The pharmaceutical industry is holding on to its title as the top lobbying force in Washington amid pressure from lawmakers at all ends of the ideological spectrum.Drugmakers have spent more than $129 million through September, slightly down from nearly $133 million at this time last year, but still far more than any other industry.
The larger pharmaceutical/health products industry, which includes medical devices and dietary supplement companies along with drugmakers, spent $228 million through the third quarter of 2019, a record-breaking pace that is up $10 million from this time last year.
House Democrats recently advanced legislation that allows the federal government to negotiate the price of drugs that lack generic equivalents. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee this week without a number of amendments proposed by progressive Democrats who argued the bill isn’t strong enough.
Senate Republicans have said the Democrats’ bill will not fly in the upper chamber. Although members of both parties in the Senate agree drug prices need to be lowered, they can’t agree on how to do it.
Some of the biggest increases from the industry came from Akebia Therapeutics (up to $1.5 million from $110,000 this time last year) and Humira manufacturer AbbVie (up to $5.4 million from $4.3 million). The industry’s main trade association, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, increased its spending by $930,750 to nearly $22.8 million. It is the fourth-highest lobbying spender so far.
That spending comes on top of the industry’s many ad campaigns designed to influence lawmakers and the general public. The industry fights threatening legislation in creative ways, including funding prominent but unrelated associations to push pro-industry messages on the airwaves.
Air transport is on pace to break its spending record this year, shelling out $79 million up from nearly $72 million this time last year. Powerful industry forces such as Airbus and FedEx are ramping up lobbying spending over President Donald Trump’s trade war.
Approaching a Congress that could become increasingly paralyzed amid Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, not every industry is increasing its spending.
Powerful business associations are spending far less than they did last year, down from their biggest years that came under the Obama administration. Most of that is due to a lack of spending from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent nearly $57 million through the third quarter, down from $69 million this time last year. Odd years are always down for Chamber, and the pro-business lobbying giant has been unable to gain traction with Trump or congressional Democrats.
Real estate also dropped off, spending less than $66 million, down from nearly $89 million this time last year, when the industry spent record lobbying numbers.
Overall lobbying spending is slightly down from last year, when it hit the highest level since 2010. But it remains steady in the Trump era after a dip during President Barack Obama’s second term. And these figures don’t include some “shadow lobbying” operations or “dark money” influence campaigns that often total millions of dollars.
Some clients have increased their spending by massive amounts this year. Physicians for Fair Coverage, a coalition of physician staffing firms, spent nearly $4.3 million so far this year, up from only $270,000 a year ago, amid the surprise medical bills battle. A major air ambulance firm called Air Medical Group Holdings spent $1.2 million in the third quarter alone over the same issue after not reporting lobbying for three years.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, the top trade group for private insurers, ramped up its lobbying totals to $7.2 million from $5.2 million. The group is battling pharmaceutical interests over drug pricing legislation and competing with physician and hospital groups over surprise medical billing legislation.
Facebook, whose chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was hit from all sides at congressional hearings this week, is certain to smash its record spending figure from last year. The firm has already spent $12.3 million, an increase of $2.5 million over last year.
Huawei has increased its domestic lobbying spending 16-fold from this time last year, shelling out nearly $1.9 million to push back on a partial ban from the Trump administration. Extensive lobbying by some American companies that do business with the Chinese telecom may have helped water down restrictions from the administration.
Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.