Common Cause urges Moreland Commission to investigate pharmaceutical donations

images_of_money via flickr
October 28, 2013

Governor Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission is holding another hearing tonight on reforming the state’s campaign finance system.  A reform group is out with a report that 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 nearly five million dollars 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 pharmaceutical companies.

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, 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 than advancing it. For example, there’s a bill that would stop the selling of prescription records that are then used by drug companies to more forcefully market their products to doctors and 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 taxpayer 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 is 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.