How to Build a Leaner, Meaner Lobbying Machine

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THE TREATMENT NOVEMBER 16, 2009

How to Build a Leaner, Meaner Lobbying Machine

I agree with Jonathan that Robert Pear's story about conservative legislators parroting health-care talking points from Genentech, a biotech firm, is a case study in the outsized clout of drug industry lobbyists on the Hill, generally speaking. But it's also worth noting that Genetech--a subsidiary of Swiss industry giant Hoffman La Roche--is actually part of the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO) and not the bigger, better-known Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). Roche actually made big news back in June when it decided to leave PhRMA for BIO after it acquired Genentech, deciding that the more specialized lobby was better suited to representing its interests in Washington. The move marked Roche's attempt to "she[d] its century-old identity as a tradtiional U.S. pharmaceutical company," New Jersey's Star-Ledger reported, and also marked a loss for PhRMA of a particularly powerful and deep-pocketed player.

But as part of a comparatively smaller, newer lobby, Genentech certainly wasn't lacking an audience on Capitol Hill. In fact, it seems like part of the reason that conservative legislators have found it so easy to lift Genentech's boilerplate has been because biotech is a more narrow, regionally-oriented industry with a narrative that felt more authentic than the monolithic pharmaceutical industry--"a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country," as Representative Joe Wilson proclaimed.

As a more narrowly focused lobby, BIO has the advantage of being able to court House members from industry-heavy districts to include very specific provisions in the bill--measures that have often flown below the radar of the major political and legislative debates. A case in point was BIO's success in getting the House to include a 12-year data exclusivity shield to protect it from generic competition--against the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission itself, who deemed such protections to be excessive and costly to consumers, in an coup led by California Representative (and Democrat) Anna Eschoo. This victory was entirely separate from the highly-criticized, $80 billion deal that PhRMA struck with the White House and Democratic leadership.

BIO's success seems to parallel that of the medical device industry--another smaller and newer, yet extremely powerful lobby that has managed to score a big win on the one tax provision by peddling its innovation story to individual legislators. Taken together, of course, all these victories speak to the overarching power of lobbyists writ large. But they also show how the increasing specialization of these industry lobbies allows them to score carve-outs that fewer legislators and consumer advocates may be paying attention to.

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