Introduction: Health Care Corporations' Political Contributions: From Bipartisan to Trumpian
At one time, leadership of large health corporations were circumspect in their financial support for US politicians and political causes. They provided some funds directly to politicians and political organizations, but often amounts given to different parties and organizations with different ideologies were balanced. Presumably, the goal was to promote access to whomever was in power at any given time.
With the rise of Donald Trump, things changed. Many leaders apparently went all in for Trump and his Republican supporters. In June, 2018 we discussed how CVS channeled money to a "dark money group," that promoted Trump administration policies, including repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In October, 2018, we discussed important but incomplete revelations about corporate contributions to such dark money groups that mainly favored again right-wing ideology, the Republican party, and Trump and associates. In November, 2018, we noted that health care corporations funneled funds through dark money organizations to specifically attack designated left-wing, Democratic politicians. In March, 2019, we discussed how in the 21st century, health care corporate CEOs' personal political contributions were increasingly partisan, that is individual CEOs gave predominantly or exclusively to one party, and for the vast majority, to the Republican party.
Some corporations paused some of their political giving after a mob whipped up by Trump at a January 6, 2021, rally violently stormed the US Capitol to try to prevent the certification of the 2020 election. However, within two months they started giving again in support of Republicans in Congress who voted not to certify the election (see this April, 2021, post, this July 7, 2021, post, and this September 7, 2021 post).
Now just after the anniversary of an insurrection that almost prevented the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results, there are new indications that leaders of big health care corporations are continuing to support Republicans in Congress who voted to overrule the results of that election.
Health Care Corporate Sponsorship of the Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has updated their report on corporate sponsorship of the politicians who wanted to overturn the election. The January 3, 2022 version is entitled "The Corporate Insurrection: How companies have broken promises and funded seditionists." It described the "717 corporations and industry groups have donated over $18 million to 143 of the 147 members of Congress who objected to the results of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee." It referred to the updated data about the largest corporate funders appearing in the current version of CREW's previous report. The health care corporations that appear in this list of 80 are:
Eli Lilly $42,000
Johnson & Johnson $38,500
CVS Health $30,000
Blue Cross & Blue Shield $15,000
Keep in mind that these amounts only reflect corporate donations directly to members of Congress, their own leadership PACs, and to the national Republican campaign committees, which must be disclosed by law. They do not include any amounts given by corporate executives, or amounts given to various kinds of dark money organizations, which do not have to be disclosed according to law. Thus they may seriously undercount the financial support given by health care corporations to support those who wanted to nullify the election. But at least these figures suggest that 5 large pharmaceutical/ biotechnology companies, 4 health care insurance companies, and one diversified pharmacy company continue to be strong supporters of legislators who were willing to do so.
Furthermore, as noted in a January 5, 2022, article in Fierce Pharma, spokespeople for some of these corporations declared they were no longer worrying about whether politicians support democracy or tried to overturn an election, but only about whether the politicians support policies that would improve their corporate bottom lines. For example, see this from Pfizer:
Pfizer’s PAC supports policymakers who value innovation and expanded access to breakthrough medicines and vaccines that change patients’ lives,
And see this from Eli Lilly:
[the company] supports candidates across the political spectrum who understand the value of a vibrant pharmaceutical ecosystem to address unmet patient needs.
Billionaires Who Made Their Money from Health Care Corporations Who Supported the Attempt to Overturn the Election
A January 6, 2022 article in Forbes listed the "more than 50 billionaires [who] donated in the second half of 2021 to legislators who voted against certifying the presidential election, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records." Two the billionaires made their fortunes from health care corporations. They were:
- Phillip Frost, worth $2,500,000,000, described as "a long-time health care investor, inventor and founder, Phillip Frost now runs diagnostics-maker Opko Health." He "joined Key Pharmaceuticals in 1972, reformulated its asthma drug and sold the company in 1986 for $836 million." Also, he "founded Ivax, a generic drugmaker, in 1987. He sold it to Teva Pharmaceuticals for $7.6 billion in 2005" Frost supported Sen Hawley (R-MO).
- James Leininger, worth $1,500,000,000, described as having "made his fortune founding medical devices company Kinetic Concepts (KCI), which focuses on wound care." He also runs "Medcare Investment Funds, which manages $1 billion in assets." Leininger supported Rep Cloud (R-TX).
As we said before, most health care corporations publish high-minded aspirational statements that promise pluralism, support of the community, and of our representative democratic society. Data revealed recently and discussed in our previous three posts increasingly show that some leaders of large health care corporations saw fit to direct contributions to politicians who promoted anti-democratic policies. Funding political leaders who would challenge election outcomes in the absence of very clear evidence of election irregularities seems to violate high-minded corporate pledges of inclusiveness.
Is it that health care corporate leadership just are more interested in making money than in bettering society, despite their aspirational mission statements? As we previously discussed, that is a plausible formulation. For example, per the Washington Post in January, 2021,
'Their attitude was: ‘Let’s take the big tax cuts and hold our noses for the obvious xenophobia and authoritarianism.’ It was a classic Faustian bargain,' said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), a member of the House Ways & Means Committee.
Also, the quotes above support the idea that corporate leaders put their own bottom lines ahead of supporting the republican form of government that partially made their revenues possible.
On the other hand, maybe it is not just about money. Again, as we said before, by virtue of being top corporate managers, particular individuals can control political funds far beyond what they would be able to control as private persons, and to do so quietly and sometimes anonymously. Corporate leaders may thus be able to promote their own interests through their corporations' political giving. Those interests may go beyond just personal enrichment. Some may also be interested in personal political power, or have other ways they might benefit from anti-democratic, authoritarian, even openly fascist national political leadership.
Big industrialists have backed authoritarian and openly fascist regimes in other countries before, some to make more money, but in retrospect, some for darker reasons. (See, for example, this article on how German industrialists financially bailed out the Nazi party in 1932.)
There was at least one previous instance in which US business leaders tried to effect a coup to oust a President they considered too left wing. This was sometimes called the "business coup." According to a Washington Post article from 2021, its sponsors included "included J.P. Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont and the CEOs of General Motors, Birds Eye and General Foods." Their goal was to depose President Franklin D Roosevelt and
install a dictator who was more business friendly. After all, they reasoned, that had been working well in Italy
The plot failed because the former military officer they chose to lead it informed the government. So far, the attempt by now former President Trump and his followers to do something similar has also failed. That does not mean, however, that the next attempt will not succeed.
IMHO, all citizens need to wake up and protect our republic. Furthermore, all medical and public health professionals specifically need to take action to wake up and protect our republic specifically from self-interested health care corporate leaders. Imagine what health care and public health might be like were they to exert near absolute control facilitated by an authoritarian they installed in office