Novartis Caught in US Political Vortex
Swiss drugs giant Novartis inadvertently moved into the US political spotlight this week as reports emerged it had engaged a firm controlled by Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of US President Donald Trump.
The drugmaker acknowledged it had paid Essential Consultants $100,000 per month for what it thought would be advice on "health care policy matters" involving the US pharmaceutical market. Altogether, the payments totaled $1.2 million.
While Novartis said it ended the relationship after only one meeting in March 2017, as it quickly discovered the firm would not be able to provide the advice it had hoped to receive; however, it had to continue payments until the one-year contract ended in February 2018.
The Swiss company’s foray into US politics came to light when federal investigators working with special counsel Robert Mueller contacted Novartis in November 2017 about its relationship with the consultants. It hit the headlines this week, when a lawyer representing an adult film actress in a lawsuit against Trump published a list of the lawyer’s clients.
Sources speaking to US broadcaster CBS said Cohen had approached then-Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez shortly after the 2016 election, suggesting he could offer advice on how to gain access to members of the incoming administration.
The company stressed that its current CEO, Vas Narasimhan, was not involved with the payments, even if like other pharmaceutical executives, including Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, he dined with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past January.
No reports have as yet emerged as to whether any other pharmaceutical or chemical companies had any deeper contact with the current US administration, though early in the Trump presidency, many of them sought to stay on good terms with the new chief executive after he attacked the industry for its price gouging.
As Bayer’s drive to win approval for its takeover of Monsanto geared up in January 2017, a White House spokesman announced that the German group had pledged to spend $8 billion on R&D in the US and also to retain 10% of Monsanto’s workforce if the takeover were to be approved by US regulatory authorities.
Also early last year, former Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was named to lead Trump’s manufacturing council; the panel later fell apart without having had a single meeting after Merck & Co’s CEO Kenneth Frazier left in protest over the president’s comments on a white supremacist rally.
Liveris more recently criticized Trump for imposing tariffs on US steel, saying it would make plant construction more expensive.