Pulling the strings

PULLING THE STRINGS…. Nothing inspires confidence in Congress more than having lawmakers almost literally reading the script prepared for them by lobbyists.

In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.

Now, don’t necessarily expect tomorrow’s “Daily Show” to have a segment featuring dozens of lawmakers repeating the identical lobbyist-written words over and over again. That’s not quite how this worked.

The Congressional Record includes the transcript of what lawmakers said on the House floor, but members are also able to submit written statements that “revise and extend” their remarks. It’s here where lawmakers submitted Genentech’s preferred statements for the record. As Karen Tumulty noted, it lets the “lobbyists’ paymasters” know that “they are getting good return on their investment.”

What’s noteworthy here is that it’s “unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.”

Note to congressional offices: if you’re going to copy and paste someone else’s homework, make more of an effort to pretend otherwise.

Asked about the statements, a lobbyist close to Genentech told the NYT‘s Robert Pear, “This happens all the time.”

That’s hardly a reassuring statement about the norms of the institution.