Biotech companies with operations in California – the birthplace of the industry and home to one-third of the country’s biotech firms – spent $40 million on federal lobbying between 2009 and 2011, according to an analysis released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Center for Responsive Politics.
The report found that nationwide, pharmaceutical, medical device and biotech industries spent a total of $700 million on campaign contributions and on lobbying Congress and the Obama administration during those three years – an amount greater than what the insurance and oil industries each spent.
Biotech lobbying between 2009 and 2011 totaled $126 million, and expenditures by biotech-related organizations doing business from California accounted for about 30 percent of that total. The pharmaceutical industry spent about $487 million on lobbying, and medical device groups paid $86 million during that timeframe.
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The analysis “raises concerns that with so much money and such big suites of industry lobbyists pounding the halls of Congress every day, it’s easy for the public interest message and the scientific integrity message to get lost,” said Celia Viggo Wexler, a Washington, D.C., representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
These findings are particularly relevant, the union says, because Congress is considering various bills related to Food and Drug Administration policies and regulations, including renewals of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act and the Medical Device User Fee Act.
“This is a lot of money over a three-year period, and we think it’s important to draw attention to this and make the case that Congress shouldn’t lose sight that the FDA’s mission is to protect public health and safety,” Wexler said.
But Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said these expenditures reflect the industry’s commitment to medical breakthroughs.
“PhRMA has a long history of supporting policies that advance patient care and foster future medical innovation that is critical to U.S. competitiveness,” Senior Vice President Matthew Bennett said in an e-mailed statement. "To that end, we partner with and support diverse stakeholders and policymakers who share the same goals.”
The Biotechnology Industry Organization also said lobbying is crucial to its work supporting medical advancements.
“BIO works to educate lawmakers at the federal, state and local level about the benefits of biotechnology and advocate for a public policy environment that enables our members to do what they do best,” Jeffrey A. Joseph, a spokesman for the organization, wrote in an e-mail.
But some of the lobbying dollars captured by the new analysis include funds spent by academic and nonprofit research institutes that don't have industry ties or commercial aims, some organizations included in the analysis said.
The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, for example, conducts collaborative research on cancer and children’s health and has offices in La Jolla and Florida. It spent a total of $165,000 on lobbying between 2009 and 2011.
“Our government relations goals are simply 1) to keep Congress informed about the importance of life-science research to patients and to the country’s economy and 2) to support a strong NIH (National Institutes of Health) budget,” Heather Buschman, an institute spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.
Similarly, the La Jolla-based nonprofit medical research organization West Wireless Health Institute spent $100,000 to “educate policy makers on issues related to lowering the cost of health care as we strive to innovate our way out of the health care cost crisis,” West Wireless's Nancy Ives Schroeder said in a statement.
The Union of Concerned Scientists analysis also found that legislators serving on subcommittees with oversight of the FDA received about $6.3 million in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical, medical device or biotech industries between 2009 and 2011.
The two California legislators on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health together accepted about $26,000 from these industries' lobbyists.
Clarification: Information that some academic and nonprofit research institutes included in the analysis do not have industry ties or commercial aims came from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Center and the West Wireless Health Institute.