The pharmaceutical industry had hoped, in backing the Medicare drug bill, to crush calls for reimportation of U.S-made drugs from countries where they are priced more cheaply. But in 2003, when an import bill started moving through the House, Alexander Strategy was there to help.
That summer, the conservative Christian community buzzed with talk that the import bill would make an abortion pill called RU-486 as accessible as aspirin. Savvy evangelical leaders quickly debunked the rumor. It doesnt even make sense because RU-486 is not even available in Canada,” said a former leader of a major evangelical organization. “Im sure the source of it is Jack Abramoff. This is the typical lie he tells to fool nave conservatives.
None of the groups waged a fight against the import bill — none, that is, except the Traditional Values Coalition, headed by the Rev. Lou Sheldon.
Traditional Values has become infamous as Abramoffs favorite “rent-a-church.” Sheldon had helped squash an anti-gambling bill that would have harmed eLottery, an Abramoff client. He also collaborated with Rudy, Abramoff, and DeLay to promote Puerto Rican statehood on behalf of another Abramoff client (claiming that the territorys independence was a biblical issue).
On drug importation, Sheldon deployed similar creative logic.Absurdly, he contended that abortion pills would become more available because the bill lowered overall drug prices. He bombarded constituents of several staunchly anti-abortion, pro-importation lawmakers with letters, ads, and calls, questioning their representative’s commitment to “the sanctity of life.” Sheldons son-in-law, a former DeLay staffer, headed the Christian Seniors Association, which chipped in for newspaper ads urging Congress to “just say No” to imports.
The targeted lawmakers were furious. But Sheldon maintained the pressure by circulating letters on the Hill, erroneously warning that the bill would allow unscrupulous individuals to send RU-486 to teenagers in the mail.
But Sheldons campaign also made a mistake. Instead of hand-delivered letters, emails were sent with traceable Word attachments. Within days, National Review Online blew the campaigns cover. One memo was written by PhRMA executives; the other by Tony Rudy. (Rudy had cynically labeled his own memo Murder, Inc). Rudy, who worked closely with Abramoff when he tapped Sheldon to help defeat the gambling bill, had obviously watched his mentor closely. Outraged representatives suspended Sheldon’s group from the House Values Action Team, a gathering of pro-life lawmakers and organizations.
Despite the combined efforts of PhRMA, Rudy and Sheldon, the import legislation moved to the House floor. At that time, DeLay was struggling to get traction for the Medicare drug bill. In June, it fell one vote short. So the GOP leadership persuaded one lawmaker to change her “no” vote to a “yes.” In return, leadership allowed a vote on the import proposal. One month later, the import bill cleared the House, but was later killed in the Senate. Sheldon, discredited by his role in the fiasco, seems to have played no role in the Medicare drug bills final passage.