When former Turing Pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli announced that he was increasing the price of an HIV drug called Daraprim by nearly 5,000%, he turned the cost of prescription drugs into a political issue.
Shortly after Daraprim’s price increase was made public, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a prescription drug plan to drive prices down. Her Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, sent a letter to Shkreli demanding an explanation for the price increase and when Shkreli donated to his campaign, Sanders took that donation and gave it to a health clinic. Republican candidate Donald Trump called Shkreli a “spoiled brat” and said “he ought to be ashamed of himself.”
But despite all the drama and talk of standing up to the pharmaceutical industry, these companies continue to be big spenders, donating $951,018 to presidential candidates in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission.
Their biggest recipient? Clinton. She collected $336,416 in donations, over a third of the total contributions during the 2016 presidential campaign. The next biggest recipient was Republican candidate Jeb Bush, who collected less than half the amount of Clinton. Trump received the least in donations: $1,010, enough to buy one Daraprim pill.
Sanders’ and Clinton’s drug plans would give the government a bigger role in negotiating drug prices. Clinton wants the government-run Medicare to have a say in negotiating the price of drugs. Currently Medicare — one of the largest buyers of prescription drugs in America — has no seat at the negotiating table. Sanders also wants Medicare to leverage its bargaining power when it comes to prescription drugs, as well as import prescription drugs from Canada.
The contributions to Clinton and Bush came last year, when no one knew who the front-runner would be by now. “Established industries and lobbies give primarily to establishment candidates that they perceive will be leaders and eventual nominees,” said Scott Swenson, vice president for communications for Common Cause, a nonprofit political watchdog group. As Swenson explained it, early money is like a “bet” on likely winners.
The pharmaceutical industry is the 15th most generous industry in terms of donations so far in the 2016 presidential election. The health industry overall — combining health professionals, hospitals, HMOs and pharmaceutical companies — donated over $9.5 million to the 2016 presidential candidates, making it the third largest donating industry. Clinton continues to be the biggest beneficiary from this group, receiving more than $3.5 million in donations. The next candidate in line is Ted Cruz, who received just over $1.1 million in health care industry donations.
These donations don’t include how much corporations also spend on lobbying Congress. For example, Pfizer, one of the most influential and largest pharmaceutical companies, spent more than $10 million in lobbying efforts last year. Lobbying money has traditionally followed large health care initiatives. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the health care industry hit record lobbying limits in 2009, spending nearly $273 million around the time the Affordable Care Act was being debated in Congress.