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Investigations   11.14.2017

Follow The Money: Drug Industry Campaign Contributions

The pharmaceutical industry has reinforced its clout on Capitol Hill with campaign contributions that heavily support incumbents in both parties. That figure came to a total of $62.7 million during the 2016 election cycle, according to the OpenSecrets database.

The largest drug companies lean, in particular, toward the members of Congress with the most power: Party leaders and committee chairmen in both the Senate and House. With Republicans controlling both houses after the 2016 elections, their candidates received slightly higher contributions overall.

For example, the campaign and leadership political action committees of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) received $271,150 in the 2016 election cycle, according to the OpenSecrets database operated by the Center for Responsive Politics. Walden is now the chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee that has broad jurisdiction over healthcare issues.

On the other side of the Capitol building, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, received $673,422 from pharmaceutical and health products industries between 2011 and 2016. The ranking Democrat on the HELP committee, Patty Murray (D-Wash.) received $633,144 during the same time frame.

“Pharmaceutical companies, which develop both over-the-counter and prescription drugs, have been among the biggest political spenders for years,” reported the Center for Responsive Politics.

Of the $62.7 million contributed by pharmaceutical and health-product companies, 54 percent went to Republicans. The funds were split in three roughly equal categories: contributions from political action committees, contributions from individuals, and so-called “soft” money—outside funds which are donated largely outside traditional campaign operations.

Among the top pharmaceutical firms, the biggest contributors in the 2016 campaign cycle were Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Amgen, according to OpenSecrets. Their contribution patterns were consistent and similar to the patterns throughout much of the industry.

Of the $1,370,722 in contributions from Pfizer in the past cycle, 93 percent went to incumbents. Republicans received $871,453, and Democrats took $499,269. The largest recipients were House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, plus four Republican senators who won reelection in 2016: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio (current chair of the Senate Health Subcommittee), Mike Crapo of Idaho and Richard Burr of North Carolina (on Senate HELP committee).

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the only Democrat among the top six recipients, is the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which handles many health-care issues. New Jersey is also heavily populated by drug companies.

Eli Lilly in 2016 spread its nearly $1 million in total largesse among the Senate and House campaign committees in both parties: $30,000 to each. The Indianapolis-based company also has shown support to its local lawmakers. In 2014, its top six recipients of contributions included Democratic Rep. Andre Carson and Republican Reps. Susan Brooks (Energy and Commerce Committee) and Todd Young, all of Indiana. Young, who won an open Senate seat last year, was the top individual recipient of contributions from Lilly employees in 2016. He currently sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee which has jurisdiction over some health issues.

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California-based Amgen, the world’s largest independent biotech firm, in 2016 gave 59 percent of its contributions to Republicans. Of the 10 GOP recipients of at least $10,000, six were members of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and many health-care programs, and two were senior members of Energy and Commerce. The two other Republicans were Californians. The sole House Democrat receiving $10,000 or more was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also of California.

Amgen’s contributions had a similar pattern in 2014. In that election cycle, its top Democratic recipients included Reps. Anna Eshoo of California, who was then the senior Democrat on Energy and Commerce, and James Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

As the company data reveal, pharmaceutical firms have been especially supportive of members of the congressional committees that handle healthcare legislation. In the 2016 election cycle, the 54 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee received a total of $7.5 million in contributions from that industry, of which 62 percent went to Republicans; that was the second-largest industry total, behind “health professionals.”

The pharmaceutical companies also contributed $2.9 million to the 39 members of House Ways and Means (with Republicans taking 71 percent) and $7.5 million to the 26 members of the Senate Finance Committee (of which 64 percent went to Republicans).

Solutions Database

High drug costs: What you can do

By Joey Rettino
  1. AARP advocates for Medicare prescription drug price negotiation and reimportation of medicines. If you are an AARP member, you can send a message to Congress. Share your story.
  2. Patients for Affordable Drugs is an advocacy group that does not accept money from pharmaceutical companies. It is collecting stories about people facing high medication costs. Email them.
  3. PhRMA is the PR and lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies. It is running a campaign it says pushes to lower drug prices. Call them at 202-835-3400.
  4. The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2017 would give the government the ability to bargain with drug manufacturers for Part D medicines. Read the bill. Call your member of Congress.
  5. The Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act would require name brand drug companies to play nice with generic manufacturers. Read the bill. Call your Senator.
  6. The Creating Transparency to Have Drug Rebates Unlocked (C-THRU) Act would require pharmacy benefit manager companies to be transparent about how they handle rebates and where that money goes. Find out more. Call your Senator.
  7. Sen. Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all. You can find out more and volunteer to help his effort on his website if you agree. Volunteer.
  8. Reputable online pharmacies in Canada supply medicines at a steep discount to what Americans normally pay. While technically not legal, Uncle Sam is not prosecuting individuals who do so. Check Canadian prices.

Tarbell is nonpartisan. We do not endorse you taking these actions. But sharing them with you is part of our commitment to helping you find solutions. Email questions to And learn more about these solutions here.