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WASHINGTON — Special interest money, including campaign contributions from drug companies, was the focus of a heated argument between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Thursday night during a debate held in Durham, N.H.

The exchange came during the event, sponsored by MSNBC, when Sanders accused Clinton of taking too much money from powerful special interests, citing pharmaceutical companies as one example.

That charge set Clinton off — and she responded by accusing Sanders of using a “very artful smear” to suggest that the contributions have influenced her views.


“You will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of a donation that I received,” Clinton said. She insisted she has taken on pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies in the past — such as her efforts to pass health care reform in the 1990s — and said she would continue to fight drug companies over rising prices.

“I want to go after the pharmaceutical companies like Valeant and Turing that are increasing prices without any regard to the impact on people’s health,” Clinton said.


Sanders, however, said there is plenty of evidence that campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies and other special interests have narrowed the nation’s political agenda.

“Let’s ask why it is that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and your medicine can be doubled tomorrow, and there’s nothing the government can do to stop it,” Sanders said. “There is a reason why these people are putting huge amounts of money into our political system.”

Sanders didn’t cite any numbers, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Clinton’s campaign received $332,016 in contributions from the pharmaceutical and health products industries in 2015 — more than any other presidential candidate. That’s a pattern that’s been consistent since the early days of the presidential campaign, as Clinton has consistently led other candidates in contributions from those industries — mostly from individual donors affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry, as well as some political action committee money.

Sanders trailed far behind, but he took money from those industries too — he received $43,742 in contributions from them last year.