Merck, Pfizer, Lilly and J&J restored funding to legislators who stoked Jan. 6 Capitol attack, watchdog says

U.S. Capitol with flag
Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson were among the companies that condemned the Jan. 6 unrest at the U.S. Capitol building. But they then provided campaign funds to lawmakers who helped foment it by voting against certifying the presidential election results, a report says. (Getty/Andrea Izzotti)

The riot at the U.S. Capitol building last January compelled many American companies—including some pharma giants—to denounce the unrest and the legislators who helped foment it.

Some companies made grand pronouncements, saying they would cut off campaign funding to those in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.

A year later however, many of those same firms—including Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer—have resumed their financial support to those legislators, according to a report by watchdog group Accountable.US.

Merck led the 2021 pharma funding list to the "Sedition Caucus," or the 147 lawmakers who voted against the election results, by giving $56,000, the report says. Pfizer followed with $49,500 in contributions, while Eli Lilly gifted $32,500 and Johnson & Johnson gave $22,500.

“Major corporations were quick to condemn the insurrection and tout their support for democracy—and almost as quickly, many ditched those purported values by cutting big checks to the very politicians that helped instigate the failed coup attempt,” Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig said in the report.

Last January, Pfizer said it would suspend donations to legislators who were election objectors. When a donation to Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) came to light in March, Pfizer said it was made “in error,” and pulled back the funding.

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From August to December, however, Pfizer was back in the donation business, funding the campaigns of 25 election opponents, Accountable.US says.

In a statement to Fierce Pharma, the company said it adhered to its commitment to pause donations for six months to the 147 members of Congress who voted against certifying the election.

“Pfizer’s PAC supports policymakers who value innovation and expanded access to breakthrough medicines and vaccines that change patients’ lives,” the company said. “Monitoring elected officials’ conduct and statements is a part of our governance process and we will continue to do so as we consider future Pfizer PAC disbursements.”

Merck and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

Lilly told the Indianapolis Star that it “supports candidates across the political spectrum who understand the value of a vibrant pharmaceutical ecosystem to address unmet patient needs.”

Last January, Lilly said it would suspend contributions to legislators who voted against certifying the election. But the company didn’t specify how long the suspension would last. By July it had resumed with its contributions.

The stance was a departure from the sentiments expressed by the company a year ago in a statement to Fierce Pharma.

“While we support candidates from both parties with a variety of political views, we expect any candidate we support to demonstrate respect for people and respect for our democratic process and institutions," the statement said. "This certainly covers anyone who promoted violence or sedition that contributed to the appalling events on January 6th or who continues to support violence to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power our democracy is founded upon."

A year ago, Merck’s then-CEO Ken Frazier warned during a virtual summit of business leaders that the unrest at the Capitol threatened the rule of law in America. During the same event, Merck board member Thomas Glocer said that companies should withhold donations to lawmakers seeking to disrupt the presidential transition.

“We have to create some level of cost,” Glocer said during the call. “Just coming out with another public letter isn’t going to do much. Money is the key way.”

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Merck had changed its tune by June 2021, when it resumed contributions to election certification opponents.

For its part, J&J resumed its support for the caucus in August.

The pharma companies weren’t alone in their quick rebound to support election objectors. Corporations and trade groups have contributed more than $8 million to fund the campaigns of those who voted against certifying the election, Accountable.US says.

“When corporations continue to give their stamp of approval to lawmakers that jeopardized our democracy and stoked the insurrection, they are showing that they value cultivating political influence above all else,” Herrig said in the report.