Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — the trade association also known as PhRMA that represents the country’s top drug companies, including Eli Lilly, Merck, and Pfizer — has contributed more than $34.5 million to the Republican-aligned dark money group American Action Network since 2010, including a record $7.5 million last year, according to an Issue One review of federal tax filings.
“Public policymaking should be done on behalf of the public’s interest, and the forces involved in policymaking should be operating in daylight, not darkness,” said Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman. “Unfortunately, our findings suggest that neither is true when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. That’s a shame for public health, for government spending, and for Americans who can’t afford the drugs they need.”
Today, both Republicans and Democrats use dark money groups to influence elections, with the public typically remaining in the dark about who bankrolls these efforts. Obscure government filings, such as the annual IRS Form 990s submitted by nonprofits, offer rare windows into the funders of these major political players.
The American Action Network, which is linked with House GOP leadership and which spent tens of millions of dollars during the 2022 midterms aiding House Republicans, is one of the top-spending conservative dark money groups. Two of the largest Democratic-aligned dark money groups are groups called Majority Forward and House Majority Forward. Records show PhRMA did not contribute to either of these groups between 2010 and 2022.
PhRMA’s $7.5 million contribution to the American Action Network in 2022 was disclosed for the first time in an annual tax filing submitted to the IRS last week, a copy of which was obtained by Issue One. This amount represents $1 million more than PhRMA contributed to the American Action Network in 2020, and $3 million more than PhRMA gave in 2010, the first year the American Action Network spent money in federal elections.
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 loosened political spending rules for corporations, dark money organizations like the American Action Network have emerged as major players in federal elections, frequently flooding the airwaves with negative ads that paint candidates in an unflattering light and dictate which issues are being discussed in campaigns.
Unlike candidates, party committees, and political action committees, dark money groups are generally not required to reveal their donors to the public. On occasion, however, certain donor organizations must report their contributions to dark money groups as expenditures on government filings of their own — allowing the public the opportunity to get a glimpse of who is funding these secretive efforts.
In 2018, by examining a host of obscure records — including tax returns, corporate filings, annual reports submitted by labor unions to the Labor Department, and other sources, as outlined in this robust methodology — Issue One shined a light on approximately 400 donors and donor organizations who have funded the top-spending liberal and conservative dark money groups since Citizens United. These donors are reviewable in an extensive, first-of-its-kind database created by Issue One — and cross-published by ProPublica — containing nearly 1,200 transactions, each supported by primary source documents.
Issue: Dark Money & Super PACs