Genentech's Ghostwriting Animates Congressional Speeches on Health Reform

In Sunday's New York Times, Robert Pear reports that biotech industry lobbyists were especially successful in getting their spin mouthed by House Members during the health care reform debate. He notes:

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world's largest biotechnology companies. E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans. The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Genentech is a biotechnology firm in the U.S. that is owned by the Swiss company, Roche, a global corporation that is a major part of the world pharmaceutical industry. According to the New York Times, "Genentech's political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers."

Yet, the company's head spinmeister and lobbyist, Evan L. Morris, asserted "There was no connection between the contributions and the statements." Yeah, right.

According to my Lobby Disclosure Act (LDA) database search for "Genentech" filings through the third quarter of 2009, the company has spent over $3.7 million on lobbying in the past nine months, including over $2.1 million itself with the remainder spent by lobby shops like the American Continental Group and several law firms. Unfortunately, the LDA requirements are weak and do not require the disclosure of which Members received this very expensive attention from Big Pharma's lobbyists, including their smooth talking points. Genentech also has a Political Action Committee that took in almost $400,000 in donations in 2008, and then spread this money around to Republicans and Democrats in donations of $1000 to $5000 during the 2008 election cycle. But these amounts pale in comparison to the money spent on lobbyists chatting up policymakers -- Members of Congress and their staff.

Genentech has recently been in the news because it is the beneficiary of a change in Medicare policy that allows doctors to be reimbursed for the use of its more expensive drug to treat macular degeneration (blindness) at $2000 a pop, for Lucentis, compared with a similar drug it manufactures and makes available for $50 to $60 a shot, Avastin. U.S. Senator Herb Kohl has inquired about why the agency approved this change that will cost taxpayers so much more for a drug that is vastly more expensive, and which Genentech has refused to submit to independent study to determine if it is indeed better. The company's spokesperson, Megan Pace, stated, "[W]e had no involvement in that decision."

I guess it's just been a season of coincidence for Genentech.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”