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Big Pharma Has a Friend in Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema has received some of the most Big Pharma money of any Democrat in the Senate — and a pharma-backed dark money group started running ads for her just before she threatened to take down Democrats’ drug pricing plan.

US senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) speaking in Washington, DC, 2019. (Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

A dark money group funded by drugmakers launched ads promoting Senator Kyrsten Sinema just before the Arizona Democrat informed the White House that she opposes the party’s plan to lower prescription drug prices as part of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation package. Sinema’s threat to kill the legislation came despite a recent poll showing more than 80 percent of Arizonans support the Democrats’ proposal.

During her career, Sinema has raked in more than $500,000 from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries — and she is now the sixth largest Senate Democratic recipient of campaign cash from those industries this election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.

Democrats’ drug pricing measure is based on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. It would allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. H.R. 3 would save the government $456 billion over ten years and “reduce prices by 57 percent to 75 percent, relative to current prices” for various medicines, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

On Sunday, Politico reported that Sinema “is opposed to the current prescription drug pricing proposals in both the House and Senate [reconciliation] bills,” adding that she “met with President Joe Biden on Sept. 15 to discuss the social spending package.”

Because Democrats only hold a fifty-fifty majority in the Senate, Sinema’s opposition threatens to kill the drug pricing measure in the upper chamber. The Daily Poster recently reported that three Democratic lawmakers started similarly threatening to derail the provision in the House, after they vacuumed in more than $1.6 million of cash from the pharmaceutical and health products industries.

Pro-Sinema Ads Came Just Before Arizona Senator’s Threat

Sinema’s threat to kill her party’s signature drug legislation came almost immediately after she was boosted by a dark money group bankrolled by the pharmaceutical industry.

Center Forward, a Washington-based nonprofit, has been running televisionradio, and digital ads cheering on Sinema in Arizona since September 9, according to a Daily Poster review of ad buy records. The group has also sent out pro-Sinema mailers.

Tax filings show Center Forward is bankrolled by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerful DC drug lobby. PhRMA donated $4.5 million to Center Forward between 2016–19, accounting for more than a quarter of its revenue during that time, according to data reviewed by the Daily Poster.

“Independence, Bipartisanship. Straight talk. These are Arizona traditions and Kyrsten Sinema is carrying them on,” says one thirty-second digital ad from the group, which includes a written reference to the late Arizona senator John McCain.

Center Forward’s board includes Libby Greer and Cindy Brown of Forbes Tate Partners, who both lobby for PhRMA. They reported lobbying Congress for PhRMA on “issues pertaining to prescription drug pricing” in their firm’s most recent lobbying filing, covering April to June this year. ​​​​Brown and Greer also lobby for pharmaceutical companies AmgenBayerGilead SciencesEli LillyMerckNovartis, and Sanofi.

Center Forward’s Facebook ad, which directs viewers to Sinema’s Senate website, praises her work on a $1.2 trillion, business-friendly bipartisan infrastructure package she helped negotiate that passed the Senate last month.

“When Arizona needed an infrastructure deal to boost our economy and create jobs, Kyrsten Sinema led the way,” the ad says. “A bipartisan plan that will invest in Arizona’s transportation and infrastructure systems, create jobs, and help keep families safe.”

This year, Sinema has received political action committee checks from drugmakers Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sunovion, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Sinema Threatens to Kill Entire Reconciliation Bill

House leaders have delayed consideration of the Senate infrastructure deal as Democratic lawmakers write the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better Act, an all-purpose vehicle for funding Biden’s economic, health, and climate agenda.

Progressives have pushed to keep the reconciliation effort and the bipartisan infrastructure deal linked, with the thinking being that conservative Democrats like Sinema would pick apart the broader Biden agenda bill on its own or decide not to pass it at all.

House leaders and Biden have largely backed that strategy. Following pressure from conservative Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) agreed last month to hold a vote on the infrastructure bill by September 27, which is next week. Democrats are still writing the reconciliation bill.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, has said she believes enough members of her caucus are ready to vote down the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless Democrats also pass the broader spending package.

Only weeks after corporate lobbyists launched a campaign to derail the reconciliation bill, Politico Playbook reported Monday that Sinema issued an ultimatum to Biden last week: “If the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill,” they wrote.

Center Forward’s full ad says:

Independence, Bipartisanship. Straight talk. These are Arizona traditions and Kyrsten Sinema is carrying them on. An independent voice. A bipartisan leader. When Arizona needed an infrastructure deal to boost our economy and create jobs, Kyrsten Sinema led the way. A bipartisan plan that will invest in Arizona’s transportation and infrastructure systems, create jobs, and help keep families safe. Thank Kyrsten Sinema, and tell her to keep fighting as an independent voice for Arizona.