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Published: Monday, 11/23/2009

Parrots for Big Pharma

HEALTH-CARE reform was always going to be difficult to achieve but it may yet turn out to be the best that money can buy - except that it appears to be special-interest money propagandizing for what it wants, not promoting the public interest.

If the public ever lacked for an example of this sad state of affairs, a recent New York Times story provided one. It chronicled how statements submitted by members of Congress to the Congressional Record were remarkably similar - and not by accident.

More than a dozen members used words written by lobbyists for Genentech, a large biotechnology company that is a subsidiary of the Swiss drug maker Roche. The company propagandists helpfully wrote tailored statements for both Democrats and Republicans (the GOP members don't support health-care reform but do like one provision on generic drugs favored by Genentech).

Even when the politicians didn't repeat the words almost verbatim, members at least picked up some of the talking points. According to Genentech, 42 House members echoed some of their themes. This included 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, a level of bipartisanship that the bigger debate has lacked.

And surprise, surprise! According to the Times story, Genentech's political action committee and lobbyists have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some of those who dutifully filed the statements in the Congressional Record. A spokesman for Genentech said, "There was no connection between the contributions and the statements." If he said this with a straight face, he surely risked straining facial muscles, but the rest of us can go ahead and laugh - or cry.

When ordinary people send form letters to newspapers, including this one, their writings are rejected as unoriginal "astroturf." If authors or journalists borrow material without proper attribution, they are scorned for plagiarism.

Yet when members of Congress do something similar, their corruption is called business as usual. It's shameful just the same.

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