Patty Murray Blamed Manufacturers for Baby Formula Shortage. Then Their Lobbyists Donated to Her Campaign.

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) / Getty Images
November 4, 2022

Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) was hammering baby formula manufacturers to help alleviate a nationwide shortage until August. That just so happens to be when the chief lobbyist for the industry's trade group nearly maxed out donations to her campaign.

Murray, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, in May urged the Infant Nutrition Council of America to "take immediate action" to end the "unacceptable burden" the crisis was placing on American families. Three months later, Murray's campaign accepted $2,750 from the trade group's lobbyist. Lobbyists representing Abbott Laboratories, the largest member of the trade group, also contributed to Murray's campaign. Lori Denham, a partner at Kountoupes, Denham, Carr, and Reid in June donated $1,000 to the campaign. Lisa Kountoupes, another partner at the firm, donated $1,500 this year to the senator. Jessica Schulken, a principal at the Russell Group in July contributed $1,500 to Murray.

The veteran Democratic senator has since fallen silent on the issue. She successfully removed provisions meant to address the baby formula shortage from a September FDA reauthorization bill, according to Roll Call.

Murray's seeming capitulation to the baby formula lobby could hurt her in a tight reelection race against Tiffany Smiley. The Republican candidate has frequently criticized her opponent as a Washington, D.C., insider, saying Murray is "not the mom in tennis shoes" she once pitched herself as. Murray has served 30 years in the upper chamber.

Elisa Carlson, a spokeswoman for Smiley's campaign, said Murray's actions were not surprising.

"This is a classic Washington, D.C., move: complaining about a problem, lining your pockets from the source of the problem, and then doing nothing," Carlson told the Free Beacon. "After 30 years in the Senate, Patty Murray has become Washington, D.C."

Murray's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Abbott, the largest U.S. manufacturer of baby formula, in February shut down one of its plants in Michigan after its products killed two infants. The closure worsened existing baby formula shortages caused by pandemic disruptions to supply chains. Stores are still struggling to keep baby formula in stock, and the Biden administration is blaming supply chain disruptions and manufacturers for the delays, Politico reported on Wednesday.

The Infant Nutrition Council of America ramped up its lobbying efforts during the formula shortages this year, hiring Blanche Lincoln, a former Democratic senator, as its top lobbyist. The trade group retained Lincoln's firm for $50,000 in the second quarter and $90,000 in the third quarter. Lincoln served as a senator from Arkansas from 1999 to 2011.

Line items in the reauthorization bill proposed by Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) would have required infant formula manufacturers to report to the agency within the first week of supply disruptions. Murray promised in June that she was "absolutely going to keep pushing to hold the FDA and industry accountable so we can get answers on the formula crisis and make sure this never happens again," Bloomberg reported.