The Association of Trial Lawyers of America on Tuesday launched a $500,000 television and radio ad campaign in five congressional districts blaming GOP lawmakers for not seeking lower prices for the Medicare prescription drug program.

The ad campaign targets Republican House members from Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio and North Carolina. The ads accuse the lawmakers of blocking provisions that would have required Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for the best prescription cost.

In a series of radio ads, the association also criticizes the lawmakers for accepting contributions from the oil and gas industry, suggesting that their inaction contributed to high gas prices.

“Be it at the gas pump, the pharmacy or in our courts, these politicians in Washington are putting corporate profits ahead of the health and well-being of their constituents,” association spokeswoman Chris Mather said.

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, scoffed at the trial lawyers association’s ad campaign.

“I can’t figure out what angle they’re going to take that they can sue somebody over,” he said.

Trial lawyers are considered one of the Democrats main base of financial support and especially oppose Republican efforts to place caps on lawsuit awards and to place limits on class action lawsuits.

Republicans singled out by the ads are Reps. Heather Wilson of New Mexico, Deborah Pryce of Ohio, Chris Chocola of Indiana, Charles Taylor of North Carolina and Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania, all of whom have been targeted by Democrats for defeat. Mather said the five have “voted repeatedly to restrict access to justice.”

The trial lawyers’ ads, which will run through Sept. 7, coincide with a broader, $10 million U.S. Chamber of Commerce campaign that thanked Republican lawmakers who backed the drug program when it passed in November 2003. The chamber is launching a second wave in that campaign also addressing issues such as energy and health care costs for small business. Those ads are also set to end Sept. 7.

The Associated Press reported last week that the drug industry and its main advocacy group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, quietly financed at least part of the chamber’s ad campaign. Chamber political director Bill Miller would not discuss details of who in the chamber’s membership helped foot the bill for the ads.

“Many of the pharmaceutical companies are strong members of the chamber,” he said Tuesday. He said the chamber approached drug companies and PhRMA for help “just like we continue to solicit our members at all times for activities we are undertaking.”

With their focus on seniors, the chamber and the trial lawyers’ ads recognize the significance of older people as a powerful voting bloc. Seniors tend to vote more frequently than other age groups and are considered especially important in this midterm election when control of Congress hangs in the balance.

The Medicare prescription drug program, backed by most Republicans and opposed by most Democrats, offers retirees subsidizes drug benefits through competing plans from health insurers. Democrats have long complained, though, that the benefit would be cheaper if the law would have allowed Medicare to negotiate with the companies for lower prices.

Still, polls show broad satisfaction with the plan, dulling its potency as a political issue.

“By every one’s measure, other than trial lawyers and those detractors who voted against the bill, this legislation has been a success,” Miller said.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press