For many of us, the hit TV show House of Cards is our guilty pleasure. Ruthless and amoral,Francis Underwood embodies our worst apprehensions for how things work in our nation’s capital, but the results of his single-minded ambition also ignite our own secret desire for power. It would be a great deception, however, if we believed Cards was a documentary rather than an allegory. In reality, advancing the dietary supplement industry in Washington, D.C., is nothing like the celebrated TV show.
Some in the industry are expressing great anxiety that Sen. Tom Harkin will retire in January, and Sen. Orrin Hatch will likely not run again in 2018. The industry will greatly miss the protection that these two champions of dietary supplements and integrative wellness have provided. While the news media accurately report that since 1994 these two Senators have been the largest recipients of political contributions from the nutritional and dietary supplement industry, the fact is that contributions made to Senators Harkin and Hatch from the entire nutritional and dietary supplement industry didn’t even rank among their top 10 industry contributors.
Rumors of our financial influence are greatly exaggerated.
More revealing is a comparison of dietary supplement contributions to other industries. According to OpenSecrets.org, the nutritional and dietary supplement industry spent $3.6 million on lobbying in 2013 and just over $700,000 in congressional campaign contributions in the 2012 election cycle. By comparison, casinos spent over $32 million for lobbying and $7.2 million on campaign contributions during the same period. Pharmaceutical manufacturing’s lobbying efforts totaled almost $140 million and $12.6 million to congressional elections.
Our influence in Washington comes from our relationships, our credibility, and our widespread consumer support for access to our products. Every June, CRN brings its executives to D.C. to sit down with Members of Congress and their staffs for candid discussions about the threats of over-regulation and the need for (and cost savings of) incentives for consumers to include nutritional products in their healthcare regimens.
As Members of Congress headed back to their districts in August, CRN armed its companies with our Congressional Recess Strategy Guide to make the most of this pre-election period. Dietary supplement firms were urged to invite their Members to tour their facilities to see how sophisticated manufacturing has become. They sponsored meet-and-greet events for their employees so Members are reminded of the impact we have on jobs and economic prosperity in their districts. They attended town hall meetings to voice concerns about over-regulation, and visited district offices to discuss how supplements contribute to reducing the explosion of healthcare costs. It’s this personal collateral that resonates with Members and exerts influence.
It pays off. Consider our efforts to pass legislation to prevent the proliferation of designer anabolic steroids masquerading as supplements. Our bi-partisan approach, broad education efforts, and the straightforward message that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) needs more authority to address these new compounds swiftly is resonating. The industry is conceding more authority to regulators to keep illegitimate products from hijacking the reputation of responsible industry. At a time that will be known as a “do nothing Congress,” the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act (DASCA) has received bi-partisan action, with favorable committee mark-ups in the House, the bill is poised for floor consideration. In the Senate, the legislation is attracting more co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle as we push for Senate committee review as well.
Whether or not DASCA becomes law in this Congress, this issue has given the supplement industry the opportunity to demonstrate that responsible companies don’t want consumer trust harmed by illegal products. It has shown Washington that we can mobilize against the forces of inertia and partisan bickering to move legislation. DASCA illustrates that influence based on good policy, grassroots support, and a credible message can pay dividends.
While viewers of House of Cards wait for the next season of intrigue and deception, the dietary supplement industry strengthens its political clout with the next generation of congressional leaders.