A nonprofit affiliated with the conservative Blue Dog Coalition of House Democrats is working to boost the reputation of Big Pharma through a series of paid ads it’s running on Facebook.
The group, Center Forward, is currently sponsoring seven news articles and op-eds that give positive coverage to the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to create COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, according to Facebook Ad Archive. While the articles Center Forward is promoting do not necessarily contain false information, they are in line with messages from the Trump administration and many in the business community who are eager to fully reopen the economy more rapidly than is advised by most epidemiologists. “Trust the seeds of hope our scientists have planted working around the clock to develop COVID-19 treatments and vaccines,” one ad reads.
The ads are running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, but since Facebook did not deem them to be related to a political issue the amount being spent on these ads and who is targeted is not disclosed.
Center Forward, which was known as the Blue Dog Research Forum until 2012, has received major funding from drug industry lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA). From 2016-18, Center Forward got more than $2.9 million from PhRMA, according to tax documents. In 2018, PhRMA provided nearly a quarter of the organization’s overall budget. While the group says its mission is “to give centrist allies the information they need to craft common sense solutions,” its Facebook ad activity looks a lot more like reputation laundering for a big donor.
Center Forward contains two PhRMA lobbyists on its board of directors. Elizabeth Greer and Cindy Brown, both employed at Forbes Tate Partners, reported lobbying for PhRMA on their most recent quarterly filings on issues like prescription drug prices, the CARES Act, drug importation, data exclusivity periods for drugs, and more. Greer and Brown are both also registered as lobbyists for many drug companies, including Merck, Roche Holdings, Gilead Sciences, Novartis, Eli Lilly, and Sanofi.
Center Forward PAC, an affiliated super PAC, has spent $2.8 million so far this election cycle to support the re-election of Blue Dog Democrats or to oppose their opponents.
Members of the Blue Dog Coalition have been friendly to the pharmaceutical industry. The group’s co-chairman, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), led an effort opposed by most Democrats in Congress to help the pharmaceutical industry win protections against generic competitors in the revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). When progressives tried to strengthen the House’s drug pricing bill, H.R. 3, by allowing uninsured people to access discounted rates negotiated with drugmakers and by fully repealing the prohibition against the the government negotiating with drug companies, Blue Dog Stephanie Murray (D-Fla.) pushed back, telling reporters the goal was to win GOP support.
Last November, Center Forward flew 13 House policy staffers from both Democratic and Republican offices to San Francisco for a junket that featured meetings with executives of drug companies Genentech and Merck, both PhRMA members.
The Blue Dog Coalition currently counts 26 members in the U.S. House, comprising a subset of the 103 members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, compared to the 95 members of the House Progressive Caucus.