Who holds the power in the state Capitol – people or corporations? The fate of two bills in the Legislature will make the answer clear.
Two of the nation’s richest and most powerful corporate interests – the pharmaceutical and oil industries – are trying to weaken or kill bills that affect their bottom lines. To get their way, they must defeat the best interests of Californians. Sadly, they have a good chance of winning because they pour epic amounts of corrupting money into the Capitol every year.
PhRMA, which represents the pharmaceutical industry, has unleashed its army of lobbyists to kill the Drug Pricing Transparency Bill. They oppose Senate Bill 17 because it would shine a light on the way prescription drugs get priced to help consumers understand where their money is going. It would also require drug manufacturers to give 60 days’ notice before raising prices by 10 percent or more. These are important common sense reforms, especially since prescription drugs are a main factor in rising of health care costs.
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The growing national spotlight on the high cost of prescription drugs has put PhRMA on the defensive. Now its lobbyists argue that SB 17 would dampen investor enthusiasm in the multibillion-dollar industry. This standard special interest logic is pure baloney. It implies that Big Pharma’s business model depends on its ability to gouge consumers. Hopefully, legislators will side with citizens who need affordable medicine.
As PhRMA wages war on transparency, the oil industry is lobbying to weaken efforts aimed at reducing pollution. The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil giants such as Chevron, wants to water down the cap-and-trade legislation designed to protect our air, water and lungs from carbon pollution.
This bill should be a no-brainer in a state where 3.1 million people suffer from asthma, including 851,000 children. Yet Big Oil has the upper hand in the backrooms of the Capitol. The oil industry prevented this legislation from moving forward as part of the June budget negotiations even though Gov. Jerry Brown publicly declared its passage his top goal.
Now, the debate will take place on the oil industry’s timeline. The key question is whether the Legislature will strengthen California’s “polluters pay” law, as 70 percent of the public wants, or weaken it at the behest of oil corporations. Californians want polluters held accountable for the damage they are doing to our health and our communities, and want to use the money raised to speed the transition to a clean energy economy.
Oil companies, on the other hand, want as many free licenses to pollute as they can get, and to avoid direct limits on their emissions. And they’ve apparently found some sympathetic ears in Sacramento – enough to keep legislation from moving forward.
In the meantime, Big Oil is pouring money into lobbying and advertising campaigns to make the legislation as polluter-friendly as possible. It’s also funding a campaign to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, with Chevron funneling $500,000 through the Republican Party to punish him for voting for a gas tax increase. The oil industry is sending a message to our legislators: Cross us and pay a price.
It’s understandable how such pressure might scare legislators, but there’s still no excuse for doing the wrong thing. Their job is to act in the best interests of people, not corporate profit margins.
Tom Steyer is founder of NextGen Climate. He can be contacted at email@example.com.