According to the Center for Public Integrity, Big Pharma has certainly benefited from the more than $800 million spent since 1998 on lobbyists and political campaigns. Not exactly chump-change.

While industry trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) claims the money helped patients, they hired a former U.S. ambassador to Canada and his top aide to lobby the Canadian government organizing a campaign against legalizing importation of drugs from Canada. The industry’s pressure must be paying off. Canada has announced they will ban the bulk export of prescription drugs and crack down on Internet pharmacies that sell drugs to Americans — which could lower profit margins. Meanwhile, Pfizer made a profit of $11.3 billion last year, out of sales of $51 billion.

In the past year, the industry hired nearly 1,300 lobbyists, including dozens of former lawmakers and hundreds of people who worked for congressional committees or regulatory agencies. Last year, according to the center, the industry spent $128 million on such efforts, including lobbying for $5.6 billion in spending for biodefense and for a bill that allows easier access to patents for inventions researched jointly by public institutions and private entrepreneurs. The campaign has also led to a more industry-friendly regulatory policy at the Food and Drug Administration.

Lobbying efforts have led to the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which created a taxpayer-funded prescription drug benefit for senior citizens. By adding the benefit to Medicare, the industry found a reliable purchaser for its products. Thanks to a provision in the law for which the industry lobbied, government programs like Medicare are barred from negotiating with companies for lower prices! According to one study, 61 percent of Medicare money spent on prescription drugs will become profit for drug companies. Drug-makers will receive $139 billion in increased profits over eight years, the study predicts. The Medicare prescription drug benefit starts in 2006.

This, for an industry that spends up to $60 billion/year on drug marketing—nearly twice what it spends on research and development. In 2004, Pfizer spent almost $120 million for media ads for Lipitor, while companies promoting erectile dysfunction treatments Viagra, Levitra and Cialis spent $425 million.

[NOTE: I’m not picking on anyone here — I’d love to have their profits — it’s just hard to feel sorry for an industry that just about prints money.]

More than 3,000 people over the past seven years have done lobbying work for a pharmaceutical company. The list includes at least 48 former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 15 ex-senators to lobby. That includes Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), Dennis Deconcini (D-Ariz.), Steve Symms (R-Idaho), Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and Reps. Bob Livingston (R-La.), Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) and James Blanchard (D-Mich.).

In addition to hiring former members and their staffs, the industry has also helped keep lawmakers in office by making political contributions. Since the 1998 election cycle, employees of the pharmaceutical and health product industry, their family members and industry political action committees have given $133 million in campaign contributions to federal and state candidates. Since 2000, the top drug corporations and their employees and PhRMA gave more than $10 million to 527 organizations, tax-exempt political committees.

The real scandal doesn’t rest with the Pharma industry, though. I think everyone should be allowed to spend money on whatever they want to spend it on. The nauseating truth is that our politicians can be so easily bought. I don’t know what happened to “…of the people, by the people, for the people…”

See the report here.

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