NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Consumers in the U.S. spent $425 billion on their medications in 2015, according to the healthcare data firm IMS Health. The trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) says pharmaceutical companies spend a bit over 17 percent of that revenue on research & development.
As you can imagine, those companies still have plenty of money to spend to influence political policy, both in Washington and Baton Rouge.
PhRMA itself spent $230 million on its federal lobbyists last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the companies that group represents also spend individually, both on lobbying and on contributions to political campaigners.
It's clear from federal campaign data that Big Pharma spreads its campaign contributions across both sides of the aisle. Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is the top recipient since the beginning of 2015, with over $568,000 received. But she's followed on the list by four powerful Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Ted Cruz.
CRP's website OpenSecrets.org has a searchable database of campaign contributions; you can filter contributions to candidates by industry.
The pharmas spend plenty on state politics, too.
Here in Louisiana, the State Ethics Board collects campaign reports on contributions. We reviewed the data on the Ethics Board's website, and searched the contributors list for the keywords "PhRMA", "pharm" and "drug", as well the names of lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry. We pulled in a list of respective contributions from apparent pharmaceutical interests from 2006 to 2015.
It's important to note that these search results pull in a wide and varied range of individual and corporate supporters, their contribution levels large and small - there's no direct evidence here of a broadly coordinated effort among all these contributors. A small pharmacy owner may contribute under a business name for personal reasons, for instance, not necessarily motivated by a commercial or industrial self-interest.
Still, the sheer scale of contributions from this sector, and their wide reach to lawmakers and other politicians of both parties, is striking.
Pharmaceutical companies, drug stores, pharma lobbyists, their trade groups and related interests contributed $1.48 million to Louisiana politicians, candidates and their associated parties over a 10-year period.
The House Democratic Campaign Committee of Louisiana, which supports Democrats running for the state House of Representatives, topped this list with $108,500. Former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, followed with at least $80,000 contributed to his state campaign funds - they gave about $6200 more to his presidential campaign. His Democratic successor, Gov. John Bel Edwards, received at least $72,000.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics finds pharmas spent $472,269 in Louisiana elections last year, state-level and lower. Per state law, political campaigners must report contributions and the name of their contributors. There are 89 separate entries for PhRMA in this contributor list: those entries include the group's full name, various abbreviations, the "PhRMA" acronym and various misspellings of the same.
Another caveat: We cannot consider this strong, direct evidence that campaign filers intended to hide or obscure their support from this powerful trade group. Anybody can make a typo, after all.
But what is crystal clear is, with more than $532,000 in contributions over 10 years to Louisiana politicians, PhRMA can exert considerable influence in our state capitol.