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Pharmaceutical lobby jumps into 2018 legislative races with Facebook ads

Megan Messerly
Megan Messerly
Election 2018Health Care

The national pharmaceutical drug lobby is quietly inserting itself into Nevada’s 2018 legislative races through a political action committee it created last year to fight a diabetes drug pricing transparency bill.

The Healthy Nevada PAC — which is entirely funded by the national drug lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) — began running Facebook ads this week on behalf of 10 Republican and Democratic candidates for both the state Senate and Assembly. Since the PAC was created in May 2017, PhRMA has funnelled $755,000 into the organization, including $300,000 dropped into the account last week, according to the PAC’s most recent campaign finance report filed Tuesday.

The Facebook ads, which started running Tuesday on the Healthy Choice for Nevada page, largely tout the candidates’ biographies, making no specific mention of health care or the drug industry. The ads instead highlight various other policy priorities including the economy, infrastructure, education, affordable housing, paid family leave and energy.

Candidates featured in the ads include Republican Assemblyman James Oscarson; Republican Assembly candidates Tom Roberts and Glen Leavitt; Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson; Democratic Assemblyman Steve Yeager; Democratic Assemblyman and Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Will McCurdy; Democratic Assembly candidates Michelle Gorelow and Deonne Contine; Republican state Senator Ben Kieckhefer; and Republican Assemblyman and state Senate candidate Keith Pickard.

The ads do not appear to target members of the Legislature that voted in favor of a diabetes drug pricing transparency law, which requires manufacturers of essential diabetes drugs to disclose to the state certain information related to how they set prices for the drugs, passed during the 2017 session that was strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Frierson, Yeager, McCurdy voted in favor of the final bill, while Pickard and Kieckhefer voted against it. (And Kieckhefer actually voted in favor of an earlier, skinnier iteration of the bill.)

A spokeswoman for PhRMA said in an email that the organization does not "comment on contributions beyond what is publicly reported" when asked why it decided to run ads on behalf of legislative candidates in addition to making monetary contributions as it typically does. In the first few months of 2018, PhRMA gave $1,500 each to Frierson and Democratic Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle; $1,000 each to Pickard and Kieckhefer; $500 to Roberts; and $1,500 to the Nevada Republican Party Central Committee.

At the same time, PhRMA is continuing to challenge the constitutionality of the drug pricing law in court, asking the U.S. District Court on Thursday for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the state from disclosing pricing data that it argues is protected under federal trade secret law while regulations relating to the law are finalized. In an unusual move, the Legislative Commission last week preliminarily approved a set of regulations ahead of a hearing on them scheduled for May 31.

Facebook took several of the legislative ads down on Tuesday because they were running without the “paid for by” label required of political advertisements, but the ads were up again on Wednesday with the appropriate disclosures.

So far, all of the ads currently running have made less than 1,000 impressions each, with the PAC spending less than $100 on each one. One of the ads that ran for McCurdy but was taken down for not having the appropriate disclosure made between 5,000 and 10,000 impressions for between $100 and $499; one for Contine made between 1,000 and 5,000 impressions for less than $100; the rest of the ads taken down made less than 1,000 impressions for less than $100.

Since the PAC was created, it has doled out $443,348 to local consulting firms Red Rock Strategies, Strategies 360 and GE Consulting for advertising, consulting and polling expenses. It also spent $6,094 on campaign finance compliance-related expenses.


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