Big Pharma shells out big campaign dollars to presidential candidates

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

Some presidential hopefuls have a bone to pick with Big Pharma, with candidates such as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump railing against drug price increases and calling for reform. But candidates are also picking up checks from the industry this election, collectively raking in almost $1 million last year in campaign contributions from drugmakers.

Big Pharma donated $951,018 to presidential candidates through the end of 2015, making it the 15th most generous industry in terms of campaign donations, according to numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Federal Election Commission cited by CNN.

Democratic hopeful Clinton collected the most of any candidate with $336,416 in donations, a little more than a third of the total contributions during the campaign. Republican candidate Jeb Bush came in second with about $150,000 in donations, less than half the amount of Clinton. Republican frontrunner Trump got the least money from pharma, with $1,010 in donations.

Clinton and Bush collected their contributions last year, when people were still trying to predict the front-runner candidate. Industries like pharma "give primarily to establishment candidates that they perceive will be leaders and eventual nominees," Scott Swenson, VP for communications of nonprofit political watchdog group Common Cause, told CNN. Contributions are like a "bet" on early winners, he added.

The CNN article did not call out specific companies giving money to candidates, but there has already been some talk about who has donated to front-runners. Last year, Clinton got contributions from Jazz Pharmaceuticals' ($JAZZ) CEO Bruce Cozadd and senior VP Robert McKague, who each gave the maximum individual amount allowed, or $2,700. Jazz has increased the price on its narcolepsy drug Xyrem by more than 800%, The Boston Globe pointed out last month, making it another poster child for the price increases Clinton is deriding.

Sanders also collected some cash from the industry, albeit less than his opponent. The Democratic candidate brought in almost $50,000 in pharma campaign contributions through the end of 2015. Sanders made headlines last year after he rejected a $2,700 donation from ex-Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, who came under fire after the company bought toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim and jacked up the price by more than 5,000%. The candidate ended up giving the money to a health clinic.

Donald Trump

Meanwhile, candidates in both parties are taking shots at the industry over skyrocketing drug prices. Clinton and Sanders have called for measures that would give Medicare the power to negotiate on pricing.

Trump recently backed the idea, too, in a major departure from the Republican party line. The candidate said last month that Medicare could save $300 billion a year by negotiating discounts. "We don't do it," Trump said. "Why? Because of the drug companies."

- read the CNN story

Special Reports: The top 10 most expensive drugs of 2013 | 10 big brands keep pumping out big bucks, with a little help from price hikes