An interesting article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about the nomination of William Corr to the Department of Health and Human Services:
The nomination of William Corr — former executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, where he was a registered lobbyist until September — highlights the murkiness of Mr. Obama’s antilobbyist policy.
Mr. Obama requires employees to sign a pledge stating they will not “participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the two years before the date of my appointment.” Those rules prohibit Mr. Corr from working on tobacco issues, the White House says.
But Mr. Corr’s nomination raises another question: In an era when industries often make financial donations to public-interest groups that support policies that help those industries, when are public-interest advocates conflicted by the funding that supports the causes they advocate?
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has received millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies that would benefit from the organization’s work to reduce smoking because they sell products that help people quit, such as Nicorette gum and NicoDerm patches.
If confirmed, Mr. Corr would help run a department that not only regulates the drug industry through its Food and Drug Administration arm but also is its biggest payer through federal insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, said the drug-industry funding of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids creates “a win-win: They get to support the public interest at the same time they are supporting their bottom lines.”
Krumholz’s attitude will likely carry the day. After all, who could object to accepting money from drug companies for promoting anti-smoking measures?
There is, however, a real conflict of interest here. As discussed previously on this blog, the FDA will likely soon take a very active role in tobacco regulation and is in the process of banning electronic cigarettes. There is no evidence whatsoever that the latter are harmful to anyone — anyone except pharmaceutical companies, that is. They have become an increasingly popular alternative to patches and gums for people looking to quit smoking. It’s legitimate to ask if Corr should be involved in their regulation given his ties to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which receives funding from pharmaceutical companies and has publicly supported the e-cigarette ban.
I have no reason to doubt that Corr will be a perfectly sincere regulator; if anything, I am worried that he will be an excessively zealous one. But he should be held to the same standard as other nominees, not given a free pass because he happened to be a lobbyist for a politically correct cause. Kudos to reporters Jane Zhang and Brody Mullins for bringing these issues to light.
[Thanks to Jan for the link!]