“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.
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…