The sole manufacturer of Plan B, the emergency contraceptive and abortifacient, has fostered close ties with the government, aiding the company in its efforts to win over-the-counter status for drugs as well as taxpayer subsidies for its birth-control products.
The CEO, the top in-house lobbyist and other executives at Barr Pharmaceuticals have poured money into the coffers of candidates for the House, Senate and White House, while the company has dramatically boosted its spending on lobbyists in recent years.
Barr’s wholly owned subsidiary Duramed is the only company that makes the “morning-after” birth-control pill levonorgestrel, which it markets as “Plan B.” The company’s website, Go2PlanB.com, says that the drug can prevent ovulation or fertilization, but that if the egg is already fertilized—and a human embryo has formed and begun developing—the drug “may inhibit implantation by altering the endometrium.” In other words, the drug can abort a newly started human life.
In September, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that Plan B, unlike any other oral contraceptive, can be made available over the counter to all consumers 18 years old or older. (Plan B uses the same ingredients as prescription-only birth-control pills, but it is much stronger, more expensive and comes in packs of two instead of 28.)
Most of the Barr executives’ contributions are to Republicans, but a contribution by CEO Bruce Downey to Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) is particularly noteworthy. FEC records show that Downey contributed $1,000 on Feb. 22, 2006, to Friends of Hillary. This was about the time, according to the Washington Post, that acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach became “widely rumored” to be the nominee for permanent FDA commissioner.
Three weeks after Downey’s contribution, moments after Bush’s nomination of von Eschenbach, Clinton and Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) announced they would place a hold on the nomination until the FDA would permit Barr’s Plan B drug to be available at drug stores without a prescription.
That same week, Clinton also introduced an amendment to the Budget Resolution that would direct hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to subsidizing contraceptives, including Plan B. Clinton and Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) have since introduced a bill to the same effect. Barr is the nation’s top seller of pharmaceuticals (measured in terms of sales, rather than dollar amount). Barr did not return my calls seeking comments from Downey or a spokesman.
Barr is deeply imbedded in Washington politics. In 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the company spent more than $1.2 million on lobbyists. The company’s vice president for Government Affairs, Jake Hansen, a former staffer in Ronald Reagan’s White House Office of Public Affairs, has contributed more than $20,000 to candidates for federal office since 1978, all of it to Republicans.
CEO Downey has given more than $90,000 to politicians, mostly Republicans. Although the company is headquartered in New Jersey, Downey works at the Washington, D.C., area offices. To lobby the FDA, Barr retained as a lobbyist William B. Schultz, the FDA’s former deputy commissioner for policy under President Bill Clinton.
Barr is still known widely as a generic drug company, but it has been producing its own proprietary drugs since 2003, when it launched Seasonale, an oral contraceptive.
In 2005, Barr Pharmaceuticals’ revenues exceeded $1 billion.