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Industry Influence in the 2012 ElectionIndustry Influence in the 2012 Election

Sandy Almendarez

September 19, 2012

6 Min Read
Industry Influence in the 2012 Election

Because industry expects Romney to be better for business, it makes sense that supplement donations are going to the Governor exponentially more than to Obama. Supplement companies, organizations and individuals have given more than $4.5 million to Romney, but have only give about $50,000 to Obama, according to a USA TODAY analysis. In a July 2012 article by Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY released the figures based on a list of roughly 1,200 individuals helping Romney collect campaign cash by reviewing campaign news releases, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records, invitations obtained by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation and news accounts.

So far, the top presidential contributions from the dietary supplement industry have come from 4life Research ($535,450), Herbalife International ($86,228) and Pharmavite LLC ($52, 650), according to The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that tracks campaign money. However the Center said these numbers include money from the organizations' political action committees (PACs), subsidiaries and affiliates, its individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families. In other words, in many cases, the organizations themselves did not donate.

4life mostly gave to outside spending groups rather than to either candidate, but Herbalife and Pharmavite gave pretty equally to Democrats and Republicans, according to the Center. The trade organizations the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN, $29,566) and NPA ($10,250) gave 51 percent of their donations to Republicans and 49 percent to Democrats for the 2012 election season. However, some companies choose to give only to one party; for instance, Health Foods of America ($7,500) and Slim Fast Foods ($5,000) gave all their donations to Democrats, and Weider Health & Fitness ($33,300), Xango LLC ($5,750), Life Style Innovations ($5,000) and Rexall Sundown ($5,000) gave exclusively to Republicans.

The Center for Responsive Politics also said the industry has also recently stepped up its lobbying efforts. Top lobbyists in 2012 include Herbalife International, CRN, Otsuka America, Mead Johnson Nutritional and Abbot Laboratories.

Getting the Vote

Donating and fundraising are great ways to support candidates who are in favor of the supplement industry. It takes money to compete in and win an election, and the more a supplement company can aid a particular candidate in this way, the better. "Support candidates who support our industry," Israelsen recommended. "This means contributions and personal time to advocate for those running for office."

James J. Gormley, head of Gormley NPI Consulting and author of the soon-to-be-released book, "Health at Gunpoint: The FDA's Silent War Against Health Freedom," added it's helpful to invite politicians, their local chief of staff or health aide to a local speaking engagement or a fundraiser organized by the company.

Beyond money, supplement companies can offer services in other ways to encourage politics to play in their favor. Companies can educate their customers, family and friends about candidates and their positions, as well as propositions that are up for vote. Company executives should educate themselves and teach the entire staff which policies are in contention and the leanings of each candidate running in their jurisdictions. Of course, it's best to encourage people to vote their conscience, but having knowledge on the subject matter doesn't hurt.

Israelsen said the supplement industry needs to continue the tradition of being politically active as an industry and as individuals. "I urge consumers to vote, to express their views to candidates for Congress, always be respectful and be consistent," he said

"Go out there and show folks the different industry regulations that have may have been proposed and passed, and politicians' statements that are out there," recommended John Shaw, executive director and CEO, Natural Products Association (NPA). "People can Google their local candidates and see if they've made comments regarding the supplement industry. If they have, then people need to take that into consideration when they are choosing to vote."

Gormley suggested companies send an e-mail to their entire list of customers. "But it should not be negative toward any specific candidates," he said. "It should be more a call to action to support those legislators who are the most supportive of dietary supplements and the natural products industry. Providing links to relevant consumer health-advocacy groups is helpful too."

And Jarrow L. Rogovin, chairman of the board and president, Jarrow Formulas Inc., added companies should have part of their website dedicated to regulatory and legislative information. "Retailers need to bag stuff like they used to about products in the good old days." He said this will teach politicians that the industry is informed and organized. He encouraged retailers and supplement companies to increase their political activity. "When it comes to our industry, everything is political: organic is political. GMO is political. Supplements are political. Cut it out and get real already."

Shaw said it's good to be a member of trade organization that can represent a company's position to politicians. He said industry trade associations take an aggressive stance in Washington to positively affect public policy outcomes. "NPA is planning an aggressive campaign this fall to educate federal decision makers and their staffers prior to and after the election about the value of our members' products. We intend to meet with many incoming newly elected members of Congress as well as newly hired staff in the administration and those who work for members of Congress to educate them on our products and our members."

Companies can also establish a direct relationship with their U.S. Senators and Congressmen. "The legislators should know how many constituents are employed by the company, how important the company is for the local and state economy, and how powerful the company's customers can be at the voting booth," Gormley said.

Loren Israelsen, executive director, United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), also noted it's easier for politicians and the public to be on industry's side when it's playing by the rules. "Run a tight and competent shop," he said. "Politics are susceptible to media and public sentiments; headlines involving dietary supplement controversies or safety issues play against us."

It's true the White House will have a dialog with the supplement industry no matter whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins, but the industry can definitely help sway which one will be in the seat (by donating and by educating its network) and how friendly that conversation will be (by keeping on the right side of legislation). While it's generally accepted that if Obama retains the White House, FDA will have a mandate to increase its current actions, and if Romney wins, FDA is likely to reduce its enforcement actions, it's still uncertain as to what the future holds for the political arena. What is certain is industry will continue to fight for its role to help consumers maintain their health no matter who is elected as America's next commander in chief.

Register for Early Voting

Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012, occurs during SupplySide West, so be sure to vote early. Go to the SupplySide website, and select your state to sign up for an early voting mail-in ballet.

About the Author(s)

Sandy Almendarez

editor in chief, Informa

Sandy Almendarez entered the natural products industry in 2009 when she joined Virgo Publishing (now Informa Exhibitions) as an assistant editor. Since then, she's worked her way up to editor in chief where she writes, edits and manages content for INSIDER. Under Sandy’s direction, INSIDER has won editorial awards from Folio: every year since 2014, including B2B Editorial Team of the Year in 2015.

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