Last week's meeting started like any other. Two lobbyists and an attorney representing the pharmaceutical industry were ushered into a conference room in Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman's office suite and introduced. On the other side of the table was a senior Bingaman health staffer, a congressional fellow and a gentleman introduced to PhRMA officials as a consultant on the legislation they were discussing, a bill to make it easier for generic drugs to come to market.
It's not unusual for lawmakers to ask lobbyists to weigh in on legislation that would affect their industries and, in this case, PhRMA expressed concerns about the bill, which it opposes. During the 45-minute conversation, most of the PhRMA officials' questions were fielded, not by the Bingaman staffer, but by the consultant, who directed the conversation and heatedly defended the bill, according to people familiar with the meeting.
And it wasn't until the meeting's end when business cards were exchanged that the PhRMA officials realized that the consultant answering questions on Bingaman's behalf was a registered lobbyist for the foreign generic drug company Apotex.
"I knew that Apotex helped him write the bill, but I didn't realize that they were taking the staff meetings," said a drug industry lobbyist familiar with the meeting.
Such behavior could be a violation of Senate ethic rules that prohibit individual senators from hiring outside consultants.
But Bingaman's office tells a different story. PhRMA officials and the Apotex lobbyist were invited to a stakeholder's meeting to discuss the bill.
"He was one of the stakeholders and I imagine he was familiar with the bill and spoke on it," said Bingaman spokeswoman Maria Najera of the Apotex lobbyist. "He obviously does not speak for Sen. Bingaman or the office and our staff was there to speak on behalf of the senator."
Najera said the Apotex lobbyist did not write the bill. "A lot of people were consulted in the writing of the bill and he was one of them but we produce our own legislation," she said.
The Apotex lobbyist could not be reached for comment.