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McCoy MS, Kanter GP. Campaign Contributions From Political Action Committees to Members of Congressional Committees Responding to the Opioid Crisis. JAMA. 2018;320(14):1489–1491. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.11338
Federal lawmakers have recently taken steps to ensure that the policy response to the opioid crisis is not influenced by advocacy groups with financial ties to the opioid industry.1,2 However, whether members of Congress might have relevant conflicts of interest stemming from financial ties to the opioid industry is unknown. Although advocacy groups can influence policy only indirectly, members of Congress oversee federal agencies and are directly responsible for crafting legislation to address the opioid crisis. In particular, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have led the Senate and House responses to the crisis.
To assess financial ties between the opioid industry and federal lawmakers with the greatest responsibility for addressing the opioid crisis, we examined campaign contributions to members of the Senate HELP and House Energy and Commerce committees by political action committees (PACs) associated with firms being investigated by state and federal officials for having contributed to the crisis. Although many firms have financial interests related to opioids, the focus was on these firms because they have a clear financial stake in opioid policy development.
We identified firms that have been the target of federal or state lawsuits for engaging in business practices that contributed to the opioid crisis or named in a Senate report as funders of advocacy organizations that contributed to the crisis.2-5 PACs sponsored by firms of interest or their subsidiaries, their parent companies, or employees were identified by searching for firms named in the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance PAC database. Using campaign contribution data and PAC data collected by the FEC and aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that monitors the flow of money to candidates for political office, we identified contributions made by identified PACs to current members of the Senate HELP Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Lists of committee members were obtained from the official websites of both committees and were current as of July 9, 2018. We focused our analysis on contributions made during the most recently completed 2-year election cycle, ending in November 2016.
We included 4 firms that distribute opioids—AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, and Miami-Luken—and 9 firms that manufacture and market opioids—Allergan, Depomed, Endo Health Solutions, Insys, Johnson & Johnson (through subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals), Mylan, Mallinckrodt, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (through subsidiaries Actavis and Cephalon). Ten of 13 firms were associated with a total of 12 PACs that made campaign contributions to members of the congressional committees of interest (listed in a Table 1 footnote). No contributions were found from PACs associated with Miami-Luken, Depomed, or Insys.
In the House Energy and Commerce Committee, 49 (89.1%) of 55 members received a campaign contribution from 1 or more of the PACs (Table 1). Among members who received contributions, the median amount received from all PACs was $18 500; the minimum amount received by any member was $1000; the maximum amount was $56 500. In the Senate HELP Committee, 15 (65.2%) of 23 members received a contribution from 1 or more of the PACs (Table 2). Among members who received contributions, the median amount received from all PACs was $18 500; the minimum amount received by any member was $1500; the maximum amount was $48 500.
During the 2016 election cycle, majorities of the Senate HELP Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee received campaign contributions from PACs associated with firms investigated for contributing to the opioid crisis. These donations are legal and may not have been related to the member’s position on the committees examined. Because the study was limited to a single election cycle and did not capture contributions from the full range of industry stakeholders and because individual (non-PAC) contributions and contributions made through super-PACs or other PACs were not included, these findings may be an underestimate of lawmakers’ financial ties to the opioid industry.
Accepted for Publication: July 17, 2018.
Corresponding Author: Matthew S. McCoy, PhD, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 423 Guardian Dr, Blockley Hall, 14th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19104-4884 (email@example.com).
Published Online: September 6, 2018. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.11338
Author Contributions: Drs McCoy and Kanter had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: All authors.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: All authors.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: All authors.
Administrative, technical, or material support: McCoy.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.
Additional Contributions: We thank Lin Yang, MS, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, for assistance in cleaning some of the raw campaign finance data, for which she was compensated.