By JOE NEWMAN
It's well known that Big Pharma and the Food and Drug Administration have a, um, complicated relationship. On one hand, the FDA regulates the pharmaceutical and medical device industries to keep unsafe drugs and devices off the market, while at the same time having to depend on hundreds of millions of dollars each year in user fees from the companies it regulates.
So, it's hardly a surprise that the agency has been riddled with one scandal after another involving conflicts of interest. Now comes the report that four members of an FDA joint committee that recently weighed the risks and benefits of the Yaz/Yasmin oral contraceptive had ties to Bayer (the drugmaker) or a related company. Be sure to read Adam Zagorin's story that raises questions about whether drug company influence might have put millions of women at risk.
We're Mad as Hell
Shining a light on these questionable situations is what our new campaign "Un-Do Influence" is all about. Our aim is to not only expose conflicts of interest, influence peddling and revolving door hires but to do something about it.
Wednesday, we wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking her to set aside the joint advisory committee's endorsement of Yaz/Yasmin and reconvene a new panel. We also asked her a simple question: What was the FDA going to do to prevent future questionable votes? Next, we're going to ask people like you to join an online letter-writing campaign to ask Dr. Hamburg to reconvene a new panel to assess Yaz/Yasmin (On Friday, we'll post a link to our petition here).
Top Commodities Regulator is Now Top Commodities Lobbyist
During the last Bush administration, Walter Lukken (left) headed the commission that regulated the commodities industry. In case you've never heard of him, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi points out that Lukken deserves a lot of blame for not sounding the alarm about destructive speculation in the oil markets -- one of the factors behind our near economic collapse in 2008.
So, what's Lukken doing now? He just took a high-paying job to lead the Futures Industry Association, the top lobby group for the commodities industry.Taibbi writes that it follows the pattern "of revolving-door hires: a government official carries water for a powerful industry, then moves on to take the cushy job with the industry’s lobbying arm once he leaves office."
Friends With Benefits
We all know that throwing money at political issues is just the way corporations, unions and other organizations excercise their right to free speech. We suppose it's just a coincidence that doing so also helps make friends in all the right places. Truthout's Danny Weil takes a look at Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and the friends she has made in the for-profit education business.
Foxx, chair of a House subcommittee on Higher Education, counts the for-profit colleges as some of her most loyal donors. In turn, she's one of their bestest friends in Congress.
Will Google's Lobbyist Search Turn to Ex-Lawmaker?
It didn't take Silicon Valley behemoth Google long to realize that if it wanted success lobbying on Capitol Hill it needed someone who knows less about page ranks and more about ranking members. According to Politico's Anna Palmer, at the top of Google's list for its vacant lobbyist position is former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).
"If Google does hire a former lawmaker, it would be a major tactical shift for the tech company, which made a practice of hiring tech policy experts when it opened its Washington office," Palmer writes.
Obama's Right-Hand Bankers
Apparently, a background in the banking industry is prerequisite to being the president's Chief of Staff. Rahm Emmanuel (left) was on the Freddie Mac board, while outgoing William Daley (center) was on the board of JPMorgan Chase. And now comes Jacob Lew (right), the budget director who is replacing Daley. Lew was an executive at Citigroup before joining the administration in 2009. Mother Jones' Siddhartha Mahanta calls Lew's tenure at Citi "less than illustrious."
Supreme Court: Keep Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections
Almost two years after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates to allow unlimited corporate and union spending on elections, it decided this week that it should probably draw a line in the sand somewhere -- in this case, it reaffirmed a lower court ruling that foriegn citizens don't have a right to spend money supporting U.S. political candidates.
The ruling means that the Citizens United ruling of Jan. 21, 2010 won't be expanded. Lyle Denniston has a sharp analysis on SCOTUS Blog. POGO's Ben Freeman had argued in the New York Times that foreign nationals have a lot of rights in this country but one that they shouldn't have is the right spend money supporting or opposing candidates.
Joe Newman is POGO's Director of Communications.