Drug Lobby Showers Cash on Harry Reid

July 7, 2010

No scalp would be as treasured by Republicans this fall as that of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And no incumbent is receiving as much air support from the drug industry as is Reid, who championed a health care bill that pads drug company profits.

by Timothy P. Carney
Washington Examiner 

The drug lobby has begun a pro-Reid TV blitz in his home state of Nevada. One ad praises Reid for saving jobs and for understanding that “good jobs with good benefits [mean] a better future.” The narrator then instructs viewers to “call Harry Reid today; tell him to keep fighting for Nevada families.”

But “Nevada families” didn’t pay for the ad. The drug lobby did. And while the TV spot makes only passing reference to the health care bill passed in March, there’s no doubt this ad buy — and the rest of the drug industry’s generosity toward Harry Reid — is a big thank you for the corporate-welfare “reform” bill that Reid shepherded through the Senate.

Flash back one year to last July, when Democratic congressmen going home for the Independence Day recess began to hear from their constituents about Obamacare, with the result that “reform” was threatened. That’s when top drug lobbyist Billy Tauzin came to the rescue.

Tauzin was president of the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the largest single-industry lobbying organization in the country. He was also formerly public enemy No. 1 for the Obama campaign, which had held him up as the poster boy for Washington’s revolving door and “game playing.”

Last July, Tauzin visited the White House twice (and who knows how many meetings he had at nearby coffee shops?) and hashed out a deal on health care. As the Los Angeles Times first reported, Tauzin pledged to support Obamacare if the White House would keep its hands off the government favors the drug industry was already receiving. In addition, Democrats loaded up the bill with plenty more drug company goodies including subsidies, mandates and unprecedented 12-year, government-enforced monopolies on complex drugs.

In the end, PhRMA shaped “reform” as it wanted, and the group ran millions of dollars of ads supporting the bill. Reid passed it. Now PhRMA is doing heavy lifting for Reid, whose approval ratings are in the 30s.

Beyond the PhRMA-funded sappy TV spots, there are plenty more signs of the industry’s affection for Reid.

Right after Tauzin’s July 22, 2009, West Wing visit, for instance, drug industry political action committees began pumping cash into Reid’s endangered campaign.

Tauzin visited the West Wing on a Wednesday, and Eli Lilly’s $5,000 PAC check reached Reid on Friday. The following Monday, Reid got two $5,000 PAC checks: one from PhRMA and another from the nation’s largest drug maker, Pfizer. Within a week, drug giants Merck and Astra-Zeneca had ponied up, too. That’s at least $23,000 in pharmaceutical PAC money in 10 days.

When the bill became law in March, PhRMA, Pfizer, Lilly, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and other drug PACs all ponied up again.

Reid has received $154,000 from Pharma PACs as of May 30, making him the No. 2 recipient behind Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., whose base is in the Research Triangle. Reid is the only politician to get the maximum $10,000 contribution from PhRMA as of the end of May. He’s also the only senator to get the max from Eli Lilly’s PAC. The health sector is Reid’s prime source of PAC funds: half a million dollars already — and that doesn’t count the TV buys.

Reid’s lobbyist-bundlers (his volunteer fundraisers from K Street) also come from Big Pharma. Paul DiNino is a lobbyist at Cornerstone Government Affairs, which represents PhRMA, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis. DiNino also raised $23,950 for Reid last year alone.

Tony Podesta represents Amgen and Genzyme, and he has bundled at least $78,400 for Reid. William Singer, a Pfizer lobbyist, clocked $39,750 for Reid last year. DLA Piper — the K Street firm that cut ties with Republican former House Majority Leader Dick Armey because of his opposition to Obamacare — has a PAC that has raised at least $26,400 for Reid.

Reid this fall will likely follow Obama’s lead, and falsely paint himself as the scourge of the special interests — all on the drug lobby’s dime. 

Timothy P. Carney writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.  Read more at The Washington Examiner.  The pharmaceutical industry has paid more than $7 billion to settle dozens of criminal and civil cases since 2004.