Santa Monica, CA - 42 U.S. Senators hold stock in pharmaceutical companies even as they vote on legislation to benefit the drug industry, according to an analysis released today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). The Senate is expected to vote this week on an eleventh-hour amendment to immunize vaccine makers for dangerous drugs. Senators should not participate in votes from which they will financially benefit, said FTCR.
FTCR's analysis of Senate personal financial disclosures reveals that 42 senators - 27 Republicans and 15 Democrats - held pharmaceutical stock worth between $8.1 and $16 million in 2004. Senators earned an additional $2.5 to $7.2 million in capital gains and dividends, and two senators' spouses also earned salaries, from pharmaceuticals. View the analysis.
"Senators can't ethically support a giveaway deal for the pharmaceutical industry when their own financial interests match those of the drug companies," said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate with FTCR. "A financial interest in the outcome of legislation should conflict any politician out of the vote."
The GOP-backed amendment would grant immunity to drug companies for any vaccine or product, classified by the Bush Administration as necessary to respond to a public health threat, when patients are harmed by dangerous drugs. The amendment is so broad that any product considered a "countermeasure," not just vaccines, could be protected.
Senate Majority Leader Frist aims to make the provision an amendment to a conference report that cannot be altered. Frist's blind trust included stock in drug companies Abbott Laboratories and Johnson & Johnson through 2004, each worth $15,000 to $50,000 when the trust was created.
In July, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) recused himself from a vote on medical malpractice legislation that would have benefited the pharmaceutical industry because his millions in drug company stock create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"It's time the U.S. Senate met the Sensenbrenner standard," said Balber.
The pharmaceutical industry was the largest industry donor to Frist's National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the industry has given 64% - 74% of its federal contributions to Republicans every year for the last decade according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Congressional leaders tried to provide liability protection for the makers of the vaccine additive Thimerosal in 2002 with an amendment to Homeland Security legislation based on legislation Frist carried. Frist denied involvement, but public backlash forced the Senate to remove the immunity provision.
FTCR filed an ethics complaint with the Senate Select Ethics Committee last April charging Frist with a conflict of interest for promoting medical malpractice liability limits while retaining stock worth millions in the hospital corporation, HCA. HCA owns the nation's fourth largest malpractice insurer. Read the complaint.
FTCR called for an SEC investigation this summer when Senator Frist ordered the well-timed sale of his HCA stock. The Justice Department and SEC are investigating the Senator's stock sale for insider trading. Read the SEC letter.