WASHINGTON _ Although most biotechnology companies are babesin the political woods of Capitol Hill, South San Francisco-basedGenentech Inc. has been stalking this terrain with cunning for a longtime. The company possesses that modern-day totem of civic maturity:a political action committee (PAC).Genentech operates the largest of the PACs in the biotechnologyindustry _ the other two are run by Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks,Calif., and Immunex Corp., of Seattle. Not surprisingly, Genentech'sPAC methodically targets politicians on committees who are key tohealth care reform legislation, intellectual property and patent laws,science and technology issues and the federal budget. (See the chart, p.4.)"Genentech has been far and away the most aggressive biotechcompany in D.C.," said Tom Rankin, public affairs manager atImmunex and administrator of his company's PAC. "They provide themodel for the industry of an effective D.C. operation."During the 1991-1992 election cycle, Genentech's PAC doled out$79,200 to more than 70 politicians (62 percent went to Democrats, 33percent to Republicans). According to data from the National Libraryon Money and Politics, that total puts Genentech in 12th place on a listof 28 large pharmaceutical company PACs _ ahead of industryheavyweights such as American Home Products ($56,400 for the sameperiod), the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association ($39,981) andAmerican Cyanamid ($32,400).Immunex's PAC contributed a little more than $20,000 in the 1991-1992 cycle (ranking it 27th) and Amgen's PAC contributed a total of$3,350.So far in the 1993-1994 election cycle, the Genentech PAC has alreadydisbursed $38,000 to 30 candidates (87 percent to Democrats, 13percent to Republicans), Amgen $12,550 to 12 candidates (50-50 splitto Democrats and Republicans) and Immunex $8,450 to 11 candidates(72 percent to Democrats and 28 percent to Republicans).PAC contributions are measured in cycles based the two-year periodspreceding elections. The 1993-94 cycle that will culminate in theNovember 1994 elections is now in full swing with seven of the busiestmonths yet to come. For any given election, the maximum contributiona PAC can make to an individual candidate is $10,000, $5,000 for theprimary race and $5,000 for the general election.Bob Schiff, staff attorney for Ralph Nader's watchdog group PublicCitizen's Congress Watch, said that the Genentech PAC is "not a smallfry," even though it is smaller than many. Schiff said that most PACshand out money in chunks ranging from $500 to $1,500, an amountlarge enough to "get someone's ear" and small enough to represent an"easy investment for a corporation.""These numbers may seem small, but this is the major way Housemembers raise money for their campaigns," he told BioWorld. "ThePACs hope that their contribution will make that representative moreresponsive when their lobbyists come to call. Our concern is the veryfuzzy line between buying access and buying a vote." Schiff said thatin 1992, House incumbents seeking re-election raised one-half of theirmoney through PAC contributions.According to Genentech spokeswoman Laura Leber, the company'sPAC is run by a small committee of employees who use two criteria inselecting individuals to support: the potential recipient's views onbiotechnology and his or her positions on relevant committees. Thefunds come from voluntary employee contributions.This handful of Genentech employees has been making some seasonedstrategic choices. It supports a diversity of politicians from the arch-conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who serves on the Finance andJudiciary Committees and is the ranking member of the Patents,Copyrights and Trademarks Judiciary subcommittee, to the liberal Sen.Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a Budget Committee member. "It doesn'ttake a genius to figure out that you want to have access to legislators onkey committees," said Rankin.No Limit On `Soft Money' ContributionsThere are other ways besides PACs to put money into politicalcirculation and Genentech has used these channels as well. Thecompany has already contributed $50,000 to the Democratic NationalCommittee (DNC) for the 1993-1994 election cycle. In the 1991-1992cycle, it contributed $10,000 to the DNC. This type of contribution isknown as "soft money" because there are no limits on how much canbe donated. However, the money is restricted for use to support stateand local political activities.Lest this generosity appear ideologically-inspired, recall that bothhouses of Congress are controlled by Democrats. According to Rankin,one goal of corporate giving is to stay on the right side of people inpower, which means that supporting incumbents is the polite thing todo. "You don't want to support the opponent of an importantpolitician," he added. Ironically, Republicans have probably voiced theloudest support for free markets (one of the biotechnology industry'sbattle cries) in the health care reform debate.What about when a PAC is faced with two non-incumbent rivals in aclose contest? In the 1992 California senate race that pitted DemocratDianne Feinstein against Republican John Seymour, Genentech placeda losing bet. Its PAC contributed $4,000 to Seymour and only $1,000to Feinstein, the eventual victor. Now that Feinstein is firmlyensconced in the Senate, she has received better treatment. To aid herin defending her seat this coming fall, Genentech's PAC has alreadycontributed the maximum $10,000 to the Feinstein for Senate '94organization.Feinstein is a prominent California politician who serves on the SenateAppropriations and Judiciary committees (she is also a member of twoJudiciary subcommittees key to biotechnology interests: Patents,Copyrights & Trademarks and Technology & the Law). Any Californiacompany would be glad to count her among its friends. But, despite thelarge and growing number of biotechnology companies in her state, shehas been silent on health care reform issues of concern to the industry.Eshoo Influenced DingellIn contrast, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) from the San Diego area hasbeen a vocal critic of the Clinton administration's proposal to establishan Advisory Council on Breakthrough Drugs to review new drug pricesand other drug price cost control mechanisms feared by the industry.(Eshoo, it should be noted, was a co-sponsor of the Clinton bill when itwas introduced in Congress.) Eshoo persuaded Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tooppose the concept.And it appears that she will be rewarded for her efforts. Genentech'sPAC has already given $1,500 to Eshoo for the 1994 election and boththe Immunex and Amgen PACs plan to contribute in the near future."We will be helping Lynn Schenk, believe me," Amgen's vicepresident of government and public relations, Pete Teeley, toldBioWorld. "We are interested in supporting members of the House andSenate who have a deep interest in biotechnology and a strong belief inthe free market."Eshoo will not have to rely solely on the kindness of the fewbiotechnology PACs. The many biotechnology companies thatpopulate her hometown will also support her. In fact, a recent (March29) fundraising event raised more than $6,000 for Schenk in a singleday from San Diego biotechnology executivesBut these biotechnology companies and others will probably not formPACs any time soon. According to Immunex's Rankin, few in theindustry have made politics a priority. "For scientifically basedcompanies that are used to dealing with empirical data, D.C. is like analien culture. That makes it all the more difficult to penetrate," he said.
-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor
(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.