PhRMA Taps Democrat as Its Chief Lobbyist

Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:45pm

The drug industry’s lobbying giant, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, has tapped Democrat Bryant Hall to serve as the group’s chief Congressional and federal liaison.

PhRMA, which has stepped up its efforts to reach the majority Congressional party since 2007, has also boosted its international affairs division and made several promotions within its advocacy departments.

All the moves, PhRMA insiders say, will help position the trade group for 2009, when sweeping health care reform — which could include proposals such as price controls that the drug industry opposes — is likely to be at the top of the Congressional agenda.

“In a nutshell, this is designed to better position us to advocate on behalf of patients and our companies,” said PhRMA’s senior vice president for communications, Ken Johnson. “It’s designed to make us a more seamless operation.”

Hall, who has been in PhRMA’s government relations department since 2004, will assume the reins of the federal affairs division from Alan Gilbert, a Republican who has announced plans to leave PhRMA by next year to start his own consulting business.

In addition, Chris Singer, who has served as executive vice president and chief operating officer since joining PhRMA in May 2006, will become president of the trade group’s international section. Singer previously served as vice president and area director for Latin America at PhRMA member company GlaxoSmithKline.

Also in the international division, Brian Toohey has been promoted to senior vice president of international affairs while Jeff May has been promoted to vice president.

Diane Bieri, formerly a senior vice president, has been promoted to executive vice president and general counsel. Chris Badgley is assuming the expanded role of senior vice president for government and public affairs.

Johnson said that the corporate changes had been under consideration for a while by PhRMA Chief Executive Officer and President, former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who came on board in January 2005. “This is something that Billy has thought about for some time now, and it was accelerated by Alan’s decision to start his own consulting business. We’ve made tremendous progress in the last few years, and this is the logical next step.”

At a time when many Democrats have assailed K Street for not doing enough to hire and promote in-house Democrats, the party’s insiders downtown and on Capitol Hill cheered the decision to put Hall in the top federal lobbying slot.

Hall previously worked on the Hill for then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and has a long history of working on health care issues.

“He is well known and well respected on Capitol Hill,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Manley added that PhRMA is “prepared to put their interests above partisan politics” and cited such examples as PhRMA’s position on Medicare reform and supporting a reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Both of those are viewed as Democratic legislative priorities.

“It sends a pretty good message,” said one senior House Democratic aide. “The guy’s well respected on the Hill. And when you pick the best person, and it’s a Democrat, it tells me that you’re thinking about what your members’ interests are.”

Democrat Michael Meehan, president of BGR Public Relations — which is affiliated with the once staunchly all-GOP BGR firm — called Hall a member of the “upper echelon of K Street talent.” “PhRMA bringing him up is like the Red Sox bringing up their best talent for the playoffs roster,” Meehan added.

Another former Hill staffer who is now a lobbyist, Jonathon Jones, a partner at the lobbying firm Johnson, Madigan, Peck, Boland & Stewart, added that Hall is “very well known on the Hill by both Democrats and Republicans in the health care world. Bryant is very well respected for his political abilities by Democrats on the Hill.”

Johnson downplayed any partisan decision in making the appointment of Hall.

“I know people don’t believe it, but we really try to position ourselves to where we can best serve patients,” he said. “In a Capitol controlled by Democrats, we’re going to have to work with Democrats to serve our patients and our members.”

A Republican contract lobbyist who counts PhRMA as a client said that the association remains well-placed on both sides of the aisle.

“They are probably the envy of any trade association in this town by being able to speak forthrightly to Democrats and Republicans,” this lobbyist said. He added that the top federal affairs job is a “total grind” and that, as best he knows, Gilbert was simply looking to move on to a different job.

“For someone like Alan, he had done his time,” the lobbyist said. “It’s kind of like doing leadership time — four years feels like 40 years.”

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.