Center Forward, a dark money group funded by the drug industry and led by pharmaceutical lobbyists, has been running ads touting Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona for five months — ever since she started working to undermine Democrats’ plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
Sinema’s demolition campaign came despite polling showing that 94 percent of Arizonans support the idea of Medicare negotiating drug prices. A 2017 survey found that more than a quarter of residents in her state had stopped taking prescribed medication because of the cost.
Amid that crisis, Arizonans earlier this month started seeing a new TV ad from Center Forward saying that “Arizonans are tough and independent, just like Kyrsten Sinema.” Center Forward’s previous ads contained similar drivel about independence and bipartisanship — but this latest ad does something special: it screams the quiet part out loud about who Sinema actually works for.
“Thank Kyrsten Sinema and tell her: Keep fighting,” the ad says. “We have your back, just like you’ve always had ours.”
Yes, really: a pharma front group put an ad on TV saying of Sinema, “We have your back, just like you’ve always had ours” — after she helped to water down and stall the party’s signature drug pricing bill — and they want Arizonans to thank Sinema for this. This ad is supposed to help boost Sinema’s poor poll numbers.
A Washington Front Group With No Ties to Arizona
Front groups like Center Forward often run ads like this one to thank their legislative allies for going to bat for their financiers. The hope, of course, is that people aren’t paying enough attention to catch that the ad isn’t paid for by Sinema’s campaign, but by an industry propaganda outfit. People probably wouldn’t trust the message if they know who’s paying for it, but who has the time to research the name behind every ad they see on TV?
For all of its talk about what Arizonans are like, Center Forward couldn’t be more removed from the Grand Canyon State. Center Forward is a Washington, DC–based front group run by corporate lobbyists. The organization lists its address, in its filing for the ad purchase and in DC incorporation records, as a Northern Virginia McMansion owned by one of its lobbyist board members.
Center Forward has long been funded by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a drug industry lobbying powerhouse that generated $573 million in revenue in 2020, according to its tax return. PhRMA donated $7.2 million to Center Forward from 2016–20, accounting for more than a quarter of its revenue.
Two Center Forward board members, Libby Greer and Cindy Brown of Forbes Tate Partners, lobby for PhRMA. They also lobby for many individual drug companies, including Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Amgen, Bayer, Eli Lilly, Emergent Biosolutions, Gilead Sciences, Merck, Novartis, and Sanofi.
The Cost of Protecting Industry
Sinema played a key role in gutting Democrats’ drug pricing measure, significantly reducing the money it would cost the pharmaceutical industry — and how much money it would save the public — if it becomes law.
She also helped stall President Joe Biden’s broader health care, climate, and social spending bill, the vehicle being used to pass the drug pricing measure. Democrats failed to pass that package late last year — and its prospects this year remain dim.
More recently, Sinema led a crusade to preserve the legislative filibuster — a top priority for the US Chamber of Commerce and big business lobbyists — helping Republicans block Democratic legislation meant to protect the public from state GOP voter suppression laws.
These efforts have helped Sinema raise tons of money, but it’s come at a cost. A recent poll found Sinema’s favorability numbers are underwater among Democrats and even weaker among independents. She has also alienated the state Democratic party. Sinema isn’t up for reelection until 2024, but it looks like she will have a tough time winning another a Democratic primary.
If Sinema wants to continue her political career, she will need all the industry air support she can get. At least she knows one Big Pharma front group has her back.
As Center Forward’s full ad puts it:
Arizonans are tough and independent, just like Kyrsten Sinema. Every day, she fights to improve the lives of working families while protecting our pocketbooks — like leading on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that controls costs, rebuilds our roads, and grows the Arizona economy with good jobs. Working tirelessly until the job is done right, just like we do here in Arizona. Thank Kyrsten Sinema and tell her: Keep fighting. We have your back, just like you’ve always had ours.