Monday, January 25, 2016

He who pays the piper, calls the tune

Pfizer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, gave $2,217,066 in political campaign donations during the 2014 election cycle (the most recent year for which data is available), and $9,483,000 more in political lobbying. As of 2014, 40 members of Congress held stock in the pharmaceutical giant. Congress also happens to be doing nothing to stop Pfizer from charging Americans some of the highest drug prices in the world.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is another pharmaceutical behemoth charging Americans inflated drug prices while funneling money to Congress. In 2014, the company spent $259,450 in campaign contributions, and $2,745,000 in lobbying. Twenty-five members of Congress hold stock in Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Another Big Pharma company, Johnson & Johnson, gave $757,788 in political campaign contributions in 2014, and spent $5,980,000 more in lobbying. Forty members of Congress hold stock in Johnson & Johnson.

While millions of Americans fight to afford their medications, 11 corporate leviathans (all of which donate to or lobby Congress) have wrested more than $711 billion in profits for their investors.

Unlike many other nations in the world, US federal lawmakers do not regulate or restrain massive pharmaceutical companies from engaging in predatory pricing practices. The same lucrative financial ties that exist between politicians and the "health-care" industry exist between politicians and private prisons, oil companies, gun companies, sugar companies, other big agribusiness and Wall Street's bankers, advisers, and hedge fund and private equity managers. Congress does not, in fact, represent the people of the United States, but rich CEOs. On both sides of the aisle, campaign donations, super PACs and corporate lobbying have morphed this country into an oligarchy, controlled by the wealthy few. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) recently fought for the protection of a billion-dollar tax loophole pushed by Wall Street investors, while super PACs with close ties to Reid have received upward of $1 million from Wall Street CEOs like TPG Capital cofounder David Bonderman. Throughout their political careers, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have gotten over $3 million combined from the oil industry. Recently, these three legislators all supported the industry's (successful) fight to lift the 40-year ban on unlimited exports of US crude oil. In 2007, then - Sen. Hillary Clinton, now presidential candidate, gave campaign speeches attacking a tax break for hedge fund and private equity executives, but did not put her name on Senate legislation to close the loophole. In 2006, Clinton received hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct campaign and super PAC contributions from individuals working for (and PACs representing) financial institutions such as Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Lehman Brothers.

 Of course this is not a new development. Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto described “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

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