The U.S. government constantly vilifies Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and other governments it opposes, claiming that they are not democracies. Republicans and Democrats alike warn of “oppressive regimes” while telling us that the U.S. is a true democracy, and everyone here has a say through voting.
But a closer look reveals that the deciding factor in U.S. “democracy” is not the vote at all, but the dollar bill. Policies are made and unmade not because of the number of votes they get, but because corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ‘lobbying,’ and other ways of paying off law makers to pass the laws they want.
Take the pharmaceutical industry.
Virtually everyone takes medication at one time or another, and access to medicine can mean life or death. Many people cannot afford medication. In a recent poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 80 percent of people in the U.S. believe drug costs are unreasonably high. If we voted on lowering the cost of essential drugs, there is no doubt that the vote would overwhelmingly be in favor of keeping the price of medications as low as possible.
During his State of the Union address in January, and again in New Hampshire in March, Donald Trump actually spoke to this sentiment. He loudly proclaimed that drug prices will drop “very substantially in the not-too-distant future.” He said he was for the federal government negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare (currently Big Pharma charges what it wants) and that consumers should be allowed to import prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, at lower prices than in the U.S.
But this was just rhetoric. On May 11, when push came to shove, Trump backed down on both these measures. Why? Because the giant pharmaceutical companies are against decreasing the payments they receives from Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs because this cuts into their profits.
The $171 million lobby
“Big Pharma has made a huge investment in Congress, with extensive lobbying and massive campaign contributions,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas.
The Center for Responsive Politics found that drugmakers spent $171.5 million lobbying the federal government last year alone. This is more than any other industry including oil and insurance. And they are spending even more on lobbying this year, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the largest lobbying firm representing the drug industry
Drug companies and their trade associations sent out a small army of 882 lobbyists last year to line the pockets of both Republican and Democratic law makers with dollars, and to them promise funds for their next election campaigns should they pass laws favorable to pharmaceutical profit margins. With 535 members of Congress at present, Big Pharma lobbyists outnumber them almost two-to-one! And they are aggressive. Congressional aides say Big Pharma can send 10 or 15 lobbyists to meetwith two congressional aides.
Lobbying isn’t the only way the pharmaceutical industry and those on its payroll attempt to influence legislatures. They spend multi-millions on advertising and donate to patient advocacy groups whose members rely on the drugs they produce.