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By JOE NEWMAN
Here at the headquarters for the Un-Do Influence Campaign, we love holding the powers that be accountable when they sell out the public interest on behalf of their cronies in industry. But that doesn't mean we won't hand out a few laurels here and there when someone does the right thing.
In the case of the Food and Drug Administration's Dr. Margaret Hamburg, it's time to hand her a laurel, or at least half of one. If you recall, we gave her two "facepalms" recently because of the FDA's failure to recognize potential conflicts of interest on a joint advisory committee that was weighing the risks and benefits of the Yaz/Yasmin oral contraceptive. Three members of the joint committee, which essentially voted to endorse the pill, had financial ties to Bayer, the maker of the drug, while another member had ties to a company licensed to make a generic version.
Maybe it was the fuss we made about the tainted birth control vote (take a bow, because thousands of you signed our petition), but now according to Ed Silverman's excellent Pharmalot blog, Hamburg has decided to drop her unrelated push to loosen ethics rules for FDA advisory committees.
In doing so, Hamburg is listening to the advice that the Project On Government Oversight gave her in August. In an Aug. 3 letter, we told her that the FDA's rationale for loosening conflict of interest restrictions simply weren't true.
In fact, there was more than enough reason to think that the only ones to benefit from loosening the restrictions were pharmaceutical companies. We thank Dr. Hamburg for her about face but, unfortunately, the FDA has a LOT more work to do if it ever wants to free itself from industry influence.
Tales From the Plutocracy
Last week was the deadline for Super PACs to file their quarterly campaign finance reports, which is why you probably saw a lot of news reports about the billionaires and millionaires funding these groups.
Hats off to the New York Times for putting together an easy-to-read chart listing 17 Super PACs, which candidates they're supporting, and who some of the major contributors are, as well as the percentage of donors who gave $25,000 or more. Most of the Super PACs took 96 percent or more of their donations from these major donors.
The two Super PACs where none of the contributors gave more than $25,000? The 9-9-9 fund that supported former GOP candidate Herman Cain (left) and the Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow Super PAC that comedian Stephen Colbert created. Of the more than $1 million that the Colbert Super PAC raised, only one donation was for more than $5,000. The Cain Super PAC, which raised $617,000 got the bulk of its money in donations of $200 or less, with only one person giving $5,000.
But the rest of them? They fattened up on the largesse of the ruling class politically active and fabulously wealthy.
Wall Street Reforms Run Into a (Lobbying) Wall
Way back in the fall of 2008 when the U.S. economy was on the brink of disaster, you didn't hear many members of Congress publicly defending Wall Street. Back then, people seemed to realize that dangerous speculative trading, ridiculous mortgage lending practices and other questionable investing practices were at the heart of our financial collapse.
The resulting reforms, known as the Dodd-Frank Act, were aimed at deterring some of the risky Wall Street behavior that plunged us into a recession. Unfortunately, getting reforms passed are only half the battle -- the other half is writing the rules and regulations that carry out the legislative intent.
Marcus Baram at the Huffington Post writes that the Dodd-Frank reforms are, for the most part, stalled:
As of today, less than one-quarter of the 400 total rulemaking requirements have been implemented, only 40 percent have been proposed and regulators have missed almost three-quarters of their deadlines, according to a progress report by Davis Polk, a law firm that represents some clients impacted by the law.
While some Republicans are openly calling for a repeal of Dodd-Frank, it's Wall Street, itself, that is throwing wads of cash at the fight to repeal, delay and otherwise stymie the reforms. According to Baram, the financial services industry has spent $300 million to lobby Congress in the last two years.
It Takes One to Know One?
What's more surprising? That Jack Abramoff (left), whose name has become synonymous with Washington D.C. political corruption, is now blogging for a site dedicated to "investigating how money corrupts democracy" or that the majority of comments posted on his first entry (at least as of this writing) are mostly fawning and adoring?
Abramoff's public rebirth has been well documented with a 60-Minutes feature, a new book and a steady stream of media appearances. If it's the message that's important (and who knows more about influence peddling?), then we're willing to listen to what Jack has to say. But that doesn't mean it won't feel a little . . . awkward.
Abramoff's writing gig is with the Republic Report, a new blog that belongs to United Republic, a fledgling non-profit created to challenge the corrupting influence of money on our political system. The organization has pulled together an impressive lineup of staffers and is certainly one you'll want to keep an eye on.
Joe Newman is POGO's Director of Communications.