Pharma Lobbyist-Run Group Places $300k Ad Buy for Kurt Schrader

The dark-money group Center Forward, which is buying the ads, has received millions from the pharmaceutical industry in recent years.

Pharma Lobbyist-Run Group Places $300k Ad Buy for Kurt Schrader
Former Blue Dog Rep. Kurt Schrader

Conservative House Democrat Kurt Schrader is getting a boost from Center Forward, a pharmaceutical industry-funded “dark money” group, in his competitive primary race against challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District. 

Center Forward reportedly plans to drop over $300,000 in the Bend, Oregon media market from March 25 through the Democratic U.S. House primary on May 17, according to a media monitoring service alert viewed by Sludge. The group is closely aligned with the Blue Dog Coalition, the moderate bloc that Rep. Schrader has co-chaired in the past, and now helps lead as the PAC chair. 

The expenditure will be the largest outside spend in the primary to date when it is reported to the Federal Election Commission. [Update: the amended FEC report posted on April 12 was for $385,000.] In a comment to The Intercept, Schrader highlighted his cause fighting “dark money in politics,” but now is benefiting from a home-stretch ad blitz by a dark money group closely tied to him and other Blue Dogs. 

Center Forward’s TV spots will likely aim to bolster Schrader’s re-election chances, after four of the six Democratic Democratic county parties in his district chose to endorse his primary opponent, a break with the traditional habit of sticking with incumbents. The Intercept released an in-depth policy breakdown from the Democratic Party of Clackamas County of its decision to endorse McLeod-Skinner, pointing to Scharder’s vote against provisions in last year’s Build Back Better Act that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate the price of pharmaceutical drugs, among other positions. 

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Center Forward does not disclose its donors publicly, but Sludge’s review of other organizations’ giving shows that about 30 percent of its funding in recent years has come from drug company lobbying group the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). In 2020, PhRMA gave Center Forward $2.7 million. Center Forward has also received funding from the National Restaurant Association, cable industry group NCTA, and wireless company association CTIA, according to tax documents. Center Forward’s four directors are all corporate lobbyists, including its chair, former Rep. Bud Cramer (Ala.), and Cindy Brown of Forbes Tate Partners, who lobbies Congress for at least 20 pharmaceutical companies and industry association clients. The nonprofit had more than $10 million in revenue in 2020, according to ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer.