ARTICLE | Politics, Policy & Law

Biopharmas contributing to candidates who challenged Biden’s election

Some have stayed on the sidelines, but many have resumed contributions to Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election

January 11, 2022 1:17 AM UTC
Updated on Jan 12, 2022 at 4:54 AM UTC
BioCentury & Getty Images

A year after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, members of Congress who opposed certifying the 2020 presidential election results are receiving campaign contributions from nine of the top 15 biopharmaceutical companies by U.S. revenue and BIO.

In the week after the incident, many biopharmaceutical companies and trade associations publicly announced that they were halting or pausing campaign contributions to members of Congress who voted against certifying the presidential election results.

Companies including Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK), the Genentech Inc. unit of Roche (SIX:ROG; OTCQX:RHHBY) and Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) stressed in communications to employees their support for democracy and the U.S. Constitution.

In companies’ public and internal communications disclosed to BioCentury, none of the biopharmas said if or when they would resume contributions to members of Congress who had voted against certifying the election results.

Donations listed in the Federal Election Commission contributions database indicate that from Jan. 6 to Nov. 30, 2021, the nine biopharmas and BIO have contributed to a total of 42 separate individuals who voted against certification of the election. Five lawmakers received donations from at least six of the companies and/or the trade group: Rep. Jodey Arrington (Texas), Buddy Carter (Ga.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Rep. Adrian Smith (Neb.) and Jacqueline Walorski (Ind.). Carter and Mullin are on the House Energy & Commerce’s health subcommittee.

All nine of these companies and BIO have contributed to Democratic lawmakers.

While some of these members have repudiated the violence of Jan. 6, most continue to publicly state that the election should not have been certified, a result that would have delayed and possibly blocked Biden’s inauguration. 

Assertions that the election results should not have been certified because of alleged irregularities in the election process are at odds with the conclusions of federal and state courts, elections audits, and statements made by some members of President Donald Trump’s administration. Then-Attorney General William Barr, for example, stated that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud or any improper activities that would have changed election outcomes. 

In addition to contributions to individual members who voted against certifying the election, some companies have contributed to Republican leadership political action committees (PACs) that support members of their caucus who assert that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

Six of the top 15 biopharma companies by revenue have not contributed to lawmakers who opposed the election certification: AstraZeneca plc (LSE:AZN; NASDAQ:AZN), Biogen Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB), Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY), Gilead Sciences Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD), Sanofi (Euronext:SAN; NASDAQ:SNY) and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4502; NYSE:TAK). Trade group PhRMA also has not contributed to such lawmakers. 

A PhRMA spokesperson told BioCentury that the trade association has adopted a policy against contributing to candidates who reject election results. “Following the events of January 6, we condemned the violence and paused political giving for those members who voted to reject the outcome of the election. Since then, we have added new criteria to our political giving to ensure those who receive political support demonstrate conduct consistent with our organization’s mission and the principles of our country, which include respect for the rule of law, rejecting violence of any kind, and accepting the outcomes of free and fair elections.”

Under pressure

Biopharma companies have come under pressure from Republicans to contribute to GOP members of Congress regardless of their votes on Jan. 6. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader, has said that he will retaliate against companies and industries that use the certification vote as a litmus test for contributions, two biopharma CEOs and two lobbyists told BioCentury.

“McCarthy could be the majority leader next year” if Republicans win control of the House, a pharma industry lobbyist told BioCentury. “Remember, the elephant is the mascot of the Republican Party. They’ll never forget” companies that didn’t support their candidates.

Kenneth Frazier, who at the time was chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. and became executive chairman in July 2021, helped to organize a summit of business leaders held soon after Jan. 6. He warned that the rule of law was under threat. Thomas Glocer, a Merck board member and former CEO of Thomson Reuters Corp., called on CEOs to stop contributing to political candidates who opposed certifying the election results. In April 2021, Frazier co-organized the drafting and circulation of a letter published in The New York Times opposing “any discriminatory legislation” that would make it harder for people to vote.

Since that call, Merck has contributed to 19 members of Congress who opposed election certification, including McCarthy, and Rep. Devin Nunes, who resigned from Congress on Jan. 1 to lead the Trump Media & Technology Group.

Reps. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) also received contributions from Merck over the past year.

On Jan. 5, 2021, Arrington released a statement announcing his plan to “object to certifying votes from states I believe clearly violated the Constitution in the Presidential election of 2020.” In a television interview on the first anniversary of the attacks, he reiterated his belief that the election was illegitimate, repeating the claim that certification of the election results “clearly violated the Constitution.” 

In the year since the attack on the Capitol, Duncan has released statements reiterating claims that Biden’s election was illegitimate, and co-sponsored an article of impeachment against President Biden.

Merck did not respond to a request for comment from BioCentury.

In a statement provided to BioCentury, Novartis AG (SIX:NOVN; NYSE:NVS) said it “whole-heartedly condemns the violence that took place in January 2021 at the U.S. Capitol and unequivocally supports the democratic process and peaceful transition of power.”

Novartis said that in response to the attack, its PAC temporarily paused disbursements and its “PAC Advisory Committee used this time to reflect and confer, and to develop updated candidate support criteria. Having taken these steps, the PAC has resumed disbursement activity on a bipartisan basis to candidates who support a political and economic environment that enhances healthcare research, development and manufacturing.”

Novartis has contributed to five members of Congress who voted to oppose certification of the election results, including McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Scalise expressed support for the contention that the election was fraudulent in an Oct. 10, 2021 television interview.

Genentech told BioCentury that “as a result of the violence that took place at our nation’s Capital on Jan. 6, 2021, Genentech’s Political Action Committee (PAC) decided to suspend contributions to members of Congress who voted against the election certification of President Biden.”

The company added that it has “resumed giving to a select number of candidates. Our goal is to financially contribute to candidates who share our belief in the importance of scientific innovation and ensuring patients have access to the medicines they need.”

Five members of Congress who opposed certification of the election results and who continue to assert that Biden is an illegitimate president have met Genentech’s standards for campaign contributions since Jan. 6, 2021.

Pfizer told BioCentury that its PAC “supports policymakers who value innovation and expanded access to breakthrough medicines and vaccines that change patients’ lives.” The company said that after Jan. 6, it “adhered to its commitment to pause political giving to the 147 Members of Congress who voted against certifying the election for six months.”

Pfizer added: “Monitoring elected officials’ conduct and statements is a part of our governance process, and we will continue to do so as we consider future Pfizer PAC disbursements.”

Pfizer has contributed to 25 members of Congress who voted against certifying the election.

In a statement released a week after the Capitol attack, Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE:LLY) said it expects “any candidate we support to demonstrate respect for people and respect for our democratic process and institutions.” It added that this “certainly covers anyone who promoted violence or sedition that contributed to the appalling events on January 6th or who continues to support violence to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power our democracy is founded upon. As such, LillyPAC will suspend political giving to those who voted against certification of the 2020 election results.”

A year later, Lilly told BioCentury that its LillyPAC “supports candidates across the political spectrum who understand the value of a vibrant pharmaceutical ecosystem to address unmet patient needs. Contributions from LillyPAC will continue to be in line with Lilly’s purpose to make life better.”

Fifteen members of Congress who voted against certifying the election received LillyPAC funding in 2021.

Last January, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) said in a statement that “we understand that to whom our contributions are directed matters. We also know that the actions and inactions taken by those who receive these contributions matter.” The company said it “has not made any federal contributions in 2021 and has paused all political contributions while we review and evaluate our giving policies and criteria.”

In the months after Jan. 6, 2021, J&J contributed to 11 members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results. J&J did not respond to an inquiry about its campaign contributions. 

BIO has actively supported racial justice, climate change and other social issues. In an emailed statement to BioCentury, Nick Shipley, chief of advocacy for BIO, said that “as an advocacy organization, engaging Governors and Members of Congress from both political parties is at the center of everything we do. Our political support has never been conditioned upon 100% alignment with any member of Congress regardless of party, there are a number of factors.”

Shipley added: “The anti-democratic events of Jan. 6 last year were extremely troubling,” adding that the attack prompted BIO to “pause in our political giving to those who voted against the certification of the free and fair presidential election to reevaluate our giving criteria based on many factors.”

He concluded by stating that “as an organization, we will strive to be good stewards of our employees’ PAC dollars, and we will continue to support champions of biotechnology innovation, patient access to life saving medicines and other issues important to our member companies.”

Shipley confirmed BIO’s post-Jan. 6, 2001, contributions to Reps. Arrington, Mullin, Nunes and Walorski, as well as to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), one of eight senators who voted to overturn the election.

Shipley and BIO leadership declined to respond to questions about criteria the organization used when it decided to contribute.

BIO also declined to respond to specific questions about contributions disclosed in its 2020 tax return, the most recent that is publicly available, indicating that it had contributed $500,000 each to One Nation and Majority Forward, Republican and Democratic organizations, respectively, which are organized in a way that allows them to avoid disclosing their donors.

BIO did not respond to a query about whether it continues to donate to so-called “dark money” organizations.  

AbbVie Inc. (NYSE:ABBV), Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) and GlaxoSmithKline plc (LSE:GSK; NYSE:GSK) did not respond to inquiries from BioCentury about their campaign contributions.