WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday addressed a well-established tenet of life in Washington: The pharmaceutical industry has loads of money and doesn’t hesitate to spend it on Congress.
“They contribute massive amounts of money to political people,” Trump said during an impromptu news conference, turning to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was standing to his side. “I don’t know, Mitch, maybe even to you.”
McConnell let out a short laugh.
Trump was not wrong. In his last race in 2014, McConnell raked in $550,923 from the pharmaceutical and health products industries — more than any other individual lawmaker received that year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes political spending data from the Federal Election Commission.
Through a separate leadership political action committee, McConnell brought in another $244,000 from the sector, the database shows. Those figures represent contributions from both individuals employed by the industry and companies’ political action committees.
Trump’s comments came after he once again claimed that the pharmaceutical industry is “getting away with murder” with high drug prices.
Others on Capitol Hill share that concern, and executives from major industry groups will testify before a Senate committee on Tuesday morning that is looking into the issue.
But drug pricing is hardly the only issue of concern to the industry, and it delivers millions of dollars to McConnell and other “political people” during each election cycle.
Some 399 House members (including some midterm candidates) and 97 senators took campaign contributions from the sector in 2016, the last full election cycle.
The industry tends to favor Republicans more than Democrats — the sector gave some $15.5 million to the GOP in the 2016 cycle while it shelled out just $12.45 million to Democratic candidates.
McConnell takes in more than most in part because he helps to fundraise for other Senate Republicans. Even when he was not engaged in an active campaign, as in the 2016 cycle, his campaign committee and leadership PACs pulled in $828,173 from the pharmaceutical industry. And he’s on track to raise even more this year: in the current cycle, he’s already raised some $654,173 from the sector, all per the same Center for Responsive Politics data.
Trump claimed he doesn’t play the same game.
“Me? I’m not interested in their money,” Trump said Monday afternoon. “I don’t need their money.”
Whether or not he needed it, he received it — the pharmaceutical and health products industry contributed $296,877 to his presidential campaign and groups affiliated with it, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
On a smaller scale, drug companies also rushed to curry favor with Trump in the leadup to his inauguration. Before an inaugural ball hosted by the Texas State Society, for example, Allergan and Pfizer pitched in $25,000 apiece for sponsorships. Bristol-Myers Squibb, Mallinckrodt, Celgene, and Johnson & Johnson also ponied up five-figure contributions for a New Jersey, among pharmaceutical contributions to many other state-level events.
Lev Facher contributed to this story.