Congressional Puppetry: Biotech Lobbyists Ghost-Write Health-Care Reform Speeches for 42 House Members

Robert Pear, reporting for the New York Times, discovered that the impassioned rhetoric aired by a fairly large number of law-makers during the health-care debate was drafted by corporate lobbyists.

In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.

In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said: “I regret that the language was the same. I did not know it was.” He said he got his statement from his staff and “did not know where they got the information from.”

Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.

The piece is headlined, "In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’". But it might as well have read: "Sloppy Staffers Offer Peek Into Everyday, Legal and Perfectly Ordinary Washington Corruption."

Because  what makes this a featured story -- the only thing really unusual about it -- is that "so many revisions and extensions match up word for word," which left rather "clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists."

Otherwise, it's dog bites man. Congressional staffers constantly rely on lobbyists for information, political help and, yes, talking-points. Advocates send lawmakers draft text to be included not only in speeches delivered on the House floor, but in legislation as well -- they do it all the time. (And I should note that it's not just corporate lobbyists pushing stuff through the worst lawmakers in Congress; labor, environmental, consumer groups and other advocates do the same thing for progressive law-makers. In this case it may be a pack of lies from a biotech firm in an effort to kill health-care, but ...)

And, of course, it's unusual for this kind of endemic distortion of the legislative process to be seen as anything but routine by the political class. So it's a story that's also note-worthy simply for the fact that the New York Times decided to treat it as such.

Anyway, a little peek into the sausage-making.

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