Gore Challenges Pharmaceutical Group

Wednesday, July 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Al Gore is challenging a pharmaceutical industry-backed group critical of his Medicare prescription drug plan to make public its list of donors.

``The American people deserve to know who exactly is trying to influence this critical issue,''' Gore said in a letter to leaders of Citizens for Better Medicare.

In his letter, Gore decried the ``unlimited secret amount of money'' flowing to special interest groups seeking to sway the debate on critical issues.

Gore has clashed repeatedly with Citizens for Better Medicare, which has attacked his plans to expand Medicare by adding a prescription drug benefit.

Congress recently approved and President Clinton signed a change in campaign finance law designed to prevent some politically active issue advocacy groups from keeping their lists of contributors secret.

The change would affect Citizens for Better Medicare, which has run millions of dollars in television commercials attacking plans to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The Clinton administration has proposed a Medicare drug plan, and Gore has made a similar proposal an important part of his campaign.

Gore, accusing drug companies of ``price gouging,'' says the industry is attacking his Medicare plan in order to protect rapidly growing profits.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America is a backer of Citizens for Better Medicare. In its TV ads, the group argues against imposing any Canadian-style government price controls on prescription drugs in this country, saying research funds would dry up as a result.

Congressional Republicans, who favor a prescription drug benefit plan operated through private insurance companies, also argue that the Democratic proposals would create a big-government drug program. Republicans pushed their bill through the House this month in the face of a White House veto threat, but the measure's prospects are uncertain in the Senate.

In his letter, Gore said the recent congressional action on secret donations did not require that past donor lists be made public.

``The donors who have already funneled millions to front special interest groups can remain safely hidden,'' Gore said.

``I call on your organization to reveal the sources of your million-dollar campaign so Americans can understand the real voices in this critical debate, not special interest cloaked in secrecy,'' Gore said. ``It is already clear that the real faces behind Citizens for Better Medicare are not those of America's elderly.''

Gore plans to make his demand public at a campaign stop in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Monday, but a copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

Gore was speaking to the American Federation of Teachers on Wednesday in Philadelphia, then heading to Chicago to address the National Education Association. NEA delegates voted Tuesday to endorse Gore for president, citing his support of higher pay for teachers. Gore already had won the endorsement of the union's board of directors. AFT also has endorsed Gore.

Although his audience will be teachers — and he's made education a big issue — Gore planned to continue his focus on health care, and more specifically expanding the prescription drug benefit.

Under Gore's plan, the government would pay half the annual costs of a Medicare recipient's drugs up to $5,000. Aides said it would extend coverage to 40 million people at a cost of $255 billion over 10 years.

Gore's campaign argues that Citizens for Better Medicare has spent up to $30 million on television spots attacking the prescription drug benefit, and could spend as much as $65 million.

Among its arguments, the group says expanding Medicare to include prescription drugs is an expensive new program that threatens the financial health of the Medicare system, an allegation Gore rejects.

The vice president argues that rival George W. Bush is a tool of rich drug makers, while Gore claims he's seeking to aid struggling working families.