Drug Firms Won’t Back Down on ALEC

Drug Firms Won’t Back Down on ALEC

April 16th, 2012 // 1:06 pm @

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As more corporations flee the American Legislative Exchange Council – better known as ALEC – in response to a growing pressure campaign, the pharmaceutical industry is stubbornly holding its ground. In recent days, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Wendy’s, Elseiver and McDonald’s, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have left or agreed to leave the controversial organization that quietly works to craft state laws that favor corporate interests.

Drugmakers, however, are refusing to join the exodus. These include GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Bayer and Pfizer, as well as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade group, which is known as PhRMA. And their refusal has prompted Common Cause, the non-profit advocacy organization, to single out the pharmaceutical industry for criticism for continuing to support ALEC.

“The public is fed up with big pharmaceutical companies pursuing profit over the interests of the average American. ALEC’s agenda to limit voting rights, undermine our public schools, assault collective bargaining and weaken laws protecting our environment is in diametric opposition to the public interest,” Common Cause president Bob Edgar says in a statement. “This is neither good business nor responsible corporate citizenship.”

The campaign to pressure companies to leave ALEC has been under way for some time, but acclerated in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, where the death of the teenager prompted renewed scrutiny of the ‘stand your ground’ law, which ALEC developed around the country in conjunction with state legislators. The organization has also been behind stringent voter-identification laws (you can read about ALEC here and gain additional insight from the ALEC Exposed web site here).

Two days ago, ALEC began complaining of a “well-funded intimidation campaign” to persuade companies to leave the organization. “Our members join ALEC because we connect state legislators with other state legislators and with job-creators in their states, ALEC executive director Ron Scheberle said in a statement. “They join because we support pro-business policies that promote innovation and spur local and national competitiveness. They’re ALEC members because they’re more interested in solutions than rhetoric.”

So far, the drugmakers agree, although spokespeople for Pfizer and Glaxo declined to say whether they will remain with ALEC. As for Bayer, a spokesman sent us this: “In many instances, an organization’s viewpoint on a range of topics doesn’t always align with the various positions of all of its member companies. And that’s OK. As a company, we have our own positions and advocate for them in a very clear, transparent manner. Even when our positions do not fully align, we respect other perspectives and choose to participate in organizations because of their overall mission and focus. In the case of the American Legislative Exchange Council, they are one of numerous nonpartisan organizations that provide a forum to discuss public policies and legislation that affects business.”

A Johnson & Johnson spokesman trotted out the same remarks distributed elsewhere: “Johnson & Johnson is committed to supporting sound public policy and we work with many organizations across the political spectrum on a variety of policy issues related to health and other topics that impact patients, consumers and our company. Our company participates with these groups, including ALEC, on a broad range of issues and, while we express our views to organizations with which we work, we may not align with or support every public position each of these broad-based groups takes.”

As for PhRMA, the trade group sent us a week-old comment from senior vp Matt Bennett: “PhRMA has a long history of partnering with and supporting diverse stakeholders and organizations who share our goals of helping patients access the medicines and care they need and fostering medical innovation. As such, our involvement with ALEC concentrates on public health issues that directly relate to these goals. PhRMA and our member companies are focused on helping patients and, as such, we participate in ALEC and other organizations in an effort to advance high quality patient care.”

Of course, a handful of departures does not constitute a stampede for the exits. And the democratic process for developing and championing laws is always a messy process that, often enough, pits special interests against others. But the willingness of several very high-profile corporations to rethink their involvement in ALEC might give other companies pause. So far, though, the drugmakers obviously do not feel that way


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