House Dems Donate to Centrist Group That Undermines Their Agenda

House Democratic leadership groups have given more than a million dollars to the PhRMA-funded Center Forward, which has worked to undermine the Biden administration on drug pricing reforms and more.

House Dems Donate to Centrist Group That Undermines Their Agenda
Former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries speak to one another in the House Chamber during elections for Speaker of the House on January 6, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The House Democratic leadership's super PAC and its “dark money” affiliate have donated more than $1.1 million to a lobbyist-run centrist group that has worked to undermine the Biden administration's agenda on lowering drug prices, regulating the finance industry, and more.

The donations were made to Center Forward, a dark money think tank that provides “centrist allies” with research and talking points, as well as to its super PAC that supports conservative Democrats in primary contests.

The Democratic super PAC behemoth, the House Majority PAC (HMP), contributed $547,000 to Center Forward’s super PAC in the six weeks ahead of the 2022 midterms, according to Federal Election Commission records. Also in 2022, the party’s non-donor disclosing nonprofit arm, House Majority Forward (HMF), made a $600,000 “general contribution” to Center Forward, according to its tax return. The amount was an increase on the $300,000 that HMF gave to Center Forward in 2020, its only other known donation to the organization. 

At the time of the donations, HMP’s president was Alixandria Lapp, a former lobbyist for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Pfizer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others. The PAC’s new president as of January 2023 is Mike Smith, a former Nancy Pelosi fundraiser who is a principal and director with the lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs. Because of campaign finance laws, the group is formally separate from any elected officials, but it is tightly aligned with the House Democratic leader, now Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who blessed Smith to be its leader.

In 2022, Center Forward Committee spent millions of dollars on ads for conservative Democrats, many of whom bucked Democratic leadership by voting against—or publicly standing against—the party’s signature legislation that aimed to lower prescription drug prices by allowing the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. One of the top beneficiaries of Center Forward Committee’s spending last cycle was former Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to vote against including the Democrats’ drug price proposal in the reconciliation budget plan. Schrader was locked in a primary challenge with Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who vowed to be more independent than the corporate PAC-heavy Schrader. In the months leading up to the September 2021 vote on whether to include the drug pricing measures in the budget plan, and afterward, Center Forward rolled out a six-figure Facebook ad campaign asking people to thank the three Democrats—and others like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.)—and ask them to “keep fighting for jobs and families right here.”

Center Forward’s nonprofit arm has received at least $7.8 million in funding since 2016 from pharmaceutical industry lobby group PhRMA, according to a review of tax documents. Other corporate donors to the group include electric utility PG&E, trade association the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), and lobbying giant the Business Roundtable.