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Drug Firms Well-Represented at RNC

The pharmaceutical industry, fighting to defeat proposals that would give U.S. patients easier access to cheaper Canadian drugs, is making the most of its chance for face time with lawmakers at the GOP convention.

Drug companies are well-represented on the social calendar in New York with events large and small.

They include an afternoon tea with New York state first lady Libby Pataki, sponsored by AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals (search); a nomination-night party for top members of President Bush's re-election team, co-sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb (search); and a breast-cancer awareness luncheon funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals (search).

Pfizer (search) is one of the most active drug makers. Its events include a supper for the Colorado delegation at Tavern on the Green and an evening reception at the landmark Rainbow Room in honor of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search).

The companies believe reaching out to decision-makers at all levels of government is particularly important at a time when Congress and several states and communities are considering proposals that would allow residents to shop for medication north of the border.

"It is important that we decisively convey our side of the story. We need to emphasize that there are real safety risks associated with importation," said Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the industry's biggest lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (search).

On Tuesday, Pfizer sponsored the second of two breakfasts for delegates from Oregon, a presidential battleground state whose Democratic governor recently asked the federal government for permission to import drugs from Canada.

Delegates and a Pfizer lobbyist breakfasted on scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries and fruit as they listened to speeches by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Bush campaign adviser Tucker Eskew and White House political adviser Lezlee Westine.

Republican delegate and state Rep. Linda Flores said Pfizer's sponsorship of the meals would not affect her views on prescription drug policy.

"I'm concerned about the price of prescription drugs. I am also concerned about some of the possibilities for reimportation, if there are drugs that may not be labeled correctly," Flores said, adding that she would consider supporting imports if she could be assured the drugs were safe.

Pfizer spokeswoman Darlene Taylor said the company also sponsored events at the Democratic convention in Boston. She said drug importation legislation is a top issue for the company, which doesn't believe such proposals are necessarily the solution to high drug costs.

For the pharmaceutical industry, the convention offers a chance to build goodwill with a relatively modest investment compared with the cost of lobbying in Washington. It is the top lobbying spender among health care interests.

The industry devoted at least $85 million to lobbying Congress and the Bush administration last year.

Industry employees have given at least $11.5 million to national party committees and presidential and congressional candidates this election cycle. Roughly two-thirds went to Republicans.

Bush is the top recipient of industry employees' donations, raising at least $870,000 compared with about $350,000 for the No. 2 beneficiary, Democratic rival John Kerry.