Investments in health-care companies by Trump’s nominee for health secretary raise both ethical and legal questions.
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Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) bucked his party in voting against allowing importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. (Sipa via AP Images) BY: NIV SULTAN Last week, the Senate voted down an amendment to allow importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Most Republicans voted no; most Democrats voted yes. One who bucked his party, though, was New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D), the on-the-rise progressive who's been mentioned as a possible contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. As a result, multiple outlets have commented on the contributions that Booker, who represents the state that is the traditional manufacturing hub for drugmakers, and other no-voting Democrats have received from pharmaceutical companies. But because there were also 12 Republicans who went against party lines by voting yes, we looked at the numbers to see how special interest spending may have influenced the vote. (Note: These figures include money that came from both PACs and individuals associated with companies in the industry, like employees and their families.) From 2009-2016, the average member of the 115th Senate received about $108,600 in contributions from the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. The senators who voted no on the recent amendment, on the other hand, received an average of more than $146,000 in the same time frame. The divide within the Democratic party is even more striking: Yes-voting Democrats received an average of $68,855, while those who voted no received an average of more than $186,000 each. Results were much the same for Republicans: Yes-voters received an average of about $66,000 while no-voters more than doubled that sum with average receipts of nearly $133,000. The 13 Democratic senators who voted no -- of the 47 Democrats and Independents who voted on the amendment -- collectively received 50.8 percent of the money that the industry gave to current Democratic senators since 2009. Booker netted $276,165, but there were three Democratic naysayers who received even more: fellow New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (about $284,000), Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (about $291,000) and Washington Sen. Patty Murray (about $363,000). From 2011-2016, between PACs and individual donors, Murray received more than $40,500 from Amgen Inc., a pharmaceutical company that contributed over $2 million to candidates and parties in the 2016 cycle. On the other hand, Washington's other senator, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) received a total of only $31,050 from PACs and individuals in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry from 2009-2016, but she voted against the amendment. For her, at least, it appears there was more at play in the vote than money. Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, warned about the dangers of assuming that a dollar given is a vote bought. "What we know for sure is that it is a dollar given and access bought," she said. "It gets you in the door, and it gets your argument heard. Any lobbyist worth their salt believes that if they can get their foot in the door, they can make a persuasive argument for their issue." Brendan Fischer, associate counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, noted that discrepancies in pharmaceutical makers' contributions to yes- and no-voters may not totally illuminate the mindsets of lawmakers, but they can be telling. "The fact that it's a pattern that holds across parties suggests that there's something there," said Fischer. "At the minimum it suggests that there's a correlation between campaign contributions and voting." Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who has served in the Senate since 1977, collected over $437,000 from 2009-2016 -- and voted no. Hatch, along with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R), has the distinction of being among the top five recipients of both PAC and individual contributions. Most of the money that the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has given to still-sitting senators in the past four cycles came from PACs (about 71 percent) rather than individual donors (roughly 29 percent). Sanders, the amendment's cosponsor, has never received a single dollar from pharmaceutical PACs -- though since 2009, he has led the pack in contributions from individuals in the industry, gleaning almost $147,000 from them. Five other senators have yet to receive PAC money from pharmaceutical companies: Freshmen Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), as well as Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (D). Sullivan, the lone Republican in the group, was also its sole no-voter. Some Democrats favored by the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry nonetheless voted yes. In the years since 2009, PACs and individuals in the industry have given West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin $228,500 and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer over $281,000. They both voted yes. Ultimately, of the ten active senators who received the most money from the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry from 2009-2016, only one -- Schumer, the Democrats' Senate leader -- voted yes on the amendment. Booker and other no-voters have claimed that their votes stemmed from concerns about the safety and quality of imported drugs -- which is also an argument frequently made by the drugmakers. In 2009, a slightly different amendment -- which would have changed H.R.3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- proposed the importation of prescription drugs because, among other reasons, "a prescription drug is neither safe nor effective to an individual who cannot afford it." The legislation explicitly referred to FDA-approved medicines, while the 2017 amendment spoke only of "safe and affordable prescription drugs." The Senate rejected the amendment in 2009, but every one of the 27 senators who voted on both the 2009 and 2017 amendments voted no in 2017. Ten of them had voted yes in 2009. That could be because of slight differences in the amendments, but the switch also could have been the result of increased partisanship: Nine of the 10 senators who flipped from yes to no were Republicans. And they populated all segments of the pharmaceutical money spectrum, ranging from Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) -- who has received almost $342,000 since 2009 -- to Idaho Sen. James Risch (R), who has received a relatively paltry $21,250. Another possibility is that observers are reading too much into what was largely a symbolic vote, used to take a stand rather than genuinely promote the passage of legislation. But Fischer still sees value in considering how the votes of senators line up with the special interests that contribute to their accounts. "It seems as though even if the ultimate import of the vote was to send a message or indicate a public position, the fact remains that senators who voted against it, generally speaking, voted in a way that their contributors wanted," he said. For all that's opaque, one thing is abundantly clear: The web of special interest money, partisanship and votes is a thoroughly tangled one. "The damaging part of this system for public confidence is that it's almost impossible to disentangle where the influence stops and the firmly-held belief begins," said McGehee. "This is the corrosive part of the current system; it raises these kinds of questions: Did he vote that way because of the money he got, or because it's what he believes is best for public policy?" Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this post. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
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