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December 13, 2005

Drug-induced

Senate lawmakers define conflict of interest:

Santa Monica, CA – 42 U.S. Senators hold stock in pharmaceutical companies even as they vote on legislation to benefit the drug industry, according to an analysis released today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). The Senate is expected to vote this week on an eleventh-hour amendment to immunize vaccine makers for dangerous drugs. Senators should not participate in votes from which they will financially benefit, said FTCR.
FTCR’s analysis of Senate personal financial disclosures reveals that 42 senators - 27 Republicans and 15 Democrats - held pharmaceutical stock worth between $8.1 and $16 million in 2004. Senators earned an additional $2.5 to $7.2 million in capital gains and dividends, and two senators’ spouses also earned salaries, from pharmaceuticals.
“Senators can’t ethically support a giveaway deal for the pharmaceutical industry when their own financial interests match those of the drug companies,” said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate with FTCR. “A financial interest in the outcome of legislation should conflict any politician out of the vote.”
The GOP-backed amendment would grant immunity to drug companies for any vaccine or product, classified by the Bush Administration as necessary to respond to a public health threat, when patients are harmed by dangerous drugs. The amendment is so broad that any product considered a “countermeasure,” not just vaccines, could be protected.
Senate Majority Leader Frist aims to make the provision an amendment to a conference report that cannot be altered.

Frist, of course, knows a good investment when he sees one, and his remarkably clear-sighted “blind trust” has at times included stock in both Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson. Moreover, as FTCR points out, not only is big pharma the most generous industry donor to Frist’s National Republican Senatorial Committee, it has also given between 64% and 74% of its federal contributions to Republicans during the past decade (for a total of $73 million, excluding Levin funds).

You can view FTCR’s (PDF-format) analysis here.

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