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Seniors Group Continues to Do Bidding of Drug Industry, Sponsor “Issue Ads” to Help Industry Allies in Campaigns

Oct. 21, 2002

Seniors Group Continues to Do Bidding of Drug Industry, Sponsor “Issue Ads” to Help Industry Allies in Campaigns

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the election draws near, the United Seniors Association (USA) is continuing to spend millions on “issue ads” designed to influence the outcomes of close races, a new Public Citizen analysis shows. USA is on track to spend $17.6 million to promote the pharmaceutical industry’s political agenda during the 2002 election cycle, with much of the money going for sham “issue ads” and Internet and direct mail campaigns.

In September, USA launched a $4 million ad campaign in the districts of 20 U.S. House members, urging constituents to thank their representatives for voting for a House Republican and drug industry-supported measure to provide Medicare beneficiaries with subsidies to buy private prescription drug coverage. The ad ran in the districts of four Democrats and 16 Republicans. The Republicans are all in tight races, and the Democrats are either not running or are in safe seats.

“The ads in Democrats’ districts seem to be USA’s way of avoiding charges from the Internal Revenue Service that they’re participating in political campaigns,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “The House isn’t even considering prescription drug legislation right now, so this campaign looks like an attempt to capitalize on a hot campaign issue and help elect candidates who will support the drug industry. It’s likely that we will file a complaint with the IRS urging the agency to see if USA is violating its tax-exempt status.”

Public Citizen issued a report in July that exposed how USA has acted as a shill for major industries, especially pharmaceutical companies, seeking to influence federal policy and elections. In 2002 alone, Public Citizen estimates USA will spend at least $10.6 million on drug ads; with much if not all of the money provided by the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the drug companies’ trade association.

People with close connections to the drug industry and the Republican Party are behind the USA ads. For example, an ad wave in May and June 2002 was produced by PhRMA’s former marketing director, who also led Citizens for Better Medicare, a drug industry front group that spent $65 million to influence the 2000 elections.

Click here to view the new analysis.