Ask a Lobbyist: Sheen is Believing

Every week, our Anonymous Lobbyist answers your questions about how laws get made and why they probably shouldn't. If you have a question about the dirty business of doing business in Washington, ask her.


This week: Who are these people and what do they want from us?

What are the top 10 things the pharmaceutical industry is pushing these days?

Well, 10 is kind of a long list for me, so let's be a little less David Letterman about this, shall we?

Pharmaceutical companies are in business to (and have shareholders that strongly prefer that they) make lots and lots of money by selling

drugs. There's not too many non-profit pharmaceutical companies in the world. And, in the real world, one only makes money by making more

from sales than it costs to make/market them. (And, yes, I realize that this is basic economics, but to hear some people talk, you'd think that this plan was new and unique to

pharmaceutical companies).

In most other countries, the government tells the companies how much profit they're allowed, since the government completely runs the health care system (i.e., socialized medicine) -- including in Canada, which is why prices are cheaper there, not because of some nefarious over-charging plan here. Pharmaceutical companies don't want the U.S. government to get into the business of telling them how much money they "should" make, since we're a market-based economy. That's their number 1 issue (since you can't strictly lobby to make money).

The way that pharmaceutical companies (and, really, anyone with a unique product) are able to make money is that they are allowed patents on their products for a period of time, meaning that they don't spend 10 years discovering something and going through the FDA's regulatory system and then turn around and have a cheaper competitor on day 2 (because that person just reverse-engineered it, rather than paying for the drug trials, etc.). So, their number 2 priority is to be able to keep their patent protections here and get them in countries where they don't have them.

Everything else is way further down the list and probably not worth mentioning, as they really relate back, in some way to making money, preventing price controls and maintaining patent rights, the evil triumverate of the market economy. Shame on them.

Do you think the reason the president didn't warn Americans about flying after being briefed about al-Qaeda's intentions of attacking us in Aug. 2001 is because the airline and tourism lobbies would have screamed?

Hey, Charlie! I didn't know you read my column! Oh, wait, wrong conspiracy. My bad.

Um, no, I don't. But, let's parse your plan. So, I assume we're talking about the August 6th memo? So, your great plan is that we shut down all air traffic for... ever? Or until we found the 20 guys that we didn't have any idea about? Even though that memo didn't say they planned to ran buildings with jetliners, but suggested that Osama might like to hijack a plane to get some prisoners released, which was so 1980s, anyway? Good plan, there, buddy. Let's just shut down the country and let Kiefer find the bad guys, because real life is totally like TV!

And, as for lobbyists, very, very, very few (i.e., none) of us leeches get invited to NSC briefings to decide the fate of the country. It's not like we command respect or something, we just have something (campaign money, and maybe the ears of constituents) that lawmakers want. What a lobby would've done was probably not on anyone's mind.

Are the legendary lobbying operations like AARP, NRA, and AIPAC as powerful as is rumored? Do those organizations have in-house lobbyists, do they outsource to firms like yours, or is it a mix?

Well, ask Adrian Fenty if the NRA is as powerful as rumored. But, yes, they really are. They've got go-to Members and Senators on both sides of the aisle, so their power isn't party-reliant and they've got a virtual army of grassroots letter-writers and postcard-senders at their beck and call. Members and Senators tremble in fear at being on the wrong side of the AARP, although AIPAC and the NRA have those that prefer not to be on their right side (cough, Cynthia McKinney, cough). And they've got a mix of in-house and paid-for lobbyists around town, to make damn sure that they stay that way.

I'm interested in issues like Digital Rights Management and Net Neutrality. While the consumer electronics and tech companies pushing the sides I like are certainly formidable, the opposing RIAA/MPAA and Telco lobbying operations are referred to in awed tones as unstoppable congress-manipulating juggernauts. Are they really all that, or do you think these are winnable fights?

The RIAA and MPAA have sued little kids and little old ladies and have you seen any concerted effort to overturn or amend the (recent) law that allows them to sue? No? Even in the Democratic Congress? Well, then I guess that's your answer. Whatever Lola, aka Mitch or Dan, wants, Lola gets.

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