Last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a legal watchdog group, released “research demonstrating that the dietary supplement industry spent millions of dollars on well-connected lobbyists and made numerous campaign contributions to successfully thwart increased regulatory oversight of supplements.” (Read CREW’s report here)
CREW’s press release targeted Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch as being “[f]ar and away the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the supplement industry in the 2010 election cycle” for taking in the apparently whopping sum of $45,780.
Although it may be fashionable in some circles to demonize the so-called “unregulated” dietary supplement industry whenever possible, lobbying Congress on behalf of an industry is nothing new. Like it or not, it’s a lawful way for specific business interests to express support for candidates and incumbents with favorable views. And it’s important to keep things in perspective. The pharmaceutical drug industry, long regarded by many as the arch-enemy of the dietary supplement industry, has a lot to gain from increased restrictions over dietary supplements. Some say Big Pharma would love to take over the supplement industry entirely. In any event, the drug industry does “bombard” Congress with campaign contributions that dwarf even the most generous supplement donations. The top 5 contributors in Big Pharma for 2009–2010 each pumped over a million dollars into Congress. And the top receiver of all that money was North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, with $303,026 in donations, followed by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) at $278,683 and Senator Orrin Hatch at $267,874. In fact, at least 20 members of Congress received in excess of $100,000 each from the pharmaceutical industry.
Given the astronomical contributions of Big Pharma to the folks in Washington, it’s no surprise that U.S. laws, unlike the laws in many other countries, continue to allow drug companies to market directly to consumers, urging them to ask their doctors about the latest patented drugs for virtually whatever ails them, physically or mentally. It shouldn’t escape notice that Senator Hatch, although purportedly beholden to the dietary supplement industry, in actuality has much stronger financial ties to Big Pharma, just like so many others in Washington. When you look at the money involved, it certainly makes you wonder exactly which industry is supposedly “getting its way.”