McConnell gets $50,000 from pharma after blocking bill to lower drug prices


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in September that he would not allow a vote on the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in September that he would block any consideration of a bill to lower prescription drug costs. By the end of December, he had raked in more than $50,000 in contributions from political action committees and individuals tied to the pharmaceutical industry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Sept. 19 that the Democratic majority would offer H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The bill would allow the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare, restrict price hikes, and limit out-of-pocket costs. It aims to follow through on one of Donald Trump's unkept campaign promises: Medicare drug price negotiation.

That same day Pelosi outlined the plan, McConnell (R-KY) declared it would have no chance of passage in the GOP-controlled Senate. "Socialist price controls will do a lot of left-wing damage to the healthcare system. And of course we're not going to be calling up a bill like that," he told reporters.

Though polling shows about 88% of Americans favor letting Medicare negotiate lower drug costs, the pharmaceutical industry is strongly against it. And within days of McConnell's announcement, his reelection campaign and his leadership PAC saw a large uptick in donations from the industry.

On Oct. 16, McConnell received a $2,500 check from Takeda Pharmaceuticals' political action committee, according to McConnell's reports to the Federal Election Commission.

The same campaign finance filings show that a few weeks after that, multinational pharmaceutical company Novartis' PAC also sent $2,500 to McConnell. Then, a PAC for another pharma company, Emergent BioSolutions, kicked in $2,500.

By the end of December, McConnell's campaign reported, he had received at least $30,000 more from the corporate political action committees of Bluebird Bio ($2,500), Boehringer Ingelheim ($5,000), Greenwich Biosciences ($2,500), Teva USA ($10,000), and UCB ($2,500).

According to filings from his Bluegrass Committee leadership PAC, Merck & Co. also contributed $5,000 to support McConnell and Sanofi donated $2,500.

Over that time period, McConnell's campaign also received $5,000 from Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O'Day, $2,000 from Amgen lobbyist Helen Rhee, and $5,600 from his former policy director and current Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America registered lobbyist Hazen Marshall.

Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Gilead Sciences, Merck, Novartis, Sanofi, Takeda, Teva, and UCB are all members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which has said the bill would have a "devastating effect on the industry" and would cause fewer treatments to be developed.

A spokesperson for Sanofi said the company does not "tie [political] contributions to single pieces of legislation."

A UCB spokesperson said, "There is no connection between U-PAC’s donation to Senator McConnell's re-election campaign and his positions taken on specific legislation."

"These donations are unrelated to candidates’ positions on specific legislation," a spokesperson for Takeda wrote. A Gilead Sciences spokesperson also said denied any connection between its CEO's donations and McConnell's position.

An Amgen spokesperson said the company does not comment on personal contributions from employees.

The remaining companies and individuals mentioned in this piece who donated to McConnell did not immediately respond to questions about whether the donations had anything to do with the senator's actions against H.R. 3. But several of the donations represented the first or largest contributions McConnell had received in years from those supporters.

McConnell's campaign did not respond to questions about the contributions.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.