Brit Pharma Giant Pulls Political Donations – Worldwide

24 December 2008

LONDON: In a bold move to buck Big Pharma's unashamed buying of legislative influence worldwide via donations to political parties, UK-headquartered drugs titan GlaxoSmithKline is to quit the rat-race. 

The rationale? According to GSK, it's a bid to improve transparency and remove accusations of prejudicial lobbying at a time of expected  change to the US healthcare system. 

Cynics, however, might aver that GSK is savvy enough to realise that yesterday's tried and tested tactics won't wash with the New Puritanism of the incoming Obama administration. 

Says ceo Andrew Witty: "I don't want people to have any question about our involvement in the political process and in ensuring that healthcare is improved."

Instead, shorn of partisan discombobulations, GSK will concentrate on ideas for US healthcare reform – a massive issue on which Witty welcomes debate.

Until now GSK has not been backward among its peers in attempting to buy political influence, it's annual report for 2007 admitting to [an astonishingly low] £249,000 ($368,644; €264,223).

Witty, who took office this spring, has also read the political runes with regard to payments made to US doctors over work that could relate to pharma companies' products, and has pledged to cap annual support at $150,000 per person.

But there is a significant chink in the company's new shiny ethical armour.

It will continue to provide 'administrative support' for those of its employees who want to contribute to Political Action Committees – a handy legal bypass that enables US businesses, labour unions, and other interest groups to channel financial contributions into individual candidates' election campaigns. In 2007 PACs provided £522,000 to US political parties.

Although GSK's new policy is primarily US-oriented, it will apply worldwide. It was welcomed by at least one GSK investor, Daniel Summerfield, head of responsible investment at the Universities Superannuation Scheme, who declared himself "pleased" at the move.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff