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Mon Feb 11, 2013, 10:52 AM

Wendell Potter: Big Pharma's Stranglehold on Washington

Itís no surprise that American corporations spend billions of dollars each year on lobbying, trying to gain favorable treatment from legislators. What some may find a bit unnerving is the industry thatís leading the pack in these efforts.

You might think our nationís defense and aerospace companies, which have legions of hired guns on Capitol Hill, are the leaders. Or perhaps Big Oil, which is perpetually fighting with environmentalists and consequently needs friends in Washington to block what it considers onerous legislation or regulations.

In both cases, youíd be wrong. Itís actually the pharmaceutical industry that spends the most each year to influence our lawmakers, forking over a total of $2.6 billion on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012, according to OpenSecrets.org. To get some perspective on just how big that number is, consider that oil and gas companies and their trade associations spent $1.4 billion lobbying Congress over the same time frame while the defense and aerospace industry spent $662 million, a fourth of Big Pharmaís total.

(Number two on the OpenSecrets list, by the way, was my old industry, insurance, which spent $1.8 billion. Although health insurers were among the biggest spenders, the list also includes property and casualty and auto insurers.)

The huge sum of money our nationís drug makers lavish on Congress each year begs the question, what are they seeking in return? Surely it has something to do with the fact that our nationís legislators turn a blind eye as pharmaceutical companies engage in predatory pricing practices while enjoying exclusive rights to manufacture drugs for 20 years or more. All at the same time that drug costs and drug price inflation are among of the main drivers of health care costs for individuals and families and threaten the fiscal health of our public health care programs.

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