He went on about how identical pills have vastly lower price tags in Europe.

“You know why?” the president asked, before spreading his hands wide. “Campaign contributions, who knows. But somebody is getting very rich.”

It was March 20, 2017.

The next day, drugmakers donated more money to political campaigns than they had on any other day in 2017 so far, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of campaign spending in the first half of the year reported in Federal Election Commission filings.

Eight pharmaceutical political action committees made 134 contributions, spread over 77 politicians, on March 21. They spent $279,400 in all, showering Republicans and Democrats in both legislative bodies with campaign cash, according to FEC filings. The second-highest one-day contribution tally was $203,500, on June 20.

Brendan Fischer, who directs election reform programs at the Campaign Legal Center, said he found the timing of the contributions interesting: “I think it’s entirely possible that the drug companies sought to curry favor with members of Congress in order to head off any sort of potential attack on their industry by the press or by the federal government.”

During the Louisville rally, Trump also promised to lower drug prices, and pharmaceutical stocks tumbled afterward.

Although drug industry PACs have different structures and protocols, they are equipped to mobilize quickly to disperse funds to legislators.

“Writing a check doesn’t require much beyond putting pen to paper,” Fischer said.

FEC records show Merck’s PAC led the way that day, donating $148,000 to 60 candidates on March 21. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) received three maximum contributions to his various PACs from the drugmaker, totaling $15,000. Behind him with $7,500 was Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee.

Photo courtesy Kaiser Health News

Merck spokeswoman Claire Gillepsie said the contributions were “not tied to specific events.”

“Decisions on contributions are made at the beginning of a cycle and are approved by a contributions committee,” she said. A White House official referred requests for comment to the presidential campaign, which did not respond.

Companies may donate funds or lobby ahead of impending legislative issues and executive orders, or thprescription ey may react to something a politician says.

“Presidents get a lot of attention to what they say,” said former congressman Lee Hamilton, who founded the Indiana University Center on Representative Government after three decades in the House of Representatives. “[Companies] have to react to that and defend the drug prices.”

Overall, FEC records show Merck spent $242,500 on campaign contributions and $3.7 million on lobbying in the first half of 2017.

The drugmaker, which makes diabetes pill Januvia, cancer drug Keytruda and shingles vaccine Zostavax, responded to outrage over drug prices earlier this year by revealing on its website that the average list prices of its drugs increased from 7.4 percent to 10.5 percent each year since 2010. Merck said discounts and rebates also increased, meaning it took home less money. But Thomson Reuters pointed out that the price increases outpaced inflation.

FEC records don’t indicate why a company donated to a politician or what that contribution led to, but when House Democrats accused Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) of failing to schedule a hearing on prescription drug price hikes in 2015, The Intercept pointed out that the pharmaceutical industry had been among Chaffetz’s top campaign contributors.

“The cost of medicine in this country is outrageous.”

President Donald Trump, at a rally in Louisville, Ky.

Associated Press photo
Associated Press photo

Pharmaceutical lobbying dollars have also swelled in 2017, Kaiser Health News previously reported. In their disclosures, drug companies listed tax reform and drug pricing among issues on which they lobbied Congress.

March 21 was also the date of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual fundraising dinner, featuring Trump as keynote speaker. The event, which raises money for House Republicans, drew a record-breaking $30 million from a variety of industries, the NRCC reported.

But on that day, drugmakers also gave generously to Democrats and senators, according to FEC filings.

Pfizer and Novo Nordisk PACs donated $76,900 and $38,500 on March 21, respectively, to several dozen candidates on March 21, according to their filings. Five additional pharmaceutical PACs spent between $1,000 and $5,000 on contributions that day.

The companies say the timing was coincidental. A Novo Nordisk spokesman said the March 21 contributions from its PAC had been scheduled in advance “and in no way were tied to any specific statement.

Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said it takes three to four weeks to orchestrate and approve a PAC contribution.

“Pfizer’s political contributions to candidates and elected officials from both parties are led by two guiding principles — preserve and further the incentives for innovation, and protect and expand access to medicines and vaccines for the patients we serve,” Castillo said.



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