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Drug Lobby's Tax Filings Reveal Big Spending In Health Debate

Billy Tauzin, former congressman and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in a 2008 file photo.
Mike Wintroath
Billy Tauzin, former congressman and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, in a 2008 file photo.

It's official. The drug industry's chief lobbyists -- the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America -- raised and spent at least $101.2 million in 2009 on advocacy efforts during the contentious health care overhaul debate, according to tax documents the group filed last month.

Former PhRMA CEO Billy Tauzin tells Shots the lobby used the money -- special contributions from member companies -- for broadcast and print ads, grassroots and direct lobbying, polling and consulting. Tauzin, who has a two-year contract to advise PhRMA's new leader, recently opened his own DC-based lobbying shop with his son Tom.

The former Republican Louisiana lawmaker was sweetly rewarded for his efforts on the overhaul. He pulled down a $2.1 million salary, as well as a bonus of $2.3 million in 2009, according to the tax filing. Including other benefits, Tauzin’s total compensation was $4.6 million, just up from his $4.4 million the year before.

Tauzin left PhRMA in mid-2010 amid rumors his support of the health overhaul led to his demise at PhRMA. Tauzin denied he was pushed out in an interview. "I gave PhRMA a five-and-a-half-year contract when I came out of cancer. That was my commitment and, quite frankly, I was burnt.” (Tauzin was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2004 and credits his survival to a drug produced by Genentech.)

PhRMA's tax forms (see the 12 MB PDF here) contain other interesting goodies, too. While supporting the Democratic overhaul with the $100 million-plus payload, PhRMA also donated to organizations that hosted some vocal critics of the health law, including the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation; the National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley Jr.; the Pacific Research Institute, a right-leaning think tank, and the Hudson Institute.

For much of 2009, the Hudson Institute employed former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey, a firebrand who is credited with supplying the fodder for Sarah Palin's 'death panel' myth.

In a statement released Tuesday , PhRMA spokesman Wes Metheny said the lobby supports "diverse stakeholders and policymakers" who share its goals.

Our favorite beneficiary of PhRMA's largess? The Mystick Krewe of Louisianians, a Mardi-Gras-on-the-Potomac party club, that received $17,400.

Tauzin is itching to return to Washington's lobbying scene. He also has no regrets about leading PhRMA to make an $80 billion deal with the White House to stave off any new expensive mandates on drug companies, which caused much criticism from congressional Republicans. "This was a unanimous decision by the board," he said. "When you consider that, none of us should have any regrets. We did exactly what the board wanted."

That doesn’t mean he thought the health law was perfect. PhRMA was strongly opposed to the inclusion of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which aims to rein in costs. Tauzin says he hopes he lands a client that will lead him to lobby the IPAB and head off regulations that would result in the "rationing" of medical care. "I don’t want government interfering with patient choices," he said.

Copyright 2023 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit Kaiser Health News.

Bara Vaida
Christopher Weaver