A dark money group funded by drugmakers is blanketing the Arizona airwaves to build up support for Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema, who just helped gut Democrats’ drug pricing plan.
Center Forward, which has long been bankrolled by the powerful drug lobby Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has spent roughly $1.2 million to promote Sinema in Arizona since September, according to data from AdImpact.
With Sinema’s poll numbers lagging in the wake of her efforts to stall and weaken President Joe Biden’s social spending reconciliation package — including the drug pricing provision — Center Forward recently put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new round of TV ads boosting Sinema.
The media campaign illustrates how business interests select, protect, and reward their key legislative obstructionists. In Sinema’s case, she has taken a real public hit for doing corporate America’s bidding in negotiations over Democrats’ social spending bill and refusing to speak about it with the media or her constituents — so now Center Forward is working to help blunt the voter backlash with one of the purest corporate propaganda videos you will ever see, complete with images of a car and someone on a horse racing through the desert.
“In Arizona, we know working together moves us forward,” the new ad says. “So does Kyrsten Sinema. She’s an independent and effective voice for our state, always putting Arizona first. She led on an infrastructure plan that invests in us, that creates good jobs right here, and improves our local economy and our quality of life.”
The ad continues: “Working together to get things done — the Arizona way. Thank Kyrsten Sinema, and tell her to keep fighting as an independent and effective voice for us.”
“The Impact Will Be Minimal”
Center Forward describes itself as a “centrist” advocacy organization concerned with “how the legislative process became marred by the excessive polarization existing in politics.” In reality, Center Forward is a corporate front group whose board of directors is stocked with corporate lobbyists.
Two board members, Libby Greer and Cindy Brown of Forbes Tate Partners, represent PhRMA, a lobbying powerhouse for pharmaceutical interests that raised more than $525 million in 2019. Brown and Greer also lobby for many individual drug companies, including Amgen, Bayer, Eli Lilly, Emergent BioSolutions, Gilead Sciences, Merck, Novartis, and Sanofi.
As the we previously reported, PhRMA donated $4.5 million to Center Forward between 2016 and 2019, according to IRS tax returns. The funding from PhRMA accounted for more than a quarter of Center Forward’s revenue during those years. (Tax returns for 2020 are not yet available.)
Center Forward started airing pro-Sinema ads in September — days before Sinema became the chief public opponent of Democrats’ drug negotiation plan, despite campaigning on lower drug prices during her 2018 senate campaign.
The following day, Democrats announced that Sinema and several pharma-backed House Democrats had reached an agreement on a new, watered-down drug pricing plan that poses little threat to the industry.
While the Sinema agreement would allow Medicare price negotiations for the first time, it would affect far fewer drugs than Democrats had previously proposed, and the government would only be allowed to negotiate prices on older drugs past their exclusivity period. Overall, the measure would allow prices to stay high.
“The impact will be minimal,” one industry analyst recently said, adding, “the compromise seems designed to let legislators claim an achievement while granting pharma protection.”