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Biotech Companies Put Their Cash Behind Capuano In Race Against Pressley

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and his Democratic challenger, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley (Robin Lubbock, Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and his Democratic challenger, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley (Robin Lubbock, Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Biotechnology firms have a clear favorite in the race to represent industry hub Kendall Square and surrounding communities in Congress: They like the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano.

Defending his seat against a fellow Democrat, At-Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Capuano has received donations from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's political action committee, and PACs affiliated with more than a dozen life sciences companies: AbbVie, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Eli Lilly, EMD Serono, Emergent BioSolutions, Genentech, Merck, Novartis, Novocure, Sanofi, Shire, Thermo Fisher and Vertex.

"Congressman Capuano has been a champion for patients and the life sciences, which is why we're a supporter,” said Jennifer Nason, a spokeswoman for the MassBio council.

Pressley has not received donations from any biotech firms, according to a WBUR review of campaign finance disclosures that congressional candidates filed Sunday with the Federal Election Commission.

As a share of overall fundraising, the contributions of biotech businesses are relatively small. Donations to Capuano from the MassBio trade group and the 15 companies listed above total $29,700.

Capuano has raised $1.5 million overall, to Pressley's $731,000.

Yet the biotech fundraising gap amplifies an emerging contrast between the candidates, whose policy prescriptions are largely in sync. Capuano's campaign framed the donations as indicators of good work in Washington.

"Life science companies know there's no stronger advocate than Mike for Medicare for all and lower prescription drug prices, and no stronger fighter for federal research dollars to support the life-saving research taking place in his district," Capuano spokeswoman Audrey Coulter told Bostonomix. "The 7th district is home to the greatest cluster of biotech companies in the world, working on life-saving cures for cancer, ALS, cystic fibrosis and other diseases. Mike has fought hard to secure basic research dollars for this incredibly important economic sector as Donald Trump works to cut funding for vital research."

Meanwhile, Pressley's team cast the absence of biotech dollars on its side as symbolic of its "people-powered campaign."

"This is a place where we really see daylight between these two campaigns," said Sarah Groh, Pressley's campaign manager. "Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, how we reach folks who may not have had opportunities to have exposure to the congressman and who too often don't have time with the candidates."

Pressley said in May that she would reject all corporate PAC donations. By the time she publicly eschewed such contributions, however, she already trailed Capuano in biotech fundraising.

Capuano, who maintains a Cambridge office within walking distance of some of his biotech benefactors, has embraced his status as a political insider. He contends that experience and seniority in Congress help him serve constituents, including corporations that are major employers in his district.

Some of the biotech firms backing Capuano are outside his district. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, an international trade group, honored Capuano in 2011 as its legislator of the year. At the time, MassBio chief executive Robert Coughlin called Capuano "a strong advocate for our biotechnology industry."

"We thank him for his outstanding leadership on behalf of the biotechnology industry in Massachusetts and throughout the country," Coughlin added.

Now, in the midst of a congressional race, the biotech industry is mostly letting money do the talking. Among the 15 companies who have donated to Capuano, only Shire, EMD Serono and Genentech commented on their contributions when asked by Bostonomix.

"Shire supports the communities in which our employees work and live in a variety of ways," said Katie Joyce, a company spokeswoman. "This includes donating to elected officials with whom we have a history of working on issues that improve the quality of our local communities and our patients' lives."

A Genentech spokeswoman, Amanda Fallon, said the firm's political action committee "supports candidates for federal office who share our belief in the importance of scientific innovation and ensuring patients have access to the medicines they need."

Melissa Beglin, a spokeswoman for EMD Serono, said the company "does not comment on political parties or specific government officials" but added this: "Our EMD Serono Political Action Committee is composed of individual contributions, representing the interests of our EMD Serono employees and the company’s broader goals. As part of that, we look to the actions of federal and state government and will get behind efforts that support innovation and patient access to biopharmaceuticals."

The Democratic primary between Capuano and Pressley is set for Sept. 4.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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