Pharmaceutical Lobbying Group Funnels “Dark Money” to Sway Policy

An investigation by Kaiser Health News revealed that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) quietly gave millions of dollars to groups that were heavily involved in efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite publicly supporting the ACA in 2010. These financial records suggest that PhRMA, a top lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry, is funneling “dark money” to nonprofit organizations to influence politics.

“PhRMA has always been very aggressive and very effective in their influence efforts,” Michael Beckel, research manager at Issue One, a nonprofit devoted to campaign-finance transparency, told Kaiser Health News. “That includes using these new, dark-money vehicles to influence policy and elections.”

According to the investigation of federal tax filings, PhRMA gave the American Action Network (AAN; a conservative-leaning nonprofit) $6.1 million in 2017, but failed to disclose the information until months after the donations occurred. In turn, the group backed the Republican-led health bill that was intended to replace the ACA and supported the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which lowered corporate taxes.

Groups like AAN provide an ideal outlet for organizations to be politically active but remain behind-the-scenes: These nonprofits are not required to disclose donor identity and, under Internal Revenue Service regulations, are permitted to engage openly in political activities.

In response to the report’s findings, PhRMA disputed the allegation that it donates to nonprofits to achieve specific political goals. “PhRMA engages with groups and organizations that have a wide array of health-care opinions and policy priorities,” said spokesman Robert Zirkelbach. “It is inaccurate and would be inappropriate for you to attribute those grants to a specific campaign.”

Along with large amounts to other conservative-leaning groups, PhRMA donated smaller amounts to bipartisan and liberal groups, such as $300,000 to Center Forward, an organization that seeks to find common ground on drug policy and other issues.

Source: Kaiser Health News, July 30, 2018.