Democratic lawmaker gets criticized after admitting that pharma companies pay for 'access'

Democratic lawmaker gets criticized after admitting that pharma companies pay for 'access'

This week, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon was among the centrist Democrats who joined House Republicans in voting to block a bill that advocates argue would significantly lower prescription drug prices. Following that vote, Schrader's connections to the pharmaceutical industry are being scrutinized.

Stephanie Villiers, a reporter for KGW-TV Channel 8 (the NBC affiliate in Portland, Oregon), notes, "Schrader's vote has been criticized on social media, with some users pointing out that he's received large donations from the pharmaceutical industry. According to OpenSecrets, a group tracking money in politics, Schrader has received $614,830 from the pharmaceutical industry since he began his career in Congress. He received $144,252 of that during the last election cycle, more money than any other industry that donated to his campaign."

Schrader's grandfather, according to the report, was a major executive at Pfizer. But Schrader is vigorously defending his vote and pushing back against claims that he is afraid to stand up to big pharma. The Oregon Democrat tweeted:

Schrader told KGW, "A common fallacy the average person has is the reason they give you money is you say you're going to vote for this or vote for that. I've never ever done that, and I don't know many legislators that do that. They just want to have access to at least plead their case. I think most smart legislators like me, we'll get the pharmaceutical groups in to champion their case, I'll get the patient advocacy groups to come in, I'll get the insurance companies and all the different groups — and then, you make your decision."

Some critics noted that, even as Schrader was trying to defend himself, he admitted the truth of the scandal — that pharma companies gave him money because they "want to have access" to the lawmaker to change his mind about laws that effect their industry. Schrader doesn't even seem to understand why that in itself can be corrupting.


Americans, as a rule, pay much higher prices for prescription drugs than residents of other major developed countries — a fact that many progressive Democrats have pointed out.

Efforts to lower prescription drug prices in the U.S. were discussed when David Dayen, executive editor of the American Prospect, was interviewed by liberal MSNBC host Chris Hayes this week. Hayes noted that the three centrist Democrats who voted against the bill that called for lowering prescription drug prices — Schrader, Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York and Rep. Scott Peters of California — are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dayen told Hayes, "Really, what they're saying — these three members — is: If drug price reform goes in, we're not going to support this bill."

The Prospect editor was vehemently critical of Schrader, Rice and Peters, telling Hayes, "There's a stereotype of like the swing district House member who has a lot of conservative constituents and just has to trim their sails and vote against the party every so often; that's actually a fake picture of what goes on in Washington…. Peters and Rice are in safe Democratic seats. These are not swing district Democrats; they're corporate Democrats who have sold out their constituents for campaign dollars or for the promise of a future job or just because they hear more from lobbyists about how lower company profits will stifle innovation, which isn't true. Then, they hear from a single mother who has to skip medications to keep her family fed."

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