December 1st, 2011

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Rep. Jason Murphey: Want to limit lobbyist power? Shrink size of government

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond in Oklahoma.

Edmund Sun

I really enjoy watching political documentaries. I recently watched “The Best Government Money Can Buy.” This documentary does a great job showing the considerable influence of lobbyists over the development and implementation of policy. It also clearly demonstrates some of the constitutional and practical barriers to various proposals designed to limit the power of special influence.

In actuality, this documentary, no doubt like many similar pieces of literature and video designed to expose the influence of special interests, actually offers little in the way of a solution. After watching this movie, a person could become depressed and conclude that nothing can be done.

The courts have made it clear that political contributions should be treated as free speech and providing them will always be the constitutional right of the donor. So, while it is important to bring transparency and openness to these contributions, there are important boundaries that government should not cross in limiting who can give to a political campaign and who cannot. This frustrates many who see the problem but are unable to provide a solution.

I believe there are two solutions to reducing the influence of lobbyists and big money in politics while still complying with the important constitutional free speech protections.

The first method is to elect citizens legislators who simply do not accept contributions from groups that have lobbyists. This is tough, because, while there are legislators who courageously refuse the hundreds of dollars of personal gifts from lobbyists, I have never encountered another legislator who refuses the thousands of dollars of political contributions from the groups that have lobbyists. This solution may not seem so practical but I do believe that in the future more and more candidates for office will take the pledge to refuse these contributions. As long as I have been an elected official, it has been my goal to set the example of how this can actually be done.

I believe that the ultimate way to limit the influence of special interests is the all-too-often not talked about solution of limiting the size of government. If government had not intruded into every aspect of life then the ability of the powerful, rich, special interests groups to influence power would be limited. Put simply, the reason so many invest so much into government is because they seek to leverage the power of the government to work for their interests.

I find it curious that the same groups who decry the power of the wealthy and their influence over politics oftentimes suggest that the solution to the problem is to expand the size and scope of government. Expanding the size of government additionally empowers those who have the wealth to buy influence with the politicians that control the government.

Ultimately, the way to empower the average individual is to reduce the power of government over his life. This puts the individual back in charge of his own destiny and takes away the ability of others to control him

Bloomberg: Tauzin’s $11.6 Million Made Him Highest-Paid Health-Law Lobbyist

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Tauzin, a former Republican U.S. representative from Louisiana, joined PhRMA in 2004, a year after he wrote the law creating Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, a boon to the pharmaceutical industry, while he served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

Bloomberg

Billy Tauzin, the former congressman turned pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, was paid $11.6 million in 2010, the year he brokered a deal with President Barack Obama that helped pass the health-care overhaul.

After the law was signed, Tauzin left his job as head of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, as the highest-paid lobbyist among groups most involved in the overhaul debate. Karen Ignagni, leader of the insurer lobby, was paid $1.5 million in 2010 while Tom Donahue at the Chamber of Commerce made $4.8 million, tax records show.

Tauzin did “what loads of other politicians have done — trading on his expertise and connections to amass great personal wealth,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, in a telephone interview. “He’s just more successful at it than others.”

The disclosure of Tauzin’s salary, reported in Internal Revenue Service filings, is renewing questions about the revolving door between government and industry. Last week, Bloomberg News reported that companies founded by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker, grossed $55 million from 2001 to 2010 for consulting services and memberships in a health-policy center.

It’s alarmingly common for members of Congress to depart for highly paid lobbying jobs, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

‘Cash Out’

“It feeds the public perception that members are doing big industry’s bidding so they can cash out,” said Sloan, whose nonprofit group is based in Washington, in a telephone interview. “It seems like being a member of Congress is just a way-station on the way to a highly paid lobbying job.”

Tauzin, a former Republican U.S. representative from Louisiana, joined PhRMA in 2004, a year after he wrote the law creating Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, a boon to the pharmaceutical industry, while he served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

In 2009, as the leader of PhRMA, he brokered a deal capping at $80 billion the amount drugmakers would contribute to the overhaul in return for his organization’s support of the law.

The agreement drew Republican ire and may have contributed to his ouster last year.

The deal was “very influential in getting key patient groups to see that, on balance, the Affordable Care Act was going to be a benefit for them,” Joseph Antos, who studies health policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said in a telephone interview.

Drugs for Seniors

The $80 billion contribution, to be made over 10 years, helped the Obama administration close a gap in Medicare funding, called the donut hole, and allowed health-law supporters to say they were lowering seniors’ costs for prescription drugs. Medicare is the U.S. government health program for the elderly and disabled.

In 2007, Tauzin received $2.06 million as PhRMA’s CEO. His compensation grew to $4.48 million in 2008 and $4.62 million in 2009 before he left in June 2010. The health overhaul was signed into law in March 2010 after more than a year of debate.

Brendan O’Connor, a spokesman for Tauzin’s lobbying firm, Tauzin Consultants, said in an e-mail that the former lawmaker wouldn’t comment on his PhRMA compensation. Matt Bennett, a PhRMA spokesman, said the payout came as a result of Tauzin’s overall contributions, not as a severance payment.

Tauzin joined Congress as a Democrat in 1980, then became a Republican in 1994. According to a press release announcing his 2011 move to the lobbying firm Alston & Bird LLP, he is the only member of Congress to serve in the leadership of both parties.

Reason for Departure

PhRMA said in 2010 that Tauzin’s departure as chief executive officer was voluntary and long planned. His decision to quickly cut a deal with Obama instead of keeping industry options open, though, drew criticism from PhRMA members and contributed to his leaving, said three people familiar with the departure who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

While Tauzin made less in 2010 than the $17 million paid to Ian Read, CEO of New York-based Pfizer Inc. (PFE), the world’s biggest drugmaker, he outpaced Merck & Co.’s Ken Frazier at $9.4 million, and James Cornelius, the chairman of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., with $3.6 million, according to Bloomberg data.

Tauzin’s pay in his final year at PhRMA was first reported on the website of CEO Update, which collects trade association compensation data. The group said Tauzin’s final pay was comparable to payouts made to Jack Valenti, the former CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Ed Kavanaugh, the former top executive at the Personal Care Products Council.

Unlike Tauzin, though, Valenti and Kavanaugh both retired after “decades of service” to their associations, CEO Update wrote on its website.

“To the layman, severance just sounds bad,” said Mark Graham, managing director at CEO Update, in a telephone interview. “To the more sophisticated compensation analysis, that could be kind of what it is.”