Nov
15

Corporate Ventriloquism

By

(Update 1 & 2 below)

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake had a dustup a few weeks ago with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) over an amendment to H.R. 3200 that Eshoo sponsored governing the licensing of biologic drugs. Hamsher, a three-time breast cancer survivor, contended that a loophole allowed manufacturers to extend their twelve-year exclusive license to drugs by making minor tweaks to the molecules.

Eshoo got testy about being called out, saying, “My amendment prohibits by its plain language exactly what Ms. Hamsher alleges it would encourage.” But other experts contended that Eshoo didn’t understand the “plain language” of her own amendment, that it said just the opposite of what she thought. Also, Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman’s statements supported Jane’s contention that the provision contained a loophole that allowed Big Pharma to “evergreen” its exclusive licenses to biologic medications.

This morning, Marcy Wheeler pointed to an NYT piece describing the pushback from Big Pharma. They worked at getting congresscritters from both sides of the aisle to enter their talking points into the Congressional Record:

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

[snip]

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.

[snip]

Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

It would be nice to see those e-mails, by the way. It makes you wonder who wrote the “plain language” for Eshoo’s anti-evergreening amendment.

(Full disclosure: This writer has had Roche as a client.)

UPDATE: Marcy did some digging into this story through the day. Someone you know got busted:

As the NYT reported earlier today, Genentech/Roche wrote a Republican script and a Democratic script for its parrots to enter into the Congressional Record. Here’s what the Republican script looks like (I’m going to try to do the Democratic one next–but this is tedious stuff; and yes, Heath Shuler was working from the Republican script).

I’ve met Marcy a couple of times. She’s so sharp, it’s scary.

UPDATE 2: And here come the Democrats. And, uh, it ain’t pretty.

Question: What does a taxpaying non-lobbyist have to do to get his or her own pre-scripted statement entered into the Congressional Record? Is the Congressional Record like the Raleigh-based American Biographical Institute that invites you (for between $195 and $495) to be listed in its Who’s Who-like publication? Or maybe like the International Star Registry? Do I have to call before noon tomorrow?

Categories : Corruption, Health Care, News

Comments

  1. Tom Sullivan says:

    A commenter at Emptywheel observes:

    “Just think, Wyoming gets one member in the House and Pharma gets 42.”

  2. Gordon Smith says:

    More ventroloquism, this time from the US Chamber of Commerce – via HuffPo:

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is soliciting funds to pay an economist $50,000 to study health care reform legislation and issue (what the lobby presumes) will be a negative review, providing ammunition to shoot down health care reform in the Senate, according to The Washington Post.

    The Newspaper obtained an e-mail from James P. Gelfand, the senior manager of health policy at the Chamber of Commerce detailing how the plan would work:

    “The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document.

  3. Mark Nicolson says:

    Oh, this makes it so much funnier:

    http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/11/reps-heath-shuler-d-nc-and-joe-wilson-r-sc-speak-from-the-same-page-on-health-reform.html

    Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) speak from the same page on health reform
    heath_shuler_horiz.jpgThe New York Times reported last week that during the historic House debate on health care reform, statements made by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten in whole or part by lobbyists working for one of the world’s largest biotechnology firms.

    Share/Bookmark

    The lobbyists for California-based Genentech — a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swiss firm Roche — drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

    But it turns out that Rep. Heath Shuler — a Democrat from North Carolina — actually delivered a statement based on the Republican version of the script, as the blog Firedoglake reported yesterday.

    Shuler is part of the conservative Blue Dog caucus in the House. When in Washington, he reportedly lives at the C Street house owned by The Family, a controversial right-wing Christian organization that caters to the political elite.

    Based on Firedoglake’s report, we thought it would be interesting to compare what was said by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) — the lawmaker infamous for shouting “You lie!” during President Obama’s national address on health care reform — during the debate to Shuler’s remarks.

    We also thought it would be interesting to compare the two lawmakers’ campaign contributions from health industry interests.

    As we reported previously, Wilson is a major recipient of contributions from health care professionals, who have invested a total of $244,196 in his campaign to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics OpenSecrets.org database. He received another $86,150 from pharmaceutical companies, $73,050 from insurance companies and $68,000 from hospitals and nursing homes. He has been in office since 2001.

    Shuler has also received generous contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, health professionals and insurance interests: All appear among his top 20 contributors at $78,800, $67,062 and $38,500 respectively, according to OpenSecrets.org. He has been in office since 2007.

    And now, the comparison of Wilson’s and Shuler’s lobbyist-inspired comments on health reform:

    Wilson: I have criticized many of the provisions of this bill (H.R. 3962) and rightfully so. But in fairness, I do believe the sections relating to the creation of a market for biosimilar products is one area of the bill that strikes the appropriate balance in providing lower cost options to consumers without destroying a healthy and functioning industry in this country.

    Shuler: Mr. Speaker, as you know I am opposed to the bill we are considering today for many reasons that I have articulated previously. I am pleased, however, that the bill strikes the appropriate balance on the issue of follow on biologics. This bipartisan compromise language will provide lower cost options to consumers and my constituents without destroying a healthy and functioning bio-tech industry in this country.

    * * *

    Wilson: Creating a pathway for new products that doesn’t destroy the ability or the incentives for innovator companies to develop breakthrough technologies and at the same time providing a safe and effective way to bring competition to benefit patients is a laudable achievement.

    Shuler: I believe it is critical that the creation of a pathway for new products does not destroy the ability or the incentives of innovator companies to develop breakthrough technologies. We have a moral obligation to provide a safe and effective pathway of bringing competition that will benefit patients.

    * * *

    Wilson: I wish we could remove this provision from this fatally flawed piece of legislation and consider it separately because it would pass with the kind of overwhelming bi-partisan support that Americans across the country wish to see.

    Shuler: I wish we could consider this as a stand-alone bill because it would pass with the kind of overwhelming bi-partisan support that Americans across the country wish to see.

    * * *

    Wilson: One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country.

    Shuler: One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country and in my home state of North Carolina.

  4. For the record, as a matter of disclosure, I was a ten year employee of Genentech up until this past September. I never was involved in any matters relating to Washington D.C. lobbying. I have many thoughts about drug company practices and I’d be happy to share those at another time.

    I read this with disgust, but mostly at our lawmakers. It reminded me of a recent barstool debate I had with a friend. I commented that I thought a general skepticism of our government was healthy but that the ridiculously low approval ratings for congress might be to the point of corrosive for our democracy. I pointed to the tea baggers on the right and opined that one day the left might have its own anti-reason wing satisfied with nothing but change for change’s sake. My friend articulated the mathematics. A twenty-five percent approval rating for congress meant that fifty percent plus one who voted for the winners of the election is now of two minds: one patient and one impatient. And the same schism is in the party of those who lost the election, though both sides will tend to dislike congress. Thus, a quarter of the electorate would be about baseline for any approval rating of congress.

    But I don’t know. People see the back room deals. They see how corporate lobbyists get their way and the citizen gets a kiss off. That is reflected in every piece of legislation that comes out. After all the complaints, we still get 1000 page bills with no time to read them. We still get tons of earmarks, we still get lobbyists writing if not the legislation itself, then at least the congressional record.

    I guess it’s mathematically simple: congress should be at twenty-five percent. But with practices like these, I think they are asking, “how low can we go?”

  5. barry says:

    How much are we paying Heath Shuler? $170,000, or something like that? I think we could get an inexpensive fax machine and a dedicated line from the RNC for say, 1/1000th of that. How’s that for deficit reduction?

  6. Kathy Edwards says:

    Hello Gordon,

    My friend Sandy Maxey forwarded this information to me
    and I actually read much of it! I have emailed ‘Adopt a Street’ and hope to participate in a more committed way in terms of picking up the garbage left on the streets near my home.

    I have been a member of toastmasters for some time and intend to use the skills I have acquired to become a public advocate for preventive health. My topic will be general consciousness raising about how each of us can start taking more personal responsibility for our individual and collective physical health.

    Kindest Regards
    Kathryn Edwards
    828 337 0353

    Kindest Regard
    Kathy Edwards
    828 337 0353

  7. The Watcher says:

    Writ above:”one day the left might have its own anti-reason wing”

    The anti-reason wing of the left is already in full flower. It’s populated by people who insist on making excuses for the current administration even though their ACTIONS are eerily similar to those of the Bush administration, whose supporters you consider to be anti-reason. The WORDS are much more pleasant, but watch the ACTIONS.

    The left (I used to define myself that way) got suckered into an awesome marketing campaign designed just for them, and they just can’t admit that they got taken. They bought a new soft drink, not a new government.