Introduction - Health Care Corporations Profess Social Responsibility
As we noted recently, large health corporations, which must deal with patients, health professionals, and government regulators, usually profess their social resonsibility. For example,
Biotechnology firm Genentech, now a subsidiary of giant Swiss biotechnology and pharmaceutical company Roche, has an elaborate web page about how the company seeks to do good. Some quotes:
we’re passionate about applying our skills, time and resources to positively impact the patients we serve, the scientific community and the places where we live and work.
We approach giving back the same way we approach discovering medicines: we start by looking for the root cause of a problem and then we explore how we can contribute to a solution.
We believe that the best work happens when everyone has a voice.
Similarly, giant American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly espouses these core values
Three long established core values guide Lilly in all that we do:
Integrity: We conduct our business consistent with all applicable laws and are honest in our dealings with customers, employees, shareholders, partners, suppliers, competitors and the community.
Excellence: We pursue pharmaceutical innovation, provide high quality products and strive to deliver superior business results.
Respect for People: We maintain an environment built on mutual respect, openness and individual integrity. Respect for people includes our concern for all people who touch or are touched by our company: customers, employees, shareholders, partners, suppliers and communities.
Of course, in the policy arena, large health care corporations also tend to advocate for policies that are to their financial advantage. Furthermore, top executives of large corporations have been known to donate to political candidates who favor their policy positions, although they used to consciously spread their donations out to all parties and many candidates to avoid any appearance of partisanship, while making themselves visible to whomever might be in power.
However, as the current US political chaos leads to more journalistic investigation, there is increasing evidence that large health care corporations have been secretly backing policy positions that do not correspond to their high-minded public statements about corporate social resonsibility, and are becoming quite political, even partisan in the process. They do so through the use of dark money.
Pharmaceutical Companies, Other Health Care Companies - and a Tobacco Company - Join Effort to Attack Left-Wing Politicians
On November 5, 2018, Lee Fang wrote about how big corporations, including big health care corporations, enthusiastically financially supported a dark money operation that specifically targeted "progressive" or "socialist" candidates:
Republican operatives and representatives from America’s largest business groups — alarmed at a wave of upset electoral victories by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other avowed democratic socialist candidates — have been plotting to stem the tide of left-wing Democrats sweeping the country.
Andrew Wynne, an official at the Republican State Leadership Committee, spoke to business lobby leaders in July, encouraging them not to ignore the latest trends within the Democratic Party. He called for Republicans’ allies to enact a unified plan to defeat progressives in this week’s midterm elections.
'Recent elections have proven the leftward shift,' said Wynne. 'An anti-free market, anti-business ideology has taken over the Democratic Party, particularly this year during the primaries.'
Wynne was particularly exercised about the primary victory by Democrat Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez:
'Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez captured the energy of these voters to win a congressional nomination in New York, defeating the incumbent who many thought could be the next Democratic speaker of the House,' Wynne continued.
He noted that the defeated incumbent in the Ocasio-Cortez race, Rep. Joe Crowley, a moderate Democrat and former chair of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, 'was someone who the business community could have a conversation with on the Democratic side.' On the other hand, Wynne warned, Ocasio-Cortez would not be so receptive to business lobbyists.
Of course, these sentiments coming from a Republican operative are not surprising. What was surprising was how Mr Wynne wanted to fund efforts to comabt these supposedly left-wing politicians.
Officials from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which assists Republicans in capturing power on the state level, explained during the call that they expected to raise $45 million in direct contributions and $5 million to $7 million through an allied dark money group for election campaigns this fall.
The group is organized under the IRS’s 527 rules and operates in a manner similar to Super PACs: It can raise and spend unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations. The latest disclosures suggest the group is well on track to bring in significant corporate support for electing Republican state officials.
Koch Industries, Crown Cork & Seal, Genentech Inc., ExxonMobil, NextEra Energy, Range Resources, Eli Lilly and Co., Marathon Petroleum, Reynolds American, (a tobacco company which is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco), Boeing, General Motors, and Astellas Pharma are among the companies that have already provided at least $100,000 to the committee.
Many of those companies are from industries that have long contributed to GOP causes, including resource extraction, financial services, tobacco, retail, for-profit education firms, and private health care interests.
Furthermore, the Republican State Leadership Committee has been collecting money from other dark money organizations which in turn are funded in part by health care companies:
Several of the largest donors to the Republican State Leadership Committee are themselves dark money groups. The Judicial Crisis Network, a 501(c) nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, has given $1.5 million to the group. The ABC Free Enterprise Fund, a dark money affiliate of a lobbying group that represents non-union construction companies, gave $100,000.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has given $1.7 million to the committee. The chamber, notably, does not disclose its donors but has been financed in the past by Goldman Sachs and Dow Chemical, among other major American and foreign companies.
We recently discussed the health care industry contributions to the US Chamber of Commerce, which came from PhRMA, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the pharma trade association, and from specific companies, including contributions of at least $100K from: Aetna, Abbott Laboratories, AbbeVie, Amgen, Anthem, Celgene, Cigna, CVS, Eli Lilly, Express Scripts, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Mylan, Procter & Gamble, and UnitedHealth.
So a lot of big health care companies, most of whom profess their devotion to the greater community and social responsibility, have been funneling considerable money as quietly as possible into an effort to thwart one particular group of politicians, that is, candidates from the leftish wing of the Democratic party.
So much for Genetech's claim:
We believe that the best work happens when everyone has a voice.
Or for Lilly's claim:
Respect for people includes our concern for all people who touch or are touched by our company: customers, employees, shareholders, partners, suppliers and communities.
Discussion and Summary
This is now the fifth time we have discussed the role of dark money in health care.
- In 2012 we discussed a case of "dark money" being used to conceal sources of support for particular health policy and political positions.
- Earlier this year, we discussed the case of huge pharmacy chain CVS,which proclaims its "social responsibility," and its policy of only making charitable contributions to improve "health and healthcare nationwide." Yet CVS was donating to America First Policies, a supposed non-profit group devoted to promoting the partisan agenda of President Trump, including "repealing and replacing Obamacare," and immigration policies such as building the "wall" and deporting "illegal immigrants." (Note that these CVS dark money contributions were separate from those discussed above.)
- In September, we discussed how the pharmaceutical trade organization, PhRMA, and some large drug companies donated money to a dark money organization to combat a state initiative to limit pharmaceutical prices, but also to the American Action Network (see above) to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act (ACA, "Obamacare") despite their previous support for and then current neutrality on the ACA.
- In October, we discussed how many health care corporations were donating to dark money groups, predominantly groups, like the US Chamber of Commerce, devoted to distinctly right-wing causes, almost all lately related to the Republican party and in sympathy with the Donald Trump regime.
Health care corporations recent and current funding of dark money groups seems to openly conflict with the corporations' promises of social responsibility. The slanting of these efforts towards one end of the political spectrum, one party, and now the current president suggest that these corporations may have partisan agendas.
Note that without the various ongoing investigative efforts mainly inspired by the actions of the Trump administration, we would have little idea that this was going on.
May such investigations continue and intensify. Maybe the recent elections, which gave the opposition to the Republican party and Trump control of the US House of Representatives, will lead to more such investigations.
Furthermore, the increasing knowledge of these corporate actions raises a big question: cui bono? who benefits?
It is obvious why a pharmaceutical company, for example, might want to defeat legislation that would lower its prices.
It is not obvious why it would want to consistenly support actions by one party, or by people at one end of the political spectrum, even if some such people seem "anti-business." After all, for years big corporations and their executives openly gave money to both US parties and their candidates, apparently in the belief that this would at least allow more visibility for the corporations' priorities no matter who was in power.
Now, the most obvious theory is that the new practice of secret donations only in right-wing, Republican, and/or pro-Trump directions, which must be orchestrated by top corporate management, and which are not disclosed to employees or smaller corporate shareholders, are likely made to support the top managers' self interest more than the broad priorities of the corporations and their various constitutencies.
Thus not only is more investigation needed, at the very least, "public" corporations ought to fully disclose all donations made to outside groups with political agendas. This should be demanded by at least the corporations' employees and shareholders, but also by patients, health care professionals, and the public at large.
Meanwhile we are left with the suspicion that top health care corporate management is increasingly merging with the current administration in one giant corporatist entity which is not in the interests of health care, much less government by the people, of the people, and for the people.