By Samantha Igo

Hey folks! Here’s a breakdown of this week’s political corruption stories.

New Opioid Bills Pad the Pockets of Pharmaceutical Companies

As Congress moves to tackle the opioid crisis, pharmaceutical companies are lobbying aggressively to pass bills meant to benefit them.

“For years, we got the scraps,” said the founder of a behavioral health consulting firm. “And now we’re the big time.” This quote is in response to the $6 billion that Congress has pledged to spend over the next two years to solve the opioid epidemic killing an average of 115 Americans a day, starting with over five dozen bills that the House passed over the last two weeks. Many of these bills, however, address the interests of pharmaceutical companies more so than the full scope of the issue.

Two bills in particular are slated to benefit the pharmaceutical companies that spent large amounts of money to get them passed:

  • Alkermes spent $1 million in just three months at the start of this year. They strongly supported a bill that provides full-service detox centers, because their medicine, Vivitrol, requires users to be fully detoxed before it can be prescribed. These centers would greatly improve Alkermes’ bottom line.
  • Indivior spent $180,000 in support of a bill that eases regulations on injectable controlled substances to treat opioid addiction. Indivior produces one of these injectable medications, and if the bill becomes law, the company could encourage more doctors to buy their product–and raise their profits.

“Whoever’s stuff is slick gets put to the top of the pile,” because of the pharmaceutical lobbyists’ sway with politicians, and the most effective methods of reducing opioid use are left out of the bills.

The Bottom Line: Big pharma spent nearly $280 million lobbying Congress last year. The industry holds massive influence in Congress and their touch can be seen in many of the bills currently making their way into law.


Private Prisons Pay-to-Play for Lucrative Government Support

GEO Group, a private prison company, has spent millions in lobbying and campaign contributions for favorable treatment and higher profits.

Private prison stocks rose when Congress announced the compromise immigration bill going to a vote this week, which included a budget line for building family detention centers. One of the companies looking to profit most from this legislation is GEO Group, a corporation that runs private detention and corrections facilities, specifically near the border. Yet, campaign finance disclosures and other documents show that GEO Group has a long history of buying support in Congress.

Some of their most aggressive lobbying started in 2016 after Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision to phase out private prisons. After the announcement, GEO Group’s stock dropped over $8, and they turned up their support of Donald Trump, who had been vocal about his support private prisons. The day after Yates’ announcement, a subsidiary of GEO Group donated $100,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump PAC, and later gave an additional $125,000 a week before the presidential election. They also gave $250,000 to Trump’s Inauguration Fund after he won the election. It’s no surprise then, that just one month after the inauguration, Attorney General Sessions rescinded Yates’ memo and sent the stocks of GEO Group and other private prison companies soaring again.

In addition to these contributions, GEO Group has backed state politicians in the 2018 midterms. It is a top donor for three Texan Congressmen, two of which have spots on the appropriations committee that funds private immigration detention centers, and it is a significant donor to the Democratic Speaker of the House and Republican Minority Leader in New Mexico. Open Secrets also reveals that GEO Group’s lobbying expenses skyrocketed in 2017, hitting $1.7 million.

The Bottom Line: When you follow the money, it’s clear their private prison bribery is paying off: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) allocates GEO Group more taxpayer money than any other contract. Last year alone, GEO Group received $184 million for immigration detention related services.


Ousted NY Rep. Joseph Crowley was a Huge Beneficiary of For-Profit Healthcare Companies

As support for single-payer health care increases, private health insurance companies are cashing in with House Democrats.

Recent polls reflect that about half of Americans support single-payer health care. To combat this, private health insurance companies are writing generous checks to the campaigns of numerous House representatives. So far this year, the political action committees of Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Cigna, and UnitedHealth–the biggest insurers in the industry–have donated $1.6 million to House members’ campaigns.

New York Representative Joseph Crowley, who made headlines this week for his stunning loss to 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the New York Primary, was among the biggest beneficiaries. He was one of the only Congressmen to receive donations from all five of the insurers’ PACs, totalling in nearly $30,000, and Open Secrets shows that he received a total of $205,400 from the insurance industry in 2017 and 2018.

The Bottom Line: Crowley’s loss to Ocasio-Cortez, who campaigned heavily on individual donations and a Medicare-for-All platform, demonstrates a massive shift in voter ideology to support politicians who do not accept big industry donations.


U.S. Senate Joins the 21st Century and Passes Bill Requiring Electronic Financial Disclosures

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that requires candidates’  financial disclosure forms to be filed electronically.

Since 2001, candidates for President and the House of Representatives have been filing their financial disclosure forms online with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Meanwhile, candidates for the Senate have continued to turn in their documents on paper.

The Senate’s antiquated system is not only absurd in the digital age, but it is also incredibly harmful to the government and to voters. Paper filing costs taxpayers about $900,000 every year because of the staff and resources necessary to process the hundreds of pages of documents. Then, because of the sheer number of files, it can take weeks, if not months, to make the information public–leaving voters in the dark regarding the funding of political campaigns, sometimes until just days before the election.

The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday to tackle this problem, and now, it’s on its way to the House. If it gets signed into law, it would be a huge step forward for transparency. It would also streamline the filing process for candidates because the physical documents can be complex to handle. For example, in just the June 5th primaries, 116 of the 304 candidates did not have financial disclosure forms submitted.

The Bottom Line: Transparency matters. Voters deserve to know who is funding political campaigns before they head to the polls.


Ex-Congressman Uses Leftover Campaign Contributions to Lobby His Old Committee

Former Rep. Buck McKeon is donating his leftover campaign contributions to members on the House Armed Services Committee on behalf of defense contractors.

Former Rep. Buck McKeon is yet another politician who left the Hill to become a lobbyist. After 22 years in Congress, four of which were spent on the House Armed Services Committee, he retired to start his own lobbying practice, McKeon Group, which focuses on defense contractors, like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. These companies were, coincidentally, also his biggest contributors while he was in office, donating just over $1.5 million throughout his career.

What sets McKeon apart from other retired-politicians-now-lobbyists, however, is that he is using a leftover $140,000 from his electoral committee, Friends of Buck McKeon, to lobby the House Armed Services Committee. Conveniently, this committee handles the government’s defense contracts, and Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have each paid McKeon $120,000 for his services.

McKeon’s influence on the committee is crucial for these contractors. Just last summer, he helped Lockheed Martin secure a $600 million defense contract to make helicopters for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had also paid him $420,000 to “maintain U.S.-Saudi relations.”

The Bottom Line: It is concerning when decisions involving U.S. defense can be swayed by money and influence.

About Samantha Igo
Sam graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May after studying Writing Seminars and Communications. As the Digital Campaigns Intern at RepresentUs, she uses language and social media to help advocate against political corruption.
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