The pharmaceutical industry has, so far, contributed $10,215,883 to the Republican Party during the current US presidential election cycle and $9,796,980 to the Democrats, according to the latest figures released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

This is the closest to even-handedness that the industry has been in its US political contributions since 1990, and contrasts with the marked extremes of more recent times; in the 2006 election cycle the industry gave just over $13 million to the Republicans and barely $6 million to the Democrats, while in 2002 the donations were $22 million and $7.7 million respectively, according to the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP).

The biggest individual spenders among pharmaceutical companies during the current election cycle have also split their contributions almost equally, the figures show. Pfizer, the top spender with a total of $1.2 million in donations so far, has given 51% to the Democrats and 49% to the Republicans, and is followed by: Amgen on just over $1 million (Democrats 48%/Republicans 52%); Johnson & Johnson, $963,563 (Democrats 59%/Republicans 40%; GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), $924,241 (Democrats 42%/Republicans 58%); and Merck & Co, $682,302 (Democrats 47%/Republicans 43%).

In sharp contrast, the industry’s biggest hitters in terms of political contributions over the past 20 years have all favoured the Republicans, to a greater or lesser degree. The biggest spender during 1989-2008 has again been Pfizer, whose contributions totalling $12.4 million have had somewhat of a lean to the Republicans, followed by: GSK, $9.4 million in total, strongly pro-Republican; Eli Lilly, $8.4 million, also strongly favouring the party; and Bristol-Myers Squibb, spending just over $7 million in the period and leaning towards the Republicans, according to the CRP.

An analysis of the latest figures by the New York Times proposes a number of reasons for this new, more even spread in contribution-giving, including the expectation that the Democrats will maintain and increase their control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Moreover, Republican presidential candidate John McCain has, in contrast to his predecessors, supported a number of policies which are strongly opposed by the industry, including empowering the federal government to negotiate prices for the Medicare prescription drug benefit, allowing consumers to import prescription drugs from Canada and certain other nations, plus legislative moves to speed the approval of generics.

The industry will also find it hard to forgive Mr McCain for his comments made back in January in a televised debate with Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who at that time appeared to be the favourite to win the Republican presidential nomination, not least because of the $260,535 which he had received so far in campaign nominations from the pharmaceutical and health care sectors. Mr Romney defended drugmakers after they had been strongly criticized by other candidates during a discussion on health care costs, urging them not to “turn the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys," to which Mr McCain responded: “well, they are.”