Headliner: Advertising Coalition's Jim Davidson

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Jim Davidson might be the man who saved drug advertising. As early versions of the FDA Amendments Act began circulating, the ad industry's chief lobbyist saw a catastrophe taking shape. The bills contained provisions that would have imposed two-three year moratoria on advertising of new drugs, required FDA pre-approval of consumer ads and/or marketing plans and placed warnings and symbols on labeling and advertising for new drugs.

Davidson's Advertising Coalition recruited powerful bipartisan supporters like Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Tom Harkin (D-IA). They assembled an ideologically diverse team of constitutional scholars, spanning the ACLU and the Washington Legal Foundation, to critique the provisions, then held individual meetings with members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee and the House health subcommittee of Energy and Commerce, peeling off enough
Democratic votes to sway Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), chair of the HELP committee and the bill's main mover in the Senate.

The compromise took the form of an FTC-like system of fines for false and misleading advertising to be levied by the FDA if advertisers disregarded its calls to desist and a judge found the advertiser to be in the wrong. “Up to this point, the FDA only had one option—to order a drug removed from the market,” he says. “We gave them a meaningful standard penalty that gives them an enforcement tool without restricting speech in advance, thus violating the Constitution.”

He has spent over 30 years on Capitol Hill. He got his start in Missouri state politics before moving to the capitol as press secretary to Sen. Stuart Symington (D-MO). He became chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on government affairs, where he helped draft the Privacy Act, Sunshine Act, amendments to the Freedom of Information Act and the rule that created the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In 1979, he got a call from Sen. John Culver (D-IA) asking if he wanted to run his Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure.

Along with deepening Davidson's understanding of the legislative sausage-grinder, the job put him in proximity to a Democratic potentate. Culver went way back with Sen. Kennedy—they'd been roommates and teammates at Harvard, and remained close. “It's always nice to be chief of staff for your committee chair's best friend,” Davidson laughs. He also worked closely with Kennedy's chief of staff, future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and hired as his deputy a bright young Georgetown grad by the name of John Podesta, who went on to become President Clinton's chief of staff.

Davidson left the Senate to set up his own practice, Davidson & Co., in 1986 (the company merged into Polsinetti in 2005). He formed the Advertising Coalition in 1989, assembling a coalition of publishers, station owners and advertising clubs to combat efforts to tax media spend. A history buff who tears through books like 1776 when he's not poring over case histories, he notes that such schemes go back to Depression-era populist firebrand Huey Long. His efforts to tax newspaper ad sales were rebuked in a 1936 Supreme Court decision, Grosjean v. American Press Co., on 1st and 14th Amendment grounds, but the notion has persisted and remains his chief concern, post-PDUFA reauthorization. These days, it typically takes the form of proposals to eliminate the deductibility of the cost of advertising. Voluntary self-policing is an important tool for protecting commercial speech from legislative predations, as proven in the recent pledge by food advertisers not to hawk their products to kids under 12 unless they meet FDA nutritional standards. “We've been able to take a proactive stance and not wait for government to step in and regulate advertising,” says Davidson.

Jim Davidson
Founder, principal, Davidson & Co.

Founder and principal, Davidson & Co.

Executive director, Advertising Coalition

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