Philadelphia Inquirer

Industry Gave Big To State Politicians

Pharmaceutical Companies Contributed More Than $1.9 Million Since 1999, According To New Jersey Citizen Action

The Philadelphia Inquirer — Wednesday, September 24, 2003

By Kaitlin Gurney
Inquirer Staff Writer

Pharmaceutical companies contributed more than $1.9 million in the last four years to Garden State political parties and elected officials, according to a report released yesterday by the watchdog group New Jersey Citizen Action.

Organizers with the group linked the donations to what they termed New Jersey lawmakers' reluctance to regulate the cost of prescription drugs for seniors.

Gov. McGreevey promised earlier this year to implement a preferred-drug list of prescriptions purchased through the state at a lower bulk rate, but no provision was made for the program in the state budget, said Bridget Devane of Citizen Action.

The list would have forced pharmaceutical companies to make better bids to get their drugs on the state's list.

"In return for this money, pharmaceutical companies influence policy," Devane said. Her organization has spent the last year analyzing contribution data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. "We really felt that this year New Jersey was moving toward the preferred-drug list that 34 other states have."

Prescription-drug companies gave more money to politicians than other industries New Jersey Citizen Action examined, Devane said. In 1999, the banking industry donated $48,000, compared with $209,200 from pharmaceutical companies; and in 2002, mortgage companies contributed $91,000, compared with $349,300 from pharmaceutical companies.

Two-thirds of the drug money, or $1.3 million, went to Republicans, while $615,000 went to Democrats. So far this year, the contributions evened out to $200,000 for both parties. Senate Co-President John Bennett (R., Monmouth) was the largest individual recipient, with $132,300 from different pharmaceutical companies in the last four years.

Schering-Plough Corp., based in Kenilworth, N.J., donated the most during the four-year period, with $442,000, followed by New York-based Pfizer with $347,300, and Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., with $236,800.

Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the industry-lobbying arm Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said it was important for drug companies to "participate in the Democratic process" - as their opponents such as managed-care companies and labor unions do. Political contributions are an important part of that Democratic process, he said.

"It's important that we be heard at a time the industry has been barraged by a wide range of distorted allegations," Trewhitt said.

The key state-level issue facing drug companies is the preferred-drug list that Citizen Action is advocating, he said. The pharmaceutical industry opposes such lists because it limits patients' options, "popularizing a misconception that one size - and one prescription - fits all."

But Mildred Fruhling of the United Senior Alliance said she and her husband could barely afford the 10 medications they are supposed to take each day. The Edison couple lost their prescription-drug coverage from their union pensions, and may not be able to afford their medications unless the state creates the preferred-drug list, Fruhling said.

"This is an industry awash in money, and it is clear they have spent their money wisely," she said. "They have convinced our legislators not to tangle with price control."

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News