Following PhRMA

Over the weekend, the Associated Press broke the news that the drug industry plans to support Obama’s health care proposal. Despite the nasty adjectives the White House has used to describe them in recent months, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) will run TV ads in favor of “Obamacare” that will cost at least $150 million.

The media has done a good job explaining what the two groups have to gain from this unlikely alliance.  The White House needs all the help it can get as conservative groups ramp up opposition and Obama’s poll numbers on health care sink. PhRMA doesn’t want to renegotiate Medicare drug prices. But who are the key players who made this deal happen?  And how are they connected? The LittleSis database gives us a few interesting answers.

PhRMA has made a habit of hiring former members of Congress to represent them. They are led by Billy Tauzin, a former representative from Louisiana. In the House, Tauzin was the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which oversees drug companies. While his move to the private sector caused outrage from consumer protection groups, it hasn’t stopped him from making deals on the Hill. Tauzin has found a friend in Bill Brewster, a former representative from Oklahoma.  This year alone, Brewster has lobbied on behalf of PhRMA and seven of their members including Eli Lilly and Astellas Pharmaceuticals.

PhRMA has also hired many former congressional staffers.  I found 31 by looking at only a small section of the available data at OpenSecrets. They include Lindsay Hooper, a former Wallop staffer who, in addition to lobbying for PhRMA, has given political donations to half of the magic “gang of six” that make up the Senate Finance Committee. This year PhRMA also employed David Castagnetti, a lobbyist with Mehlman Vogel & Castagnetti. Ironically, Castagnetti also lobbies on behalf of AHIP, the health insurance giant that opposes the current White House health care proposal.  His client list paints him as just as wishy-washy on health care as another organization he’s worked for: the office of Max Baucus, where he previously worked as chief of staff.

Another good friend of Max Baucus is involved in this arrangement on the other side of the table. The AP reported that Jim Messina, deputy chief of staff for Obama, is deeply involved in the negotiations. The article failed to note that Messina also served as Baucus’ chief of staff from 2005 until 2008.  Given the amount of money Baucus is given by the health care industry, it’s probably safe to bet Messina feels right at home with the health insurance lobbyists sitting around the table with him.

Whether or not this alliance will be good for the American people is yet to be determined.  What we know for sure is how important it is to keep our eyes on the players in this arrangement. We need the help of our analysts to make sure we do this story justice. You can get involved by adding the rest of the lobbyists PhRMA has hired to our database or profile other organizations that are going to be involved in the deal like Families USA, GMBB and Healthy Economies Now. By editing our database, you’re contributing to timely research and working towards winning the Lobbyist Editing Challenge. Contact erin [at] littlesis [dot] org to get involved.