In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’

Published on
by
The New York Times

In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’

by
Robert Pear

“One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country.” This written statement by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina on the health care bill was identical to one by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer and used language suggested by lobbyists. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — In the official record of the historic House debate on
overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with
similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in
whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of
the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the
lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for
Republicans.

The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law
firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in
the Congressional Record under the names of different members of
Congress.

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates
that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22
Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.

In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr.,
Democrat of New Jersey, said: “I regret that the language was the same.
I did not know it was.” He said he got his statement from his staff and
“did not know where they got the information from.”

Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the
Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to
“revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and
extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find
clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

The e-mail messages and their attached documents indicate that the
statements were based on information supplied by Genentech employees to
one of its lobbyists, Matthew L. Berzok, a lawyer at Ryan, MacKinnon,
Vasapoli & Berzok who is identified as the “author” of the
documents. The statements were disseminated by lobbyists at a big law
firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.

In an e-mail message to fellow lobbyists on Nov. 5, two days before
the House vote, Todd M. Weiss, senior managing director of
Sonnenschein, said, “We are trying to secure as many House R’s and D’s
to offer this/these statements for the record as humanly possible.”

He told the lobbyists to “conduct aggressive outreach to your
contacts on the Hill to see if their bosses would offer the attached
statements (or an edited version) for the record.”

In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and
lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to
many House members, including some who filed statements in the
Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts
at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers. But Evan L. Morris, head
of Genentech’s Washington office, said, “There was no connection
between the contributions and the statements.”

Mr. Morris said Republicans and Democrats, concerned about the
unemployment rate, were receptive to the company’s arguments about the
need to keep research jobs in the United States.

The statements were not intended to change the bill, which was not
open for much amendment during the debate. They were meant to show
bipartisan support for certain provisions, even though the vote on
passage generally followed party lines.

Democrats emphasized the bill’s potential to create jobs in health
care, health information technology and clinical research on new drugs.

Republicans opposed the bill, but praised a provision that would give the Food and Drug Administration
the authority to approve generic versions of expensive biotechnology
drugs, along the lines favored by brand-name companies like Genentech.

Lawmakers from both parties said it was important to conduct
research on such “biosimilar” products in the United States. Several
took a swipe at aggressive Indian competitors.

Asked about the Congressional statements, a lobbyist close to
Genentech said: “This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious
about it.”

In separate statements using language suggested by the lobbyists, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Joe Wilson
of South Carolina, both Republicans, said: “One of the reasons I have
long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a
homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this
country. Unfortunately, many of the largest companies that would seek
to enter the biosimilar market have made their money by outsourcing
their research to foreign countries like India.”

In remarks on the House floor, Representative Phil Hare, Democrat of
Illinois, recalled that his family had faced eviction when his father
was sick and could not make payments on their home. He said the House
bill would save others from such hardship.

In a written addendum in the Congressional Record, Mr. Hare said the
bill would also create high-paying jobs. Timothy Schlittner, a
spokesman for Mr. Hare, said: “That part of his statement was drafted
for us by Roche pharmaceutical company. It is something he agrees with.”

The boilerplate in the Congressional Record included some conversational touches, as if actually delivered on the House floor.

In the standard Democratic statement, Representative Robert A. Brady
of Pennsylvania said: “Let me repeat that for some of my friends on the
other side of the aisle. This bill will create high-paying,
high-quality jobs in health care delivery, technology and research in
the United States.”

Mr. Brady’s chief of staff, Stanley V. White, said he had received
the draft statement from a lobbyist for Genentech’s parent company,
Roche.

“We were approached by the lobbyist, who asked if we would be
willing to enter a statement in the Congressional Record,” Mr. White
said. “I asked him for a draft. I tweaked a couple of words. There’s
not much reason to reinvent the wheel on a Congressional Record entry.”

Some differences were just a matter of style. Representative Yvette D. Clarke,
Democrat of New York, said, “I see this bill as an exciting opportunity
to create the kind of jobs we so desperately need in this country,
while at the same time improving the lives of all Americans.”

Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, used the
same words, but said the bill would improve the lives of “ALL
Americans.”

Mr. Payne and Mr. Brady said the bill would “create new
opportunities and markets for our brightest technology minds.” Mr.
Pascrell said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for
our brightest minds in technology.”

In nearly identical words, three Republicans — Representatives K.
Michael Conaway of Texas, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Lee Terry of
Nebraska — said they had criticized many provisions of the bill, and
“rightfully so.”

But, each said, “I do believe the sections relating to the creation
of a market for biosimilar products is one area of the bill that
strikes the appropriate balance in providing lower cost options.”

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