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Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who sided with the pharmaceutical industry in an ongoing lobbying fight over Medicare reforms received 82 percent more in campaign contributions for the 2016 election cycle than members who did not side with the industry, according to a new Public Citizen report.
The report, "Pharma's Orders," sheds light on the role of money in politics in the ongoing debate surrounding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) proposed Medicare Part B demonstration project. The project is intended to reduce costs to taxpayers and patients by decreasing doctors' incentive to administer the most expensive products provided under Medicare Part B.
The pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes the project. In Congress, 240 Republican and four Democratic representatives signed a letter to CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt voicing opposition to the project. Separately, 66 Democratic representatives signed a letter strongly critical of the project.
According to campaign finance data obtained from the Center for Responsive Politics, members of the House so far reported a total of $9,535,672 in contributions from the pharmaceutical / health products industry during the 2015-2016 election cycle. The letter-signers raked in a combined $7,236,806 in pharmaceutical / health products industry contributions for their 2016 campaigns, averaging $23,344 per representative.
In contrast, the 124 rank-and-file representatives (119 Democrats, five Republicans)* who did not sign either letter got a combined $1,585,857 in pharmaceutical / health products industry contributions for their 2016 campaigns, averaging $12,789 per representative.
"Our findings illustrate a revealing pattern: Representatives who side with the drug industry collected much more in campaign contributions from the industry," said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director. "This correlation raises serious questions about whose interests our elected representatives are serving."
"Reducing incentives for doctors to prescribe more costly drugs is a no-brainer," said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. "The finding that congressional opponents and critics of this project receive almost twice as much in campaign contributions as other members of Congress suggests the real motivation of opponents."
*Note: Because members of congressional leadership rarely sign on to lobby letters, this analysis does not include former House Speaker John Boehner, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.(202) 588-1000
Three reproductive rights groups are also calling on the state Supreme Court to declare the ban unconstitutional, as it did with an earlier six-week ban in January.
Three reproductive rights groups celebrated a victory in South Carolina just one day after filing a lawsuit against the state over its six-week abortion ban, which went into effect earlier this week immediately after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed it.
Judge Clifton Newman temporarily halted S. 474 at the request of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSA), and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which are representing abortion providers in the state in their lawsuit.
The groups are also calling for a judgment declaring the ban unconstitutional, as the South Carolina Supreme Court did in January regarding a previously-passed six-week abortion ban.
For the time being, said PPSA, "abortion is again legal in South Carolina."
\u201cBREAKING NEWS: A South Carolina state court just granted abortion providers\u2019 request to block the newly-enacted ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. \n\nAbortion is again legal in South Carolina.\u201d— PP South Atlantic SC (@PP South Atlantic SC) 1685116065
"The status quo should be maintained until the Supreme Court reviews its decision," Newman said in his decision. "It's going to end up there."
With the ban blocked, abortion care is currently legal in South Carolina up until about 20 weeks after fertilization.
"Today the court has granted our patients a welcome reprieve from this dangerous abortion ban," said Jenny Black, president and CEO of PPSA. "Our doors remain open, and we are here to provide compassionate and judgment-free health care to all South Carolinians. While we have a long fight ahead, we will not stop until our patients are again free to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures."
Advocacy groups warned this week that if S. 474 is allowed to stand, it will threaten the bodily autonomy of South Carolinians as well as people from across the South, where abortion is largely banned now following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.
S. 474 includes exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities and the pregnant person's life and health—although numerous cases since Roe was overturned have demonstrated how such exceptions can put the physical and emotional health of a pregnant person at grave risk. The ban permits abortion until up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and incest, but only if the patient's medical provider reports the crime and the patient's name to authorities.
"For the past year, we have seen the dangerous consequences of these extreme laws across the country," said Caroline Sacerdote, staff attorney for CRR. "Even still, state legislators have continued to cruelly gamble with people's health and lives, betraying South Carolinians and their fundamental rights. We will keep fighting to ensure South Carolinians' reproductive freedom is protected."
Former state Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn wrote the opinion in the 3-2 ruling that was handed down in January, blocking the earlier six-week ban. She has since retired from the court.
"This law shows that states are a key part of ensuring that communities are safe from PFAS," one advocate said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday signed into law the broadest ban on dangerous "forever chemicals" in the nation.
The ban forms part of H.F. 2310—an omnibus environment bill—and is one of the many new policies to come out of what progressives say is a "transformational" legislative session for the state. Minnesota is now the first of any U.S. state to prohibit per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) in menstrual products, dental floss, cleaning supplies, and cooking equipment.
"Minnesota is at the forefront of addressing the PFAS and toxic chemical crisis," Safer States national director Sarah Doll said in a statement. "This law shows that states are a key part of ensuring that communities are safe from PFAS."
"PFAS was developed in Minnesota, and it's powerful that it ends here, too."
PFAS are a class of chemicals that have been used by industry since the 1940s. They are common in firefighting foam and stick-, stain-, grease-, and water-resistant products. However, they have spread extensively throughout the environment and human bodies where they do not break down—hence the moniker "forever chemicals." This is a problem because they have also been linked to an expanding list of health concerns including cancer, immune suppression, reproductive and developmental issues, and thyroid and liver ailments.
"Documentation proves that manufacturers knew as early as 1950 that PFAS was toxic and yet products that contained it were promoted and sold to make a profit," Clean Water Watch Minnesota state director Avonna Starck said in a statement. "PFAS was developed in Minnesota, and it's powerful that it ends here, too."
The new law closes a loophole in a 2019 law banning PFAS in firefighting foam, bans PFAS in certain products beginning in 2025, mandates that manufacturers disclose the use of PFAS by 2026, and bans the chemicals in all products not essential for public health by 2032. The legislation, which passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support on May 19, targets 13 different product categories—the most of any state in the nation. In addition to firefighting foam, menstrual products, dental floss, cookware, and cleaning supplies, no one can sell PFAS-containing food packaging, cosmetics, textiles, carpets, fabric treatments, upholstered furniture, children's products, and ski wax.
"This is the first step of the major changes needed to protect families and our environmental legacy," state Rep. Jeff Brand (D-18A), who contributed language to the new law, said in a statement.
\u201cNon-essential uses of #PFAS in Minnesota will be eliminated thanks to the passage of HF 1000. \n\nThis is the dawn of a new era for human health and environment protection in Minnesota, and across the nation.\n\nA classic tale of corporate greed vs. government intervention.\u201d— Jeff Brand (@Jeff Brand) 1684508640
Minnesota's law builds and expands on PFAS regulations in other states, Safer States pointed out, including specific use bans passed by California, Colorado, and Washington, and a disclosure law passed in Maine in 2021. But it also has a state-specific origin.
The bill was championed by Amarah Strande, a young woman who grew up near a 3M PFAS disposal facility and was diagnosed with a rare cancer when she was 15, an experience she shared with other classmates at Tartan Senior High School.
"I've spent the last five years fighting cancer with every ounce of my being," she said in January. "And I will for the rest of my life. Corporations must stop the production of these toxins and be held accountable and pay for the damage they've done. Through no fault of my own, I was exposed to these toxic chemicals. And as a result, I will die with this cancer."
Strande's prediction came true four months later—she died in April two days before her 21st birthday. The PFAS regulations have been named "Amara's Law" in her honor.
\u201cWe are grateful for the bipartisan support to pass the PFAS Prevention Package, now known as "Amara's Law."\n\nWe will keep working to create a comprehensive legislative agenda to continue protecting MN's waters.#mnleg \nhttps://t.co/mSfORWDVQP\u201d— Clean Water Action MN (@Clean Water Action MN) 1684854140
"Amara testified not because of her own situation but because she believed she could be a voice for her community," her father Michael Strande said in a statement. "Amara was an advocate for those who were sick and suffering with a disease or illness brought about from these dangerous chemicals. Dana, Nora, and I are grateful for the legislators who made the bold choice to pass Amara's Law. This law will protect the people of Minnesota for generations to come."
"Total's record-breaking profits come at a steep cost: environmental devastation, human rights abuses, and climate chaos," said one advocacy group. "It's time to hold them accountable for their insatiable pursuit of wealth!"
Climate campaigners marched through central Paris Friday in the latest attempt to disrupt a shareholder meeting held by a major fossil fuel company, demanding that oil giant TotalEnergies adopt a resolution to sharply increase the pace of its greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Advocacy groups including 350.org, Greenpeace, Scientist Rebellion, and Friends of the Earth France joined a reported 700 demonstrators outside the Salle Pleyel, the venue of Total's annual general meeting, with campaigners chanting, "All we want is to knock down Total" and "One, two, three degrees, we have Total to thank"—a reference to planetary heating and scientists' warnings that fossil fuel extraction must be drastically reduced in order to keep warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Banners carried by the protesters read, "The science is clear but Total is ignoring it" and "Floods, heatwaves, drought, pandemics: The world according to Total."
\u201cBlocage Total! @350France joins over 700 climate activists block @TotalEnergies 's AGM today to protest against its climate wrecking projects and massive profits.\n\n\ud83d\udcf7Claire Jaillard / @350\n\n#BlocageTotal #PeoplesHealthTribunal\u201d— 350 dot org (@350 dot org) 1685090522
Police targeted the demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray, with some people being dragged away from the Salle Pleyel—moves that were condemned as "outrageous" by the campaign group Stop East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), of which Total is the lead shareholder.
"Police resorted to extreme measures, dropping a tear gas grenade amidst a group of peaceful, seated, handcuffed activists at Total's AGM blockade," said the group. "This excessive force against non-violent individuals is utterly unacceptable!"
\u201c\ud83d\udea8 Outrageous! \ud83d\ude21 Police resorted to extreme measures, dropping a tear gas grenade amidst a group of peaceful, seated, handcuffed activists at Total's AGM blockade. This excessive force against non-violent individuals is utterly unacceptable! \ud83d\ude20 #BlocageTotal #StopEACOP\u201d— StopEACOP (@StopEACOP) 1685085784
Inside the meeting, the Dutch activist shareholder group Follow This pushed investors in Total to adopt a resolution committing the company to include Scope 3 emissions—those caused by the burning of Total's products by customers, such as airlines, or drivers—in its 2030 emissions targets and steeper absolute emissions cuts.
The resolution garnered the support of about 30% of shareholders, nearly doubling its support in 2020, the last time such a proposal was put forward. Seventeen investors who control a total of $1.2 million in the company voted in support of the resolution.
Follow This CEO Mark van Baal, whose group's motto is "Change from the inside," called the vote "a great outcome" and evidence of a growing "shareholder rebellion."
"One-third of investors say Total needs to decrease emissions by 2030 and that they can't hide behind their customers by saying Scope 3 emissions are not the company's responsibility," he toldFrance24.
The final vote on Total's climate pledge, however, approved emissions cuts only at the company's directly-owned facilities and garnered more than 88% of shareholder votes.
Greenpeace France on Friday acknowledged that Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher toldFrance Info radio as the meeting convened that fossil fuel companies will have no future unless they shift to renewable energy and urged companies including Total to "re-invent themselves."
"But you know that these companies won't do anything without legal constraint," said the group. "We therefore expect strong political acts."
In the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2022 report, scientists said the world needs to reduce fossil fuel emissions by 43% from 2019 levels by 2030 in order to meet the Paris climate agreement's target of limiting planetary heating to less than 2°C.
As scientists and advocates have demanded companies including Total reduce their emissions, the company reported a net profit of $36.2 billion in 2022, doubling its earnings in the previous year.