Money Talks, Science Walks: Millions Spent to Weaken FDA

Money Talks, Science Walks: Millions Spent to Weaken FDA

Pharmaceutical, medical device, biotechnology industries spend $700 million ahead of crucial legislation

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology industries spent over $700 million in lobbying between 2009 and 2011, surpassing other special interest spending such as big oil and insurance industries.

The extreme spending comes as this year's 'industry-friendly proposals' face the House and Senate, such as legislation limiting the FDA's drug and medical device scrutiny.

"Congress is also considering legislation that would relax conflict-of-interest standards for federal advisory members at the FDA, allowing scientists with a financial stake in the outcome to vote on panels that approve or reject drugs and medical devices," states UCS.

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Drug and Health Product Industry Spent $700 Million on Lobbying (UCS):

Pharmaceuticals companies and related trade groups spent more than $487 million on lobbying over this three-year period, while biotechnology firms and their trade groups spent more than $126 million and device manufacturers and their trade groups spent more than $86 million.

By comparison, the oil and gas industry spent more than $467 million and the insurance industry spent nearly $481 million during the same three-year period.

While these companies differ in their specific objectives, a central lobbying target for all of them is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which must evaluate new drugs and medical devices for safety and efficacy as well as monitor them after they enter the market.

"All this money skews the debate and diminishes the public's voice on these issues," said Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program. "What's at stake here is FDA's ability to make independent, science-based decisions that affect our health and safety." [...]

The analysis also showed that these industries were generous with their campaign contributions, giving nearly $6.3 million to 70 lawmakers who served on relevant committees from 2009 through 2011.

This year, several industry-friendly proposals are pending in both the House and Senate, including legislation that would reduce the FDA's scrutiny of medical devices, relax conflict-of-interest standards at the agency, and emphasize speed and innovation over adherence to the FDA's science-based standards for safe and effective drugs and devices.

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Money Talks, and What It's Saying May Harm the FDA (UCS/Celia Wexler):

This year, Congress has proposed changes that would harm the agency's ability to protect public health and safety. It would be a lot easier for drug, device and biotech industries to get their products to market, in some cases with even less scrutiny than the FDA gives these products now. [...]

What do all those millions buy? Public Citizen recently reported that during the third and fourth quarters of 2011, at least 225 lobbyists walked the halls of Congress and executive branch agencies, making the case for medical device companies. All those boots on the ground build relationships with the key congressional and executive branch players in Washington.

The same holds for campaign contributions. Donations to Members of Congress don't buy votes. But they do buy access. It's a lot easier to get the ear of a member of Congress when you're at a fundraising cocktail party and you can just walk over and have a casual chat. The member of Congress can ensure that the chat is followed up with an in-depth discussion with his or her senior aides.

The money these companies give is smart money. It's targeted where it has the greatest impact. As we report today, key members of one House subcommittee and one Senate committee received nearly $6.3 million in campaign contributions since 2009.

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