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Schering-Plough Political Money Pushes Claritin Patent

Nov. 9, 1999

Schering-Plough Political Money Pushes Claritin Patent

Extension Bill Onto Senate Judiciary Calendar

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since pharmaceutical maker Schering-Plough began trying in 1996 to persuade Congress to extend the company?s patent on the multibillion-dollar allergy drug Claritin, it has greatly increased its soft money contributions and lobbying expenditures and is increasingly targeting Democrats with both campaign cash and lobbying, a Public Citizen study released today shows.

    Those efforts appear to be paying off. With just days left before Congress adjourns for the year, Schering-Plough?s campaign contributions and high-powered lobbyists have catapulted legislation to allow the patent extension for Claritin and six other drugs onto the Senate Judiciary Committee?s mark-up agenda for Wednesday, Nov. 10.

    Such an extension for Claritin alone would cost consumers an extra $7.3 billion.

    The report shows that:

Over the past three election cycles, Schering-Plough has given nearly $1 million in soft money to Democratic and Republican party committees. This year, the company?s soft money contributions through September 1999 totaled $292,000 — four-and-a-half times what was contributed in the comparable period during the previous two election cycles ($75,000 in 1995, and $65,000 in 1997).

Soft money contributions to Democratic Party committees represented only 4 percent of total soft money giving in the 1996 cycle, but jumped to 23 percent in the 1998 cycle and 34 percent thus far in 1999. Democratic Party committees raised more from Schering-Plough in the first nine months of 1999 ($110,000) than they raised in all of 1995 to 1998 combined ($81,000).

Schering-Plough’s campaign contributions to candidates show the same trend. Since 1996, Schering-Plough’s corporate PAC has contributed $371,500 to members of Congress — $264,000 to Republicans and $107,500 to Democrats. In the 1996 and 1998 election cycles, the ratio was 3-to-1 Republican over Democrat. In the first six months of 1999, 61 percent went to Democrats and 39 percent to Republicans.

The seven current and former members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who are co-sponsors of the patent extension legislation, S. 1172, or have otherwise assisted Schering-Plough’s effort to gain a Claritin patent extension, collectively received $74,998 in campaign contributions over the past three election cycles. This is 17 times more than the company’s contributions of just $4,300 to all of the committee’s other 16 members over the same period.

A main proponent of the Claritin patent extension bill in the Senate is the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.). Over the past three election cycles, Torricelli was the lead recipient of contributions from the corporation’s PAC and executives, receiving $30,050. Torricelli also was vice chairman [1998] and chairman [1999] of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which received $115,000 from Schering-Plough over the past two election cycles.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was the second-highest recipient, taking in $18,000 [including $5,000 for his current presidential campaign].

Hatch also used Schering-Plough’s corporate jet on at least five occasions this year in the days surrounding the Judiciary Committee’s Aug. 4 hearing on S. 1172, at which he spoke in support of the legislation. [The Iowa Republican straw poll took place Aug. 14, 1999. While neither the FEC nor the Hatch campaign have disclosed the exact number of flights or the destination, the Washington Post reported on Oct. 30, 1999, that at least one of the flights was to Iowa.] Hatch reimbursed the company $18,961 in five separate payments, which represents the price of a first-class air ticket for each passenger. These payments cover just a small fraction of the actual cost of operating Schering-Plough’s corporate jet, a Gulfstream 4, which would cost $5,000 per hour to charter. A charter service operating at Reagan National Airport quotes a price of $30,000 to fly two to three people round trip from Washington to Des Moines.

Since 1996, Schering-Plough has spent more than $11 million lobbying Congress and the administration. The company?s lobbying expenditures have risen rapidly, doubling between 1996 and 1998 and increasing by almost a third in the first half of 1999 compared to the same period a year earlier. In the second half of 1998 and the first six months of 1999, the company added such prominent Democratic lobbyists as former Watergate Chief Counsel Richard Ben-Veniste and Linda Daschle, wife of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle [to lobby the House, not the Senate], to join longtime Republican powerbroker lobbyists such as former Sen. Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.).

“This bill is about whether prescription drugs are going to continue to be unaffordable for too many Americans, including seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare who have no prescription drug coverage,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “How senators vote is a test. Will they side with their constituents and taxpayers, or will they vote to further enrich the stockholders of one enormously profitable pharmaceutical company?”