A group tied to the Republican Party’s top state-level political outfit has done something almost unheard of in a close presidential election: They’ve taken out an ad attacking a key policy plank of their own party’s president.
The ad doesn’t mention Donald Trump by name. But the target is clear: a new drug-price proposal that the president has made a cornerstone of his pitch to elderly voters. So too is the sponsor’s allegiance. In airing the spot, the State Government Leadership Foundation doesn’t hide the fact that they’ve taken the side of a top pharmaceutical trade group—one that happens to have given their network millions of dollars in support—in its dispute with Trump over the measure.
The new digital ad was released on Friday by SGLF, a “dark money” affiliate of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a political action committee that works to elect Republicans to state legislatures and other state-level positions.
The 30-second video levels a broadside against Trump’s most favored nations executive order that would require Medicare to pay for certain drugs only if they are priced comparably to prices paid in other developed nations.
“America is leading the world in medical research and innovation, working around the clock for groundbreaking cures and vaccines,” the group’s new ad declares. “But now a foreign price setting executive order threatens all that, letting foreign governments decide when, and which drugs, Americans get access to, delaying critical treatments right when we need them most.”
President Trump unveiled the executive order at issue this month. And he has pointed to the measure on the campaign trail as evidence that he is taking on the pharmaceutical industry in an effort to reduce drug prices for seniors in particular.
Asked to comment on the SGLF ad, White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Daily Beast that the president “is not going to be intimidated out of also delivering lower prices to seniors by this embarrassing attempt to confuse the public.” Deere said the administration “has invested billions in the development of therapeutics and vaccines to respond to COVID-19.”
The SGLF ad aligns the group’s position with that of the drug industry, which vehemently opposes Trump’s executive order. “The White House has doubled down on a reckless attack on the very companies working around the clock to beat COVID-19,” declared Stephen Ubl, the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the industry’s largest trade group, in a statement on the executive order.
In the spat between Trump and PhRMA, the SGLF has come down firmly on the industry’s side. In addition to the first ad, it released a second digital ad on Friday hailing America’s pharmaceutical companies as “hidden heroes” for their efforts to devise a COVID vaccine. The group even tagged PhRMA’s official Twitter account in a Friday tweet promoting the ad attacking Trump’s executive order.
After The Daily Beast reached out to the SGLF for comment, it deleted that tweet and sent a new version without the @PhRMA handle.
In tagging the group in that tweet, the SGLF was shouting out a high-dollar donor to its sister political organization. (The RSLC and the SGLF share an executive director, and the nonprofit’s deputy director is also the PAC’s political director. Internal Revenue Service filings for the SGLF list RSLC as a “related” organization.) PhRMA has contributed more than $4.2 million to the RSLC since 2003, according to Internal Revenue Service records compiled by the website GovPredict. That includes $250,000 donated to the group in June.
The RSLC’s high-dollar donors since last year also include a number of PhRMA member companies, including AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Ipsen Biopharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Sunovion, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Asked to comment on the SGLF ad, its inconsistency with the president’s agenda, and the group’s ties to PhRMA, an SGLF spokesperson emailed a statement defending it in general terms.
“America’s researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers are hidden heroes, working around the clock to develop the cures and vaccines we need to get our country back to work and school safely,” the spokesperson said. “They need every American’s support and we’re happy to encourage Washington to stand with them.”
Trump has specifically targeted the pharmaceutical industry in recent public attacks, blaming them for negative television advertising about his drug price proposals.
“The drug companies are spending millions of dollars in advertising against me, only because I am lowering drug prices massively “ he tweeted in June. Another tweet last week blamed the industry for “hitting me with Fake Ads, just like sleepy Joe.”
The drug price issue has become a frequent Trump talking point on the campaign trail. He’s alluded to his new executive order during a number of recent campaign rallies, frequently portraying himself as the scourge of greedy pharmaceutical companies.
A number of those companies negotiated for weeks with top White House aides in an effort to find a drug price compromise. But those negotiations fell apart after the White House reportedly demanded that the companies finance $100 payments to Medicare recipients prior to the November election. The Trump administration has since upped its hoped-for payments to $200, which it claims will be paid for by savings in Medicare costs that will come from its Favored Nations prescription drug program.
The new SGLF ad is not just a departure from the administration’s messaging on the drug pricing issue; it takes the precise opposite side on a major Trump policy and campaign theme. “Our leaders need to stand with researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers who are developing a cure, not in the way of them,” the tweet promoting the ad declared. Prior to its deletion, the group’s initial tweet had been retweeted just twice, by the RSLC’s caucus director and by Austin Chambers, who leads both the RSLC and the SGLF.