Democrats now hold the edge with $7.4 million in campaign contributions compared with $7 million for GOP candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. "Money follows the power," CRP's Massie Ritsch, tells the AP. "And it can predict power."
The difference is more pronounced in the presidential race. Drug and device makers have contributed $639,124 to Barack Obama, $574,828 to Hillary Clinton, and $168,300 to John McCain, according to Federal Election Commission data released February 28 and calculated by CRP. Look here.
All three candidates have taken positions that rankle pharma, including giving the Health and Human Services Department authority to negotiate prices on behalf of Medicare drug plans, and allowing drugs to be brought back into the US from other countries, particularly Canada, the AP writes.
Billy Tauzin, PhRMA's ceo, offered the AP two explanations for the spending shift- there is more emphasis on nonpartisanship at his trade group since he took over three years ago, and with more Democrats in office now, it stands to reason they would get a greater share of donations.
"It's only natural, if we adopt a nonpartisan position like we did three years ago, we'll find it easier to work with more and more Democrats who want to work with us for the good of patients," Tauzin, a Republican and former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tells the AP.
When Democrats gained control of Congress last year, they pushed legislation giving the government the power to negotiate prescription drug prices for the elderly and disabled. That job is done now by private insurers, the AP writes.
The effort, which pharma opposed, passed in the House, but stalled in the Senate. "They stand on the floor every day demanding that we save the taxpayers money, but when we try to do that with the companies that fill their campaign coffers, they say we are hurting business," Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, said during congressional debates.
Such talk could portend a rough road for pharma, the AP posits, if Democrats follow through on legislation they pushed in 2007 but knew had little chance of passage - government negotiations on drug prices. Tauzin says the rhetoric did not worry him. "The truth is they all fight to get political contributions from anyone willing to finance their campaigns, which are too darn expensive," he tells the AP.
One Democrat who is benefiting is Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. The New Jersey Democrat has received $87,124 in campaign contributions from the drug and device industries, ranking him eighth among House members.
"In the past, I got almost nothing and many of the Democrats got almost nothing in terms of campaign contributions, so they are helping us to some extent," Pallone tells the AP. "I don't think it means anything. I don't think there is a link between what people contribute and our agenda. And there shouldn't be."
He adds that election results rather than donations will determine next year's legislative agenda. A Democratic president and majority would mean that universal health care rises to the top of the list, he says, and he believes that finding ways to lower drug prices will play a role in that debate.
Tommy Thompson, a former health secretary in the Bush administration, said the contributions reflect an emphasis by drugmakers to be a bigger player in the health care debate. These companies are "finally waking up to the fact they can't sit on the sidelines and they have to be a major player in both political parties," he tells the AP.
The potential troubles for the GOP were reinforced last week when Republicans suffered their third straight defeat in special House elections in once-friendly territory. Tom Davis, a Virginia Democrat and House member, called the political atmosphere for Republicans "the worst since Watergate."
Among drugmakers, Pfizer is routinely No. 1 in campaign donations. Its strategy this year illustrates the change in giving. In 2004, Pfizer donated $1.3 million to federal campaigns. About 69 percent went to Republicans and 31 percent went to Democrats. This year, Pfizer donated more than $862,000. About 52 percent went to Democratic candidates and 48 percent to Republicans, according to CRP.
Pfizer explained its spending through a statement sent by e-mail: "We support candidates and policymakers in both parties who share our common goal of expanding access to medicines, improving health outcomes through medical innovation and delivering value to patients."
Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Maine, says that explanation does not tell the whole story. In his view, pharma is making defensive donations to gain access and perhaps reduce the severity of legislation coming out of Congress next year.
"They're shifting to the Democrats in large part because they understand the Democrats are going to have the majority in the next Congress and will be the party driving health policy and drug reimbursement policy," Corrado tells the AP. "They want to position themselves to be able to defend against any regulatory efforts they believe are overly stringent."