Blue Dog Coalition Chairman Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) is leading an effort opposed by most of his Democratic House colleagues to help the pharmaceutical industry win protections against generic competitors in the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Brindisi recently sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, co-signed by 10 of the most conservative House Democrats, urging him to retain a provision in the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that would establish a 10-year exclusivity period for biologic drugs across all of North America, according to a report from David Dayen at the American Prospect. Biologics are a class of complex, cutting-edge drugs that target the genetic sources of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.
According to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, “Biologics represent 70 percent of the growth in drug spending from 2010 to 2015. And they’re forecasted to be the fastest growing segment of drug spending in the coming years.” Biologics are protected against generic competitors for 12 years in the U.S., eight years in Canada, and five years in Mexico. Standard chemical drugs get exclusivity periods of five years in the U.S.
The provision is opposed by 110 House Democrats, who sent a letter to Lighthizer in July urging him to scrap it. The Democrats say that the provision would exacerbate the role biologics play in increasing drug spending. “Unless the USMCA text is amended, it would limit Congress’ ability to adjust the biologics exclusivity period, instead locking the U.S. into policies that keep cancer and other drug prices high, which exporting this model to Mexico…and Canada,” the Democrats wrote.
Follow the Drug Money
Brindisi does not take money from corporate PACs, and neither do several of the Democrats who joined him in signing the letter. But Brindisi’s Blue Dog Coalition has a PAC that, in the first half of 2019, took maxed-out campaign contributions from the PACs of a wide range of pharmaceutical companies and drug industry trade associations, including several that would likely benefit from the 10-year exclusivity period in the USMCA.
In turn, the Blue Dog PAC, and the PAC of another centrist group, the New Democrat Coalition, transfer funds to their members’ campaigns, essentially acting as pass-through organizations for corporate PAC contributions. In addition, the Blue Dog PAC and New Democrat Coalition PAC made donations in 2018 to a super PAC, Center Forward, that made large independent expenditures supporting conservative Democrats running for seats in Congress.
The 10 representatives co-signing Brindisi’s letter are all either members of the Blue Dog Coalition, the New Democrat Coalition, or both. Like the Blue Dog PAC, the New Democrat Coalition, of which Brindisi is also a member, has received significant contributions to its PAC from drug company PACs this year.
The Democrats who co-signed the letter are Lou Correa (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Ben McAdams (Utah), Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), Al Lawson (Fla.), Scott Peters (Calif.), and Kathleen Rice (N.Y.).
From January through June, the Blue Dog PAC received $69,500 from drug industry PACs, including maximum contributions of $5,000 from the PACs of Merck, Pfizer, McKesson, and several other drug companies, as well as from top industry trade groups Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).
The New Democrat Coalition PAC received $77,500 from the drug industry during that period, including maximum contributions from many of the same PACs.
The best-selling biologic drug in the world is the anti-inflammatory Humira, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and a range of other inflammatory conditions. Its maker, Abbvie, gave maximum contributions of $5,000 to both the Blue Dog PAC and the New Democrat Coalition PAC.
Another top biologic is Enbrel, which treats rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis, and psoriatic arthritis. Enbrel is co-marketed in North America by Pfizer and Amgen. Pfizer gave contributions of $5,000 to both the Blue Dog PAC and the New Democrat PAC in the first half of 2019.
Besides the drug company PACs, several lobbyists tied to the drug industry donated to the Blue Dog and New Democrat Coalition PACs in the first half of 2019.
Forbes Tate lobbyist Elizabeth Greer, whose clients include biologics makers Amgen, Roche Holdings, and Halozyme Therapeutics, gave the Blue Dog PAC $2,000 while her colleagues at Forbes Tate kicked in another $2,250.
The PAC of Akin Gump, a lobbying firm representing Amgen, gave $5,000 to the New Democrat Coalition PAC, while Akin Gump lobbyist Joshua Teitelbaum, who represents biologics company Biogen, gave the Blue Dog PAC $250.
Crossroads Strategies lobbyist Katherine Dapper, who represents PhRMA, Roche Holdings, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, among other drug companies, gave the New Democrat Coalition PAC $1000.
Brindisi and several other Democrats who signed his letter have pledged to not take campaign money from corporate PACs, but they sidestep this pledge by taking money from the Blue Dog and New Democrat Coalition PACs, which are funded with large contributions from corporate PACs of many different industries. So far this year, Brindisi’s campaign has received $4,000 from the Blue Dog PAC and $2,500 from the New Democrat Coalition PAC.