- Opponents of California’s SB 277 vaccine bill have criticized state legislators for receiving financial contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.
- Nearly half of the top recipients of pharma money were either legislative leaders or members of the Assembly or Senate Health Committee.
- Financial ties between drug companies and legislators raise questions over the legitimacy of vaccine policy decisions.
Over the last few months, California has been at the forefront of a heated vaccine debate in the United States. The SB 277 vaccination bill eliminates all personal and religious belief exemptions to the state’s childhood vaccine requirements for entry into public and private schools, as well as daycare centers. The state Senate voted 25-10 in favor of the bill on May 14, 2015. The state Assembly approved the bill on June 25 by a vote of 46-30. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law on June 30.1
While proponents of this bill have argued that vaccinations protects children and communities against infectious diseases, opponents have argued that the bill denies the right to informed consent, thus violating basic human and civil rights.2 Furthermore, opponents cited that state legislators were influenced by donations received from the pharmaceutical industry, thus creating serious conflicts of interest.
Pharma Funds State Legislators
A Sacramento Bee’s “Capitol Alert” analysis of campaign finance and lobbying in California highlights that the pharmaceutical industry spent approximately $3 million on lobbying the legislature, the governor and state’s pharmacist’s board between 2013 and 2014.3 It reports that:
Pharmaceutical companies and their trade groups gave more than $2 million to current members of the Legislature in 2013-2014, about 2 percent of the total raised, records show. In addition, the industry donated more than $500,000 to outside campaign spending groups that helped elect some current members last year.3
The analysis reveals the identity of the leading pharmaceutical donors and the lawmakers who received the most funds. Moreover, it also identifies that nine of the top 20 recipients of campaign financing were either legislative leaders or those serving on the Assembly or Senate Health Committee.3 State Senator Richard Pan, who is the author of SB 277, received a total of $95,150 from the pharmaceutical industry.3
Pharmaceutical companies and proponents of the legislation continue to insist that there was no connection between campaign donations and the objective of SB 277.3 Senator Richard Pan responded to the allegations by stating, “I’ve been a lifelong champion of vaccination. Any suggestion of a subversive agenda is simply unfounded.”4
However, since it is no secret that the multi-national pharmaceutical industry has long invested considerable sums of money in the U.S. at both the state and federal government levels to support and expand drug and vaccine markets, it begs the question, “What does the industry expect in return?”5 It is a legitimate question when pharmaceutical companies and medical trade associations and other special interest groups, which are funded by industry and government, are working hard to persuade legislators to eliminate the freedom to make voluntary vaccine choices in America.
Pharma’s Grip on State and Federal Governments
Every year, industries ranging from oil and gas to aerospace and insurance, spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying our public servants for favorable treatment.5 The pharmaceutical industry, by far, holds the top spot. Between 1999 and 2012, pharma spent $2.6 billion to influence lawmakers.5 To put this into perspective, consider that during the same period the oil and gas industry spent $1.4 billion on lobbying, and the aerospace industry invested $662 million.5
Vaccine research and production is the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, there is a huge incentive for the industry to ensure that both state and federal laws not only do not stifle this lucrative market but actually help fuel its development. But special interest advocacy can sometimes cross the line and conflict with good public policy-making on the part of legislators, and never more so than when these lawmakers have vested interests in products and corporations over which they are supposed to be providing unbiased oversight.
Financial relationships between legislators and the pharmaceutical industry are legal, but are they ethical? Critics of the cozy public-private partnership between drug companies and legislators are coming to the logical conclusion that there is a point at which industry money gets in the way of good law making and has a negative impact on the health and well-being of the American people.
1 Haelle T. California Vaccination Bill SB 277 Signed by Governor, Becomes Law. Forbes June 30, 2015.
2 Fisher BL. We Will not Give up Our Human Rights for Our Civil Rights. The Vaccine Reaction June 23, 2015.
3 Miller J. Drug Companies Donated Millions to California Lawmakers Before Vaccine Debate. The Sacramento Bee June 18, 2012.
4 Calefati J, Seipel T. Senator Praised, Condemned for Vaccine Measure. Marin Independent Journal July 4, 2015.
5 Potter W. Big Pharma’s Stranglehold on Washington. The Center for Public Integrity Feb. 11, 2013.
6 Pistilli M. Global Vaccine Market Experiencing Substantial Growth. Life Science Investing News Nov. 27, 2013.