TORONTO _ Immunicon Corp., a company with a mere 30employees based in Huntington Valley, Pa., could probably teach itslarger and older biotechnology cohorts a thing or two about grassrootspolitical lobbying. During his first day on Capitol Hill, Immunicon'spresident and CEO, Douglas Doerfler, crammed in personal meetingswith three of Pennsylvania's representatives in Congress and a keymember of the House subcommittee that deals with intellectualproperty law.Within days, he received the inevitable invitations to $500-a-plate"exotic dinner parties," proof of entry into the political fray. Althoughhe declined to contribute, Doerfler told fellow executives attending aworkshop here at the Biotechnology Industry Organization's (BIO)Eighth International Biotechnology Meeting & Exhibition, that even atiny company with no money can participate in the legislative process.Since his first foray to Washington, Doerfler has taken to exchangingnotes regularly with the freshman congressman who represents thedistrict in which most of Immunicon's employees live. Indeed, Rep.Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) has even visited the company's facilities,where he walked through the laboratory "doe-eyed" and almost pickedup a beaker full of bio-hazardous material. Greenwood spent a total ofone and one-half hours with Immunicon employees and their families,according to Doerfler, and he listened to their concerns about patentprotection for Immunicon's products, health care reform and pendingconflict-of-interest legislation that could limit companies' ability togive stock options to collaborators.According to BIO's director of state government relations, RayBriscuso, relationships like this one are the building blocks of thebiotechnology industry's national political agenda. "This is an exampleof precisely what we want to do," said Briscuso, who has assembled amanual for biotechnology companies on the art of grassroots lobbying.Grassroots organization is a low-tech variant of the more expensive,high profile lobbying that most large companies engage in. But thestereotypical approach of hiring slick lobbyists to dole out money frompolitical action committees (PACs) is not an option for mostunprofitable, cash-starved biotech companies. "Our day has not yetcome," said Briscuso. Instead, companies can achieve surprising resultsby focusing their efforts on just those politicians who represent them,rather than trying to change the course of the nation. If each companydoes its part, the total impact will be greater than the sum of dozens ofindividual meetings and relationships, said Briscuso.BioWorld's records show that only three biotechnology companieshave taken the step of forming a PAC - Immunex Corp. of Seattle,Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Genentech Inc. of SouthSan Francisco. Genentech's is by far the largest: in 1993 it donatedabout $80,000 to targeted members of the House and Senate. Thecompany used a sophisticated strategy of contributing to powerfulmembers of committees that are key to health care reform, intellectualproperty and appropriations. (See BioWorld Today, May 5, 1994, p. 1.]But, as Doerfler's experience suggests, there are other forms ofpolitical currency besides hard cash. He said that politicians, who mustbe knowledgeable about an array of complex issues, need access to thekind of specialized information that his company can supply. BIOmaintains that one-on-one contacts between constituents and theirrepresentatives is the most powerful force in politics. "It is the singlemost important, most effective and most human connection that thisindustry can make with the political leaders of this nation," said ChuckLudlam, BIO's vice president of government relations.Biotech companies are now scattered across 47 states, giving them apotential audience with nearly all of the 535 members of Congress.Once given a chance to tell their entrepreneurial tales, according toLudlam, biotech executives almost always find common ground withtheir political representatives. According to Joseph Roth, who handlesstate and community affairs for Schering-Plough Corp. of Madison,N.J., "you're never too small and it's never too soon or too late to getinvolved."Speakers at the BIO workshop on grassroots lobbying said thatleadership begins with company management, which must make anintellectual (and, if possible, financial) commitment to politicalactivism. Game plans range from the simple, such as encouragingemployees to write hand-written letters to their representatives andsenators on important issues, to the elaborate, designating certainemployees as "legislative communicators" and incorporating politicalorganizing into their job descriptions, complete with incentive rewards.
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
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