Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vietnam has asked the WHO for a response to allegations it had exaggerated the swine flu pandemic under pressure from pharmaceutical lobbies.

Pharmaceutical companies have made huge profits from vaccine contracts in the wake of the crisis that critics say was overblown for that purpose.

“At the moment the Vietnam Ministry of Health is consulting various sources and waiting for official opinions from the WHO,” deputy minister Trinh Quan Huan said in an interview with local online newspaper VietNamNet.

In a letter sent to the United Nations agency on Tuesday, the ministry suggested the WHO make recommendations for flu prevention measures in Vietnam and other countries.

The 1.2 million doses of influenza A (H1N1) vaccines committed by the WHO should also be sent to Vietnam soon so the country can conduct trials for safety and efficiency before putting them into use, the ministry said.

Vietnam would continue its immunization plan with WHO-sponsored vaccines, the ministry’s Department of Preventive Health and Environment head Nguyen Huy Nga told the paper.

“Although spread of the flu in Vietnam is slowing down, cold weather could strengthen it again,” Nga warned, adding that even if H1N1 flu didn’t develop into a greater outbreak, the vaccines could be used for common kinds of flu as well.

The number of H1N1 infections in Vietnam had decreased sharply over the past 3-5 weeks with several observation stations reporting no new cases, Huan told Thanh Nien.

The epidemic was weaker than expected with a death rate equal to or lower than that of the common flu – 0.45 percent, he said. Fifty people who tested positive for the H1N1 virus have died in Vietnam since it was first detected here last May.

Vietnam had to reconsider its plan to buy another 500,000 doses this first quarter, drawing on the experiences of some countries which had to transfer the vaccines when local supply outweighed demand, according to Huan.

Vietnam spent nearly VND1 trillion (US$54.1 million) on H1N1 flu control last year.


Early this week Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, claimed that pharmaceutical companies had placed their people in the WHO, influencing its decision to declare the disease a global pandemic last June, the UK-owned Daily Mail reported.

Their influence could have led the WHO to soften its definition of a pandemic, which pushed huge profits to drug and vaccines makers, Dr. Wodarg told the newspaper.

“We have had a mild flu - and a false pandemic,” he said, branding the H1N1 outbreak as “one of the greatest medical scandals of the century.”

However, in a press release issued last Friday, the WHO said it had not changed the definition of pandemic in the course of H1N1 outbreak and that it had not exaggerated the pandemic.

“WHO has consistently assessed the impact of the current influenza pandemic as moderate,” the agency said in the statement.

Dr. Jean-Marc Olive, chief representative of the WHO in Vietnam, told a press briefing on Wednesday that a document on the WHO’s website several months ago said a pandemic would include “enormous amounts of cases and deaths,” which may be the root of the confusion.

Yet, the information which “was never part of the formal definition of a pandemic,” was removed later, Olive said.

He said they had to take action and make recommendations at the beginning of the pandemic, whether it was severe or mild.

When asked about the WHO’s investigation into claims that some members of its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts enjoyed financial support or were given a salary from pharmaceutical companies, Olive refused to comment, saying that he was supposed to answer questions related to Vietnam only.

In the meantime, the WHO affirmed in its latest press release that it had systems in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest by experts in its advisory groups in response to Dr. Wodarg’s accusations, which prompted the Council of Europe to launch an investigation.

Any allegations of conflict of interests by WHO experts would be investigated immediately, the agency stressed.

It would review the way the WHO dealt with the outbreak of the H1N1 flu once the pandemic had subsided as well, Reuters quoted WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib as saying on Tuesday.

Senator Murkowski Teams Up Wth Energy Lobbyists to Derail the Regulation of Global Warming Pollution

I suppose it might be sad to say that we were and were not surprised to hear this week that two dirty energy lobbyists helped craft the effort to neuter the Clean Air Act, which could next appear as an amendment to the Senate’s debt ceiling vote next week.

If you missed it, the Washington Post confirmed on Tuesday that lobbyists from Bracewell Giuliani and Sidley Austin helped write an amendment from Senator Lisa Murkowski that will strip Clean Air Act and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate global warming pollution. Check out the Washington Post follow-up on it here, here and here.

Who are Bracewell Giuliani and Sidley Austin? Oh, only lobbying firms that represent Southern Company, Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and other major coal supporters. And the specific lobbyists who ghost-wrote this amendment, Jeffrey Holmstead and Roger Martella, held EPA positions during the Bush Administration.

If you recall, last month EPA declared that global warming pollution endangers human health and welfare and announced plans to limit emissions from big polluters. The decision is a long-time coming and is crucial in controlling the global warming pollution from the coal industry – which contributes 30% of total U.S. global warming emissions.

This amendment may come up for a vote on January 20th, and its passage would mean that big polluters will be bailed out by blocking President Obama and EPA from taking action to limit emissions.

After years of research, scientific debate, court cases, public hearings and comments, Senator Murkowski is suggesting that we simply choose to "un-learn" that global warming is happening and that it will be dangerous to human health and welfare.

But EPA is merely doing what the Clean Air Act already requires--and what it was ordered to do almost three years ago by the Supreme Court. And last month, more than 400,000 Americans submitted comments in favor of EPA's proposal to limit pollution from the biggest global warming polluters - among the highest number of comments ever submitted in favor of any proposal.

These big polluters – including the coal industry - are using the same tired old arguments, too. Suggestions that this EPA action means the agency plans to regulate farms, schools, hospitals, cows, and Dunkin' Donuts are simply false - EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said as much on numerous occasions. In reality, EPA plans to limit the new common sense, economically feasible regulations to only the largest polluters. Those statements attempting to scare small businesses are merely misleading smears designed to derail any limits on polluters.

We cannot continue to let Big Coal push for loopholes and weakened pollution rules so they can keep making money.

Instead of looking for ways to delay action, senators need to finalize comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation as soon as soon possible - and more important in the short-term, they must say no to this amendment or any other attempt to weaken the Clean Air Act.

You can urge your senators to do as much - tell them to vote no on any amendment blocking EPA action on global warming emissions from the largest polluters.

Drug lobbying group threatens to pull support from health care bill

The lead lobbying arm of the drug industry is threatening to pull its support for health care legislation if Democrats reduce protections for brand-name biologic drugs.

In an e-mail obtained by CNN, Billy Tauzin, the top executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), told board members that "we could not support the bill" if Democrats reduce the number of years that brand name biologic drugs can keep their patents. Tauzin's e-mail was also a call to action, saying, "please activate immediately all of your contacts."

PhRMA fought hard for language that passed both the House and Senate health care bills, stating that patents for brand name biologic drugs are protected for 12 years before generic companies would be permitted to make less-expensive versions. Biologics are drugs made from living organisms to prevent and treat diseases like arthritis and diabetes.

At issue now: some Democrats who support the generics industry are trying to use negotiations over a final health care bill to shave off a few years from the 12-year brand exclusivity. The leading Democrat pushing for the change is House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman, D-California, a defender of generic drugs who lost a battle early on in his own committee to reduce brand-name protection to seven years.

President Obama signaled in a private meeting with House Democrats Thursday that he could support reducing 12-year protection for brand-name biologics.

According to several Democratic sources, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, a lawmaker with biotech companies in her Silicon Valley district, challenged the president in Thursday's meeting and asked him not to change the 12-year biologics protection.

The sources said Obama responded by making clear he disagreed with her, saying, "My job is to do what I think is good policy."

That sounded alarm bells at PhRMA, which represents drug companies in Washington, and at the Biotechnology Industry Organization -- the lobbying arm of biologic brand drugs.

"Fair data protection of at least 12 years for new, innovative biologic medicines is critically important to the future of medical progress in America. Fair data protection allows our companies to make the extensive investment necessary to develop cutting-edge medicines that allow American patients to live longer, healthier and more productive lives," said PhRMA in a statement.

Supporters of so-called biogeneric drugs argue 12 years of exclusivity is excessive and will undermine innovation, and deny consumer access to more affordable drugs.

The Obama administration and Democratic leaders struck a deal early on to get the powerful lobby on their side during this debate. PhRMA spent millions in advertising in support of Democrats efforts and agreed that drug companies would contribute $80 billion to help defray the cost to the government of reforming health care.

Democratic sources said they were considering asking drug companies for $10 billion more as they negotiate a final health care bill.

Bishops meddle in appointments to Judiciary

HIGH-ranking Roman Catholic clergy are allegedly lobbying with Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) members to support the request of Lakas-Kampi-CMD Rep. Matias Defensor of Quezon City “to commence the procedure in nominating the applicants and immediately submit to the President the list of at least three nominees for the position of Chief Justice,” it was learned.

Defensor’s request has been opposed by several legal personalities, among them former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, retired Supreme Court (SC) Justice Vicente Mendoza and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Jose Melo, also a former SC member.

They pointed out that the President cannot appoint a Chief Justice before incumbent Chief Justice Reynato Puno retires on May 17 this year, adding that such an appointment two months before the May 10 elections and before the end of her term on June 30 is prohibited by the Constitution.

The lobbying by ranking Roman Catholic clergy is of common knowledge in judicial circles.

Several justices have been appointed at the behest of influential clergymen.

Among the influential bishops, bench and bar sources said, are the one who resides at a posh subdivision in eastern Metro Manila, a retired archbishop from Cagayan Valley and a bishop from Nueva Vizcaya.

An Integrated Bar of the Philippines national official, who requested anonimity, said that a former elections commissioner who was not confirmed by the Commission on Appointments was appointed to the poll body at the behest of the archbishop and bishop from Cagayan Valley.

Concerned members of the Judiciary are saying that the judicial process of nomination and appointment is outside the turf of Roman Catholic Church officials and other religious leaders.

A retired SC justice said that the lobbying by Roman Catholic bishops is done by telephone calls. A high- ranking Catholic official, the same source disclosed, even attempted to invite for dinner in his Metro Manila mansion a JBC member to persuade him to push for the nomination of a Court of Tax Appeals member for the Supreme Court. The JBC member declined the invitation.

JBC ‘inclined’ to agree with Defensor

THE JBC will continue its deliberations on Monday on Defensor’s proposal and will likely grant Defensor’s proposal to immediately start the screening and selection of the next Chief Justice.

A JBC insider said that it has been the JBC’s practice to open the nomination, conduct interviews and screen candidates prior to the actual vacancy.

“The mandate of the JBC is to screen and nominate judges and justices. The JBC is not in a position to determine whether or not the appointing authority has the power to appoint or not, or is authorized to appoint or not,” the official said.

The official said it would be up to President Arroyo whether to appoint or not the next Chief Justice even while the ban on appointments is still in effect.

The JBC insider noted the issue on whether or not the ban on appointments covered the Judiciary should also be addressed by the Supreme Court and not by the JBC.

“Who is JBC to determine that? It is only the Court which can determine whether or not the President has the authority to appoint or not in this particular period,” the official added.

The insider noted that the JBC would be prejudging the legal issue if it heeds the call of some groups for it to screen candidates and submit its shortlist of nominees for Chief Justice while the ban on appointments is still in effect.

The official, however, clarified that the President is not allowed to appoint a member of the SC prior to the vacancy.

MalacaƱang expects the JBC to act in the national interest when it tackles the appointment of a new Chief Justice on Monday, in preparation for the retirement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno on May 17.

“We are expecting them to do what is right for the national interest,” Deputy Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said.

Olivar said that MalacaƱang expects the JBC “not to be swayed by politicking and intrigues, that they will fulfill their duties to the Constitution and to the service of public interest.”

“That is what we expect from their meeting tomorrow,” he said.

GMA can appoint Chief Justice—Philconsa

Meanwhile, former agrarian reform minister Conrado Estrella and Manuel Lazaro, chairman and president, respectively, of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), announced that the group’s board of governors and officers adopted the official stance that “in these critical and uncertain times when anything is possible or probable to derail, delay or prevent the normal functioning of governance, President Arroyo may validly issue an appointment of a new Chief Justice, effective upon the retirement of Chief Justice [Reynato] Puno, as an extra precaution to address any possible political, legal and constitutional crisis.”

“The prohibited period” refers only to positions in the Executive department, not the Judiciary,” Philconsa said in a statement.

Lazaro said, “it is wiser and more prudent to anticipate and address possible contingencies or situations that might emerge. He added the Philconsa considered that the possible fallouts or perilous aftermaths of allowing a vacuum in the position of Chief Justice may be greater and riskier than the consequences or repercussions of inaction.

Estrella said that the possible repercussions generated by the surrounding circumstances, such as no-election [no-el], failure of elections, the election and proclamation of the Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House, hiatus in the post of Chief Justice demand the need of the President to appoint the Chief Justice upon Puno’s retirement.

“Should any untoward incident or accident occur, the presence of the Chief Justice will certainly help resolve and stabilize the aftermath of what may happen.”

Estrella said, “To anticipate and address possible or probable exigencies or situations that may affect or jeopardize normal governance will contain, if not minimize, the same.”

Philconsa’s legal posture was also guided by the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of Antero Pobre v. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago in AC 7399 promulgated on August 25, 2009. The Court, through its Third Division, unanimously held: “But while JBC functions under the Court’s supervision, its individual members, save perhaps for the Chief Justice who sits as the JBC’s ex-officio chairman, have no official duty to nominate candidates for appointment to the position of Chief Justice.” In short, the JBC’s mandate only covers vetting applicants to the Supreme Court, not justices already in the Court who may be considered for Chief Justice.

This was the same view of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who was himself a two-term president of Philconsa.

Thus, the choice or selection of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court need not pass through the JBC screening or require the submission of the latter’s list of nominees should the appointee be already a member of the court. The choice is the sole prerogative of the President. And while ordinarily, an appointment requires first the occurrence of a vacancy, this is an exceptional instance where an appointment is made effective upon the future occurrence of a vacancy to meet an extraordinary situation, Philconsa said.

Appointment of Chief Justice prerogative of President

AS this developed, Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro said the appointment of the Chief, justice of the Supreme Court is the sole prerogative of the President, and unless nullified, it should be respected.

Teodoro, however, said the appointment must be done with utmost transparency and must be acceptable to Filipinos.

“It is not because were are on the other side of the political fence, we are seeing that everything the President does is wrong. Let’s respect the President’s appointment prerogative until it is nullified,” he said.

“What is important is to protect the Judiciary’s credibility by ensuring that the process of selection is transparent and that whoever is appointed is acceptable to people,” he added.

Teodoro said he was seeing the issues of credibility and acceptability of the appointment as bigger than the legal side of the appointment.

Administration allies, including Defensor, who is a member of the JBC, have insisted that Arroyo must appoint a successor of Puno ahead of his retirement in May.

However, the opposition said such move will violate the constitutional prohibition against midnight appointments.

Teodoro also said he would put more teeth to the judicial system during his administration as a key pillar in the move to improve the peace-and- order situation in the country.

(With J. San Juan, M. Gonzalez and R. Acosta)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Greenpeace electronics guide now rates lobbying

Greenpeace is using its latest green-ratings guide to press consumer electronics companies to do more than just clean up their own act.

The 14th quarterly "Guide to Greener Electronics," (PDF) which rates hardware makers on chemical waste, e-waste, and recycling efforts, now assesses each company's public efforts on environmental issues.

The report, issued Thursday, considers whether a company actively lobbies for industrywide laws that would prevent other companies from using environmentally damaging materials, as part of their corporate sustainability obligations.

(Credit: Greepeace)
Specifically, Greenpeace said companies should support a new version of the European Union's RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics). The update would ban brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), and PVC vinyl plastic from being used in the manufacturing of electronics. (The regulation already restricts how much lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants can be used.)

As far as who's the greenest, Nokia still ranks at No. 1, but Greenpeace reduced the company's overall score by one point for "failing to do proactive lobbying" for the RoHS revisions.

The strategy brings an interesting idea to the forefront. With the new criteria, Greenpeace is essentially attempting to harness consumer buying-power to press private industry to pressure politicians.

But does this strategy really work? When picking out a new cell phone or computer, does the average consumer's thought process include a rundown of whether a company has stopped using BFRs in their products and has lobbied to prevent other companies from using them too.

Still, if no one can use a cheap-but-polluting manufacturing material, the playing field is leveled. Lobbying for a revised RoHS could be a win-win for companies that would like to eliminate the use of certain substances but fear creating an advantage for their competition.

Greenpeace asserts there's good reason for the change.

"The use of harmful chemicals in electronic products prevents their safe recycling once the products are discarded. Given the increasing evidence of climate change and the urgency of addressing this issue, Greenpeace has added new energy criteria to encourage electronics companies to improve their corporate policies and practices," Greenpeace said in a statement.

In addition to the ranking chart, Greenpeace issued detailed reports for each company on the list. Among the more interesting tidbits:

• LG Electronics moved up from 11th place to 6th place. Still, Greenpeace docked it one point for "backtracking on its commitment" to make all its products free of PVC vinyl plastic and BFRs by the end of 2010. LG is still committed to that for its cell phones, according to Greenpeace.

• Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung also received a penalty point each for failing to eliminate BFRs in products.

• Apple has come a long way in improving its environmental record. Once chastised by Greenpeace for not doing enough, Apple is now in fifth place--up from ninth in the last report and up from last place a few years ago. Except for power cords still awaiting safety approval in some countries, all Apple products are now free of PVC plastics and BFRs, according to Greenpeace. Apple was also given credit for actively lobby EU governments to ban CFRs, BFRs, and PVC vinyl plastic from electronics manufacturing.

• Microsoft dropped from 15th to 17th in part for failing to show support for the revised version of RoHS and for failing to use printed circuit boards free of BFRs. But the company did score points for managing to use renewable resources for 24 percent of its electricity and for committing to remove PVC, BFRs, and phthalates from its own hardware by the end of 2010.

• Nintendo continues to rank in last place for a variety of reasons. While it now has internal wiring that is PVC-free, it has not eliminated PVC vinyl plastic or BFRs from its products completely and offers no time line for doing so, according to Greenpeace. Nintendo has begun to disclose its emissions but has failed to reduce them, Greenpeace added.

The full report cards for each of the following companies is available on the Greenpeace Web site: Acer, Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba.

Cordray's tough talk upsetting lobbyists

Attorney General Richard Cordray riled the Capitol Square lobbying community by issuing what some characterized as an overly strong news release that mentioned corruption and using his authority to investigate lobbying activity.

The release came Tuesday night, after Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe sent the names of 15 lobbyists and employers to the attorney general's collections enforcement section for failing to pay $2,200 in late fees. The penalties were assessed for not filing expenditure statements on time.

The release, which attributed quotes to Cordray, made little mention of the late fees. It did note that "lobbying activity in Ohio is at an all-time high," and "any hard-working Ohioan in this tough economy would love to see that kind of job growth."

"They put some lines in there that were probably unnecessary," said Victor Hipsley, president of the Ohio Lobbying Association.

In the line that got the most attention, Cordray said: "Clearly, more than ever, the expertise of the attorney general's office is needed to help prevent corruption as wealthy and well-connected special interests increasingly attempt to shape the laws and public policies that affect ordinary Ohioans."

Hipsley and other lobbyists thought Cordray was implying he knew of corruption. They also worried that Cordray was trying to move in on the enforcement of state lobbying laws, a role handled by Bledsoe's office under Ohio law.

Hipsley said he was satisfied that is not the case after he met with Cordray yesterday afternoon.

A Cordray spokeswoman said: "We shared with them and the Ohio legislative inspector

Lobbyist lashes out at supervisor

A lobbyist for the Board of Supervisors publicly berated District 3 Supervisor D.I. Smith on Monday over Madison County's lobbying strategy.

The lobbyist, C. Stevens Seale, had given the Board of Supervisors a year-end update, touting $4.5 million in federal funds earmarked for three Madison County projects, when he began berating Smith as he tried to comment.

The projects Seale mentioned in his report included $1.5 million each for the Reunion interchange, Gluckstadt interchange and the Lake Harbour Drive extension.

Following a nearly 15 minute report, Smith tried to make a comment about Lake Harbour Drive, but was interrupted and harsly scolded by Seale.

"I know exactly what you're trying to do Supervisor Smith," Seale said. "And I'll say publicly I'm offended by the fact you did that."

Seale said he felt Smith was questioning his role in obtaining the funds when other county agencies like the Madison County Foundation and municipalities like the city of Ridgeland had also worked to lobby for the same projects.

Seale said Smith should have come to him privately instead of waiting to question him during an open meeting.

"I work for Madison County and that requires communication," Seale said. "I have a great working relationship with four of the five supervisors and would like to have the same with you. I'm not going to get into the personal politics of this board."

Smith never got a chance to explain himself, but following the meeting insisted he was not questioning Seale's lobbying.

Instead, Smith said he was trying to point out that the $1.5 million earmarked for Lake Harbour Drive was for its eventual extension over Interstate 55 and not for the widening of the road scheduled to begin this year.

Madison County recently reneged on a $1.9 million commitment to help Ridgeland widen Lake Harbour Drive, saying those funds have been reallocated due to increased costs for other projects and the sagging economy.

"Some are making the argument that the county didn't need to pay the $1.9 million because they got $1.5 million coming from the federal government," Smith explained. "The county is putting a lot of stuff at risk when they won't deliver on their promises."

In the past Smith has questioned Seale's contract with the county that calls for a fixed fee of $75,000 plus expenses such as airfare, meals and entertainment.

Smith has complained that the contract does not specify goals or performance measures that could be monitored by the board.

Earlier Seale told supervisors that politics and a lack of unification can hamper his ability to lobby for the county.

Smith's firm, Wise Carter Child & Caraway, is one of two representing the Board of Supervisors alone.

The other is former state Sen. and Canton attorney Barbara Blackmon who works alongside another former state senator, Gloria Williamson.

The county pays Blackmon and Williamson $75,000 a year as well, plus expenses such as airfare, meals and entertainment.

For several years most governmental entities in the county had agreed to let the Madison County Foundation, a private more independent organization made up of influential business leaders, take the lead on lobbying, but gradually that coalition has unraveled as individual elected officials began jockeying for power and influence.

"It really hurts our efforts to have potential opposition for specific projects based on politics or other reasons," Seale said during the meeting, noting that the Reunion interchange in particular had received some negative publicity and suffered from a lack of support.

All in all he said it had been a successful year, however.

"Not a lot of counties get $4.5 million in earmark federal funding in one year," Seale said.

Lobbying MPs is an exercise in futility

It certainly promises to be an interesting year, with the final elements of the seemingly endless discussions over the retail distribution review finally slotting into place over the coming months.

Judging by the many comments I have read in Money Marketing and on websites that feature financial advisers’ comments, the overwhelming body of IFA opinion seems to be set against the RDR, at least publicly.

Shortly before Christmas, while on a visit to London, I took the opportunity of meeting a few IFAs whom I respect, even if I do not necessarily share their views. One, whom I had always thought of as opinionated but not remotely an activist, had gone so far as to lobby his MP about key aspects of the review, which he regards as highly dangerous to the future of independent financial advice.

His hope is that Conser-vative MPs will halt or seriously amend the RDR process if and when they win the general election.

Unfortunately, he told me, his own MP - a Tory - appeared to be highly ignorant about the RDR and what it entailed. Moreover, this particular MP told his constituent that when push came to shove, his “instinct” was to back the FSA because advisers were “renowned” for misselling financial products to clients.

The IFA then told his MP he was a disgrace to his party and he would never get his vote. Not a successful lobbying exercise, methinks.
Perhaps this helps explain why Aifa was pushed into warning IFAs last year that ill-conceived lobbying of MPs could have a negative effect in terms of achieving what they wanted.

The sad fact is that Aifa - and IFAs it has tried to arm with lobbying arguments - are unlikely to succeed. Parliament is highly febrile and it will be almost impossible, as we draw closer and closer to the election, to persuade anyone to listen to any point of view, sensible or otherwise.
Moreover, while many Tories may hate the FSA for all sorts of reasons, they almost certainly do not do so in this particular context. Tighter regulation of the financial services industry is a vote-winner, no matter what political party you belong to.
I have some sympathy with IFAs. Lobbying can be a useless exercise.

One of the problems, it seems to me, is not about the basic notion of lobbying as such but what it is that you tell your MP. Here, it strikes me that IFAs could be on a hiding to nothing in some areas.

For example, if you go to your Parliamentary representative and tell them that the proposed QCF level four qualifications you are required to obtain by 2012 are too onerous, do not expect much sympathy.

Similarly, trying to compare yourself favourably against banks in order to press the point that regulation of your activities need not be quite so onerous is not a tactic that is likely to work well.

Not that I can lay serious claim to being a successful lobbyist. Once upon a time, back in the days when I used to work as a nurse, our trade union asked its members to lobby their MPs as part of a campaign against low pay in the NHS.

Responding to our union’s request, about 20 of us toddled off to see an MP at his surgery meeting one Saturday morning, waving our pay slips.
The “lobby” degenerated somewhat and our little group started booing and shouting at our Parlia- mentary representative. Needless to say, the MP never really did sign up to our campaign against low pay.

My guess is that attempts to persuade MPs to get rid of some of the RDR’s worst aspects will meet with a similar fate.

State Department Official Lobbied by Former Employer

Robin Raphel, the State Department's nonmilitary aid coordinator for Pakistan and a former lobbyist for Pakistan, attended meetings to help that country craft lobbying strategy until shortly before her new position was announced last summer. Now, new lobbying disclosure reports show her former firm contacted her regarding Pakistan within a month after the announcement.

A filing submitted to the Justice Department this month by lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates reports that the firm, which has a $700,000-a-year contract to represent Pakistan, e-mailed Raphel on Sept. 2 regarding "ROZ legislation" - economic development legislation giving the president authority to establish “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” (ROZs) in Pakistan’s frontier area with Afghanistan.

The filing also shows two more e-mails from Cassidy to Raphel in September regarding a Senate bill known as the Kerry-Lugar bill, which increased nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October.

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Cassidy & Associates, said in an e-mail to The BLT that the firm had "contacted Ambassador Raphel to discuss the status of" the aid bill and "to seek clarification of statements she had made to the press."

In August, a State Department spokesman said Raphel was a temporary worker who can only work 130 days out of 365 and, because of that, was subject to different conflict-of-interest requirements, though he did not provide specific information about what those requirements were. The State Department has since not answered questions about Raphel's appointment, despite repeated requests.

The Obama administration has been extremely vocal about its conflict-of-interest policies, and repeatedly promised to limit the influence lobbyists have in Washington. Obama signed an executive order shortly after taking office banning federal appointees from participating in matters involving former clients or employers. Read a previous BLT item on this issue here.

Lobbyists hired to get money for Fresno Met

WASHINGTON -- Lobbyists could not save the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, though some tried.

Well before the museum shut its doors for good this week, officials had hired well-connected lobbyists in hopes of securing federal aid. The museum paid Capitol Hill experts $180,000 between 2001 and 2004, public records show. They had their work cut out for them.

"There's just a lot of competition," the Fresno museum's chief former lobbyist Ilisa Halpern Paul said Wednesday, adding that "art is seen as an extra by most people." The lobbying fees took only a small slice from the Fresno museum's annual budget, and none of the specific assistance being sought would have kept the facility's doors open.

Besides using hired guns, Fresno museum officials also tried the informal route.

Scott Nishioki, chief of staff for Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, recalled Wednesday that a museum official contacted Costa's office within the past year asking about earmarks. Nishioki said the futile request came after a formal appropriations deadline already had passed.

"In this environment, it's a hard sell, particularly if they don't have their own financial house in order," Nishioki said.

The Fresno Metropolitan Museum, of course, has not been alone in working the political angles. Organizers of a proposed Ag Science Center planned for Stanislaus County have reported paying lobbyists at least $300,000 since 2006 as they seek start-up help.

The California State Railroad Museum Foundation in Sacramento, Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose and Oakland Museum of California, among others, have all hired Capitol Hill lobbyists in recent years as well, lobbying records show.

The lobbyists are paid to know how Washington works. The state railroad museum, for instance, hired former Sacramento-area congressman Vic Fazio.

Similarly, Ilisa Halpern Paul gained experience working for Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein before she became a lobbyist. Even so, a museum presented a different professional challenge than some of her other corporate clients.

"People don't always see this as essential," Paul noted, adding that "one of the key problems we had was the perception that museums got a lot of private support, even though in a town like Fresno that doesn't always hold."

The Fresno museum did not hire lobbyists in Sacramento to seek state aid. From Washington, museum officials sought two rounds of assistance.

With the help of Feinstein and others, the museum obtained a $900,000 earmark in early 2003. The supporters included two GOP members, Reps. George Radanovich of Mariposa and Devin Nunes of Visalia, who no longer ask for earmarks.

"We were very strategic, very bipartisan," Paul said.

The money was supposed to help build what then-Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Visalia, termed a "state-of-the-art science-based exhibition and learning center." Even so, it wasn't enough to offset soaring costs from the museum's ambitious renovation. Costs ballooned from $12 million to $28 million by the time it was completed in November 2008.

The museum later received $99,200 designed to help establish a mobile museum serving remote San Joaquin Valley communities. Paul said the museum subsequently curtailed its lobbying and focused on its private fundraising once it had received these federal allocations.

The reporter can be reached at or (202) 383-0006.


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Brussels lobby firm hires former Monsanto chair as partner

Brussels-based EU lobbying firm Alber & Geiger has hired the former chairman of agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto chairman Bernard Auxenfans.

Auxenfans has joined Alber & Geiger as a partner and will concentrate on lobbying on food and agricultural issues, according to the firm.

“We’re very proud of this latest top acquisition for our team,” said Alber & Geiger chairman Siegbert Alber.

Monsanto is known as one of the leading producers of genetically engineered seeds.

Alber & Geiger was formed from a team of lawyers who split from lobbyists Cassidy & Associates in March 2007, and is led by Alber, the former Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, and Andreas Geiger (16 April 2007).

The firm recently represented web browser Flock in a European Commission antitrust case against Microsoft (17 December 2009).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lobbying For Stops On High-Speed Rail Line

LAKELAND -- Now that plans for a high-speed train between Orlando and Tampa are under way, communities are lobbying for a stop on the rail line.

Transportation officials said they have to limit the number of stops on the high-speed rail system. If there are too many stops, the average speed of the system won’t be fast enough to make the rail system worthwhile.

Lakeland Mayor-elect Gow Fields said he believes there will ultimately be only one stop in Polk County, and he wants it in his city.

“It’s very important we have a stop in Polk County,” Fields said.

If Lakeland does get a high-speed rail stop, the next logical question is: Where it will go?

The interchange for Kathleen Road and Interstate 4 is one prime spot, with plenty of land. Plus, the spot is a quick trip by bus to the city’s Citrus Connection bus terminal.

“People that don’t live here, that get off high-speed rail in Lakeland -- well, they can’t get off where they are going next,” Fields said. “They will have to have mass transit available to them to get to their next destination.”

Besides Lakeland, the Florida Department of Transportation said another site considered for Polk County could be the I-4 exchange with the Polk Parkway, which is also the future home of a huge University of South Florida Polytechnic campus.

Some residents would like the stop at U.S. Highway 27 and I-4, about 3 miles west of the Osceola County line and ChampionsGate, while others would like to see the stop built at Socrum Loop Road, in Lakeland.

Sujoy Daskundo, a manager at the Days Inn and Suites on Socrum Loop Road, said a train stop in the area could bring a boost to business for the neighborhood.

“Next door, we have Applebees, you have Cracker Barrel, Five Guys -- everything,” he said. “All the gas stations, so everything, all the businesses. There will be a flow of money going again.”

The Department of Transportation will make the final decision about the location of the stop. However, officials said they do not know when they will make that call.

In hiring new lobbyists, GM shows that it's playing the Beltway game

John T. Montford, a Democrat and former Texas senator, is one of the new hires. He used to be a senior AT& T executive. (Gloria Ferniz/san Antonio Express-news)

In naming new leaders to General Motors' lobbying office in Washington on Wednesday, company chairman and chief executive Edward E. Whitacre Jr. tacitly underscored the importance of government policies to the recovery of the nation's largest automaker, according to those who follow the industry.

Over the next year, the Obama administration and Congress are slated to consider several issues critical to the automaker as it continues its comeback effort: a new national manufacturing policy, climate legislation, federal support for electric cars and other advanced technology, trade issues with Korea and China.

That means the company still requires lobbyists, even though the United States has owned a majority stake of the company since its bankruptcy proceedings last summer.

"The administration has been true to their word to staying out of our day-to-day business," GM spokesman Greg Martin said. "But we have to make sure that government policies continue to ensure our competitiveness and ensure that we remain on a path to repay the loans."

Whitacre, the former chief of AT&T, named two men with AT&T experience to lead the Washington office with the departure of Ken W. Cole, 62, who joined GM in 2001.

John T. Montford, 66, a Democrat and former member of the Texas Senate, had been senior vice president of state legislative affairs for AT&T.

Robert E. Ferguson, 50, a Republican and former chief of staff to John Ashcroft when he was governor of Missouri, had served as president of state legislative and regulatory affairs at AT&T from 2005 to 2008.

The GM lobbying office has been skewed toward Republicans, a reflection in part of the eight years of the Bush administration. Currently, of six lobbyists, at least four are Republicans.

"John and Bob are proven professionals who have worked in an environment of intense regulatory and political complexity," Whitacre said in a statement.

In building one of the "Baby Bells" into telecom giant AT&T, Whitacre is familiar with the role government can play in a company's fate.

"It's safe to say he appreciates the importance of Washington as it effects his business," said David Kaut, a telecom analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

"For his entire tenure at SBC and then AT&T, Whitacre has been involved nonstop in policy issues," Kaut said, primarily merger and deregulation issues. "They were pretty effective. They didn't win all the battles. But today, they are one of the two big Bells still standing."

New tactics alter flavor of lobbying

WASHINGTON - -- For decades, the National Restaurant Association was the poster child for the unbreakable alliance between Washington's business lobbyists and the Republican Party.

One of the most potent grass-roots lobbying groups in the capital, the group helped kill Bill Clinton's health care plan, bankrolled Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution, and year after year helped drive stakes through such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wage and protecting the environment.

But something strange happened after Barack Obama became president: Courted and cosseted by savvy White House political operatives, the National Restaurant Association and some other business powerhouses changed their stripes.

The "other NRA," for example, ousted its conservative leader and installed a more pragmatic chief executive. It began to take meetings with once-hated Democratic politicians, including White House aides. And when the titanic battle over health care began, the restaurant group broke ranks with such unreconstructed business groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and declined to attack the White House.

The shift is a tale of changing political tides, the ultimate practicality of business executives and of a successful Obama White House effort to reach out for allies among traditional adversaries. And it's beginning to change the balance of power inside the Beltway.

The new strategy embraced by the restaurant group and others such as the Business Roundtable has allowed them access to Democratic decision-makers and a chance to influence or at least mitigate proposed policy changes.

"The political landscape changed so dramatically over a short period of time that we had to make a decision on how to respond," said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association, who is on the board of the national group. "Are we going to lob bombs from afar and understand that return fire will kill us? Or should we try to mitigate legislation that is a relative certainty?"

The restaurant association began to shed its conservative aura in late 2007, installing Dawn Sweeney, a longtime Washington player known for pragmatism, bipartisanship and marketing savvy, as its first woman CEO.

The organization continued to meet with conservatives, but it also began talking with consumer activists, Democratic party leaders and White House officials.

"What we are trying to do is see how we can be at the table," Sweeney said. "If you are not at the table, you are on the menu."

When the health care battle came to a boil this fall, the National Restaurant Association was among those that broke ranks with such business groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, declining to join their "Start Over" coalition that has launched an advertising campaign against the reform bills in key states.

The decision, along with those made by the drug industry and a handful of other business trade associations, helped Democrats keep their initiative moving. It also gave the National Restaurant Association access to the White House and to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, allowing them to be heard on key issues, such as whether small business would be exempted from some of the new law's requirements.

On the eve of the Senate's health care vote Dec. 23, Sweeney entered the White House gates to meet with, among others, the Obama family's personal chef, Sam Kass.

Sweeney, who represents the interests of the megachains such as McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts, also discussed first lady Michelle Obama's plans for combating childhood obesity.

"We should play a leading role," she said.

She took a similar approach, dubbed "mitigation and damage control" by members of her board, to consumer activists' demands that the health care bill include provisions on restaurant nutrition labeling.

Sweeney and her board members met with food safety activists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest to hammer out a precedent-setting industry-consumer deal on the issue. The compromise, forwarded to the House and Senate health committees, provided that calorie information be printed on menus, but more detailed information such as fat and cholesterol content would be available on request.

Sweeney has not endorsed the recently passed Senate bill, but she is able to tell her members that the excesses of earlier proposals were dropped thanks in part to the restaurant group's participation. And she notes that effective lobbying killed efforts to tax soft drinks, one of the most profitable items for restaurants, in the name of reducing obesity.

Her new friends at the White House have helped provide access to the Commerce Department, where Sweeney is in the early stages of developing a proposal that would have likely stunned her predecessors: using stimulus funds to encourage Americans to dine out and support the restaurant industry.

Sweeney makes the case that "restaurants are major providers of jobs, employing 13 million individuals in restaurants nationwide," making it the second-largest private sector employer in the country, after health care.

In November, Sweeney was one of 13 trade association chiefs invited to meet with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama's health care czar. Sweeney laid out a handful of specific fixes that could win her organization's support.

Among them: Exempt small businesses from the law's penalties, change the calculation for defining part-time workers to allow for the seasonal fluctuations in the industry, and raise the minimum time allowed for complying with paperwork and registration requirements.

Those proposals alarm labor advocates, who see them as a way for employers to avoid providing benefits to workers.

Yet, most were adopted, at least partially, in the Senate bill, and Sweeney hopes for further gains when House and Senate leaders meet to reconcile their meetings.

Neil Trautwein of the National Retail Federation credits the Obama White House for tactical brilliance in finding ways to split the business community on health care.

"The genius of the administration's approach was to set broad principles and allow Congress to fill in the details," he said. "This immediately divided the focus of outside groups and ... it delayed development of a unified opposition."

J&J spent nearly $1.7M lobbying government in 3Q

WASHINGTON — Johnson & Johnson, which makes health products from Band-Aids to biologic drugs, spent nearly $1.7 million in the third quarter lobbying on the health care overhaul and multiple bills that could boost its sales or lower taxes, according to a recent disclosure form.

Johnson and Johnson, which spent $1.5 million on lobbying in the year-ago period, this year lobbied on patent reform provisions, the federal budget and various aspects of the health care overhaul, including providing access to primary health care to all Americans.

Others included bills to require research comparing the effectiveness of medications and other medical treatments and mandate that health products come with effectiveness information in the detailed package insert, as well as giving the Food and Drug Administration more authority to ensure the safety and quality of medical products.

The world's biggest maker of health care products also lobbied to extend the Children's Health Insurance Program to more children and to expand certain public health programs, such as the National Health Service Corps.

It also lobbied to eliminate some price discounts it now must give on prescription medicines Medicare pays for and against bills to lower prices paid for prescription drugs by the Medicare program.

J&J, which makes the HIV medicine Prezista, lobbied on bills involving Medicaid coverage for low-income people infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

J&J lobbied on a bill meant to limit abuse of the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, an ingredient in its Tylenol Cold medicines.

The company also lobbied on a bill to make drug and medical device makers report payments to doctors such as consulting fees, a hot issue as critics claim medical companies have too much influence over the medical profession.

Johnson & Johnson, a top maker of medical devices such as knee and hip implants, lobbied against overturning a 2008 Supreme Court ruling to again allow patients who allege harm by devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration to sue manufacturers in state courts.

It lobbied on two bills concerning sealing of information in civil lawsuits, an issue because drugmakers often are sued by patients alleging their products caused harm; the companies try to keep such information secret.

The company also lobbied on legislation that would establish a route for generic versions of expensive biologic drugs to be approved. J&J is one of the top makers of biologic drugs, with more than $6 billion in annual sales from just two drugs: Procrit for anemia and Remicade for rheumatoid arthritis and other immune disorders.

J&J lobbied in favor of a tax credit to employers who, like J&J, offer employee wellness programs.

The company also lobbied in support of creating clean energy jobs and reducing global warming pollutants. J&J uses solar power and other clean energy in many facilities in the 57 countries where it operates, and it has been reducing carbon dioxide emissions and making environmentally friendlier packaging.

Besides Congress, the company lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services in the July-September period, according to the form filed Oct. 20 with the House clerk's office.

(This version CORRECTS final paragraph to read 'July-September')


Steelers’ Tomlin not lobbying for help

The Steelers’ Mike Tomlin isn’t about to lobby another coach to play his best players, even if Pittsburgh’s season may be riding on any such decision.

To Tomlin, the Steelers (8-7) put themselves in a position where they need a lot of assistance to make the AFC playoffs, so they shouldn’t go begging for help.

“I could [not] care less how the Bengals approach what it is they do,’’ Tomlin said yesterday.

To make the playoffs, the Steelers must defeat the Dolphins (7-8) in Miami Sunday and hope multiple games fall in their favor. Among the scenarios are the AFC East champion Patriots (10-5) beating Houston (8-7) and the AFC North champion Bengals (10-5) beating the Jets (8-7).

However, the Patriots and Bengals may not play their regulars very long, if at all, because they are in the playoffs regardless of the outcome. Also, both teams will play the following weekend, one of them only six days after Sunday’s regular season-ending game.

The Steelers’ chances of returning to the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons were lessened when the Colts (14-1) rested their starters after taking a 5-point lead Sunday, and the Jets came back to win, 29-15. That put the Jets in position to make the playoffs if they win Sunday, just as the Ravens (8-7) can if they win at Oakland.

Despite the Colts’ much-debated decision that not risking injury to a key player was more important than going for a 16-0 season, Tomlin doesn’t believe in telling another team what to do with its personnel.

“I trust that those coaches are going to do what they feel is best for their football teams,’’ he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for mine. Very rarely do I pass judgment on the decision-making of other coaches in regard to other teams, because I don’t have a pulse on their group.’’

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu may not be ready to play Sunday.

Polamalu, the five-time Pro Bowler who has been out for the last six games and most of a seventh with a left knee injury, began running in a straight line only Monday.

He has yet to begun cutting, turning or twisting, moves needed to play in a game.

McCray arrested
New Orleans backup defensive end Bobby McCray was arrested early yesterday and booked into Orleans Parish Prison and charged with driving while intoxicated and other counts, police said. He was released on his own recognizance around 7 a.m. . . . Falcons kicker Matt Bryant suffered a hamstring injury in Sunday’s win over Buffalo, so the team signed former Raven Steve Hauschka . . . The Lions said quarterback Matthew Stafford had successful minor surgery on his right knee.

Vikings regroup
Forget the play-calling, the audibles, and any perceived rift between Brett Favre and Brad Childress.

The way defensive end Jared Allen sees it, the veteran Vikings defense is the biggest reason Minnesota lost the game in Chicago Monday night and lost a chance to move closer to a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

“Defensively, I put this all on us,’’ Allen said after the 36-30 overtime loss to a Bears team that had shown little signs of life in recent weeks. “We did not make enough plays. We didn’t tackle or stop the run like we were supposed to.’’

The Bears’ Jay Cutler threw four TD passes in the game.

Lobbying culture a threat to financial stability: report

THE financial industry's lobbying about US mortgage rules may have contributed to the recent financial crisis and may pose a threat to the industry's stability, according to a report published by three International Monetary Fund economists.

The economists found that institutions that lobbied the most also had more lax lending standards, tended to securitise more of their mortgages and had faster-growing loan portfolios.

The delinquency rates were also higher in areas in which these companies' lending grew fastest, the report showed.

"Our analysis suggests that the political influence of the financial industry can be a source of systemic risk," Deniz Igan, Prachi Mishra, and Thierry Tressel said in the conclusion of their report.

"It provides some support to the view that the prevention of future crises might require weakening political influence of the financial industry or closer monitoring of lobbying activities."

Regulators worldwide are pressing companies to improve risk oversight after the world's biggest banks and brokerages reported more than $US1.7 trillion in write-downs and credit losses since 2007 tied to the global financial crisis.

In the US, the Government has extended the $US700 billion financial rescue program until October.

The authors favoured a "moral hazard" interpretation of their findings, where financial companies lobby seeking looser lending standards because they expect to be bailed out during a crisis or because they favour short-term gains.

The report noted that 16 of the 20 lenders that spent the most on lobbying between 2000 and 2006 received funds under the US Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act.

Spending by finance and real estate industry companies accounted for about 15 per cent of overall lobbying in any election cycle, the report said.

Spending on lobbying was $US479,500 per company in 2006, compared with $US300,273 for defence companies and $US200,187 for construction companies, the authors said.

Pa. Casino Group Says Its Activity Wasn't Lobbying

A casino trade association headed by a former state Supreme Court chief justice rebutted a lawmaker's criticism by saying that it doesn't have to register under Pennsylvania's lobbying-disclosure law because its activities don't meet the legal definition of lobbying.

House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni, D-Berks, had posed questions about the Pennsylvania Casino Association and its activities surrounding a bill that would expand casino gambling.

Santoni said Monday that he was still reading through the group's Dec. 1 letter and was considering whether to hold a hearing on the matter.

"I want to check with some legal minds first on the lobbying issue to see whether we should go forward," Santoni said.

House and Senate negotiators are still trying to work out the remaining differences in a bill to legalize table games such as poker and blackjack at slot-machine casinos and to expand the number of slot machines at smaller resort casinos.

Proponents say expanding gambling is a less painful alternative to raising taxes to shore up the state's recession-ravaged treasury. Opponents, however, say the measure is a favor for the powerful gambling industry.

According to the casino association's letter, it sent three e-mails to lawmakers about pending legislation and paid for a radio ad that warned that a state tax above 12 percent on table games would mean fewer jobs and higher taxes for state residents.

Including employee compensation, the e-mails cost less than $500 to send, well within the exemption for registering and reporting in the state's lobbying disclosure law, association board member Richard Sprague wrote in the letter. The threshold is $2,500 per quarter.

Also, the radio ad did not address an actual piece of legislation and did not ask listeners to contact legislators, wrote Sprague, who is an investor in the SugarHouse Casino project in Philadelphia. The letter did not say how much the association paid for the radio ad.