Lawmakers’ Statements On Health-Care Reform Were Ghost-Written By Lobbyists: Report

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Here’s one of those stories that point up the utter sleaziness of the cozy lawmaker-lobbyist relationships that continue to shape so much of what Congress does.

The New York Times reports that lobbyists for a major biotech company, Genentech, wrote statements that were then put into the Congressional Record under the names of more than a dozen lawmakers of both parties.The statements varied somewhat from one version to the next, but many used similar language. Those from Democrats lauded the health-care reform bill’s potential to create jobs in health care and drug research — jobs that would figure to be created by firms like Genentech. Those from Republicans praised a provision in the bill that would let the FDA approve generic versions of biotechnology drugs, a stance Genentech supports. And lawmakers from both parties expressed support for keeping such research in the U.S., rather than letting it be done by foreign competitors.

Two Republican lawmakers used the exact same language, submitted by Genentech lobbyists. Both Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Joe Wilson of South Carolina declared:

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.

It won’t surprise you to learn that in recent years, Genentech’s PAC has contributed generously to many lawmakers, including some who submitted the statements.

The Times obtained emails and other documents that shed light on how Genetech’s lobbyists put the scheme into practice:

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.”

Among the Democratic members of Congress who submitted the statements on behalf of Genentech: Bill Pascrell Jr. and Donald Payne of New Jersey, Phil Hare of Illinois, Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, and Yvette Clarke of New York. Among the Republicans: Wilson, Luetkemeyer, Michael Conaway of Texas, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Lee Terry of Nebraska.

The direct consequences of the episode are relatively minor. Lawmakers seek to have statements entered into the Congressional Record all the time, and they carry no binding authority. But companies obviously value these official affirmations from on high of their positions, or they wouldn’t work to engineer them, as Genentech did. More than anything, the ease with which the biotech firm seems to have convinced numerous lawmakers to do its bidding is a depressing indicator of the extent to which, despite the much-heralded reforms of the last few years, Congress remains in hock to moneyed interests.

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