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Group Urges Anti-Corruption Commission To Probe Big Pharma Campaign Donations

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission held another hearing Monday evening focusing on reforming the state’s campaign finance system.  A reform group is out with a report that they say raises questions about five million dollars spent on lobbying and donations by the pharmaceutical industry.

Common Cause says the Moreland Commission should open a probe to see if there’s a link between contributions spent by major pharmaceutical companies on lobbying and campaign donations to New York State politicians, and the failure to pass  major consumer friendly bills regulating Big Pharma.

The group’s Susan Lerner says the major companies, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and AstraZeneca, don’t play favorites, and give the most money to the campaign committees of the majority parties in each house of the legislature.  Most of the donations go to the less regulated party housekeeping accounts, which Common Cause calls “slush funds”. 

“It’s really industry following the power, no ideological giving here whatsoever,” Lerner said. “This is just, who can make things happen, who can stop the things we don’t want to see happen.”

In recent years, Lerner says, it’s been more about stopping legislation that advancing it. For example, there’s a bill that would stop the selling of doctor’s records on the prescriptions they give to their patients. That data has been used by drug companies to more forcefully market their products to doctors, to get physicians to use their company’s drugs more often.  The bill died in the Senate and Assembly health committees.

Other measures, to allow the public access to tax payer funded research conducted by drug companies, and a bill to allow seniors to order medicines from Canada also never advanced beyond the legislature’s health committees.   Lerner says it appears the pharmaceutical industry is playing an “astute game of inside baseball”.

“We are seeing a pattern,” she said. “And the net result to New York consumers, patients, is that our prescription drug costs remain high.” 

If any of the bills were to become law, they would likely influence national policies for the drug companies since New York is one of the biggest states, and has the second largest Medicaid population in the nation.

Common Cause offers no proof  that there’s a quid pro quo between the campaign donations and the suppression of the bills.  That would constitute the crime of bribery. But Lerner says there’s a lot the Moreland Commission, which has the power to issue subpoenas, can do, including establishing an exact time line for the campaign contributions and any discussions with lawmakers regarding the stalled legislation. 

The report comes on the same day that Governor Cuomo is announcing that a major biopharmaceutical company, Regeneron, is expanding its corporate headquarters and labs  in New York and will add 400 jobs.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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