Checkbook politics

Over the last seven years, the pharmaceutical industry has given $150 million in campaign contributions

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The pharmaceutical and health products industry has given nearly $150 million to federal and state candidates and parties, along with some political non-profits, in the last four election cycles, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance records provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Institute on Money in State Politics. Sixty-five percent, or almost $100 million, went to Republicans.

Employees and political action committees representing the industry gave nearly $87 million to federal candidates. In the last election cycle, in which the industry gave more than $17 million to federal candidates, President Bush was the top recipient of money from drug interests—receiving more than $1 million.

At the federal level, the industry's political donations peaked in the 2002 cycle. That was the last election before the so-called soft money was banned by the McCain-Feingold law. Soft money—which at the time could be given without limit by corporations, individuals or unions—accounted for two-thirds of that total. Twelve pharmaceutical companies contributed more than a million dollars in that cycle. The industry trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, contributed another $3.5 million. In comparison, just two companies donated more than a million in the last election cycle.

It is no surprise that the largest companies are the top contributors. Pfizer gave the most for the 2004 election cycle, donating $1.6 million to federal candidates and political parties. Other top contributors were GlaxoSmithKline ($1.1 million) and Eli Lilly (just under $1 million).

Since the year 2000, the top pharmaceutical companies and the industry's trade group, PhRMA, have also funneled more than $10 million to so-called 527 organizations, tax-exempt political committees that operate in the grey area between federal and state campaign finance laws. These organizations, which register with the Internal Revenue Service, not the Federal Election Commission, played a huge role in the last election, with both Republican-leaning and Democratic-leaning groups playing a pivotal role in raising and spending money in the wake of the soft money ban.

Pfizer, PhRMA and GlaxoSmithKline are among the top 20 non-union interest group donors to 527 groups in the 2004 cycle, according to the Center for Public Integrity's comprehensive study of 527 organizations.

In the states, the industry gave more than $45 million to candidates since 1998, $13 million of which was in 2004.

In California, the industry donated close to $6.5 million to state politicians. According to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger received more than $325,000 in campaign contributions. In the first three months of 2004, the pharmaceutical industry spent around $1 million lobbying the governor and the state legislature.

In 2004, candidates in New York, the home state of Pfizer, the world's largest drug company, received nearly $1.5 million from the pharmaceutical industry. Pfizer contributed $213,633 of that money.

In New Jersey, a state where four of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies are headquartered—including Schering-Plough, Wyeth, and Merck &Co.—candidates for the state legislature received $863,624 for 2003, the last state-wide election year.

For federal campaign contributions, the Center used research by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, based in Washington, D.C. The analysis on state political donations was based on numbers from the Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Montana, which tracks campaign finance at the state level.