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Articles by Donald E. L. Johnson

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Drug industry-financed Seniors Coalition mails warning against imported prescription drugs

Seniors Coalition, which reportedly is funded to a large degree by the pharmaceutical industry, mailed an 8.5x11 self-mailer four-color flier urging voters to call their congressman and urge him or her to “oppose unsafe imported medicines.”

 

Seniors Coalition, which reportedly is funded to a large degree by the pharmaceutical industry, mailed an 8.5x11 self-mailer four-color flier urging voters to call their congressman and urge him or her to “oppose unsafe imported medicines.” Mine arrived in the mail yesterday and I searched for information on Seniors Coalition, which is provided by its rival AARP. Because AARP urges readers to mail its report to friends, I feel free to paste the whole thing below along with a description of the flier. The media should investigate this scare campaign and report on who is behind it and how it is being funded.

While the importation of unsafe drugs is a concern, so is the importation and production of unsafe foods, cars, toys and other products. The country doesn’t ban the importaiton of products that may be unsafe but regulates imported products along with domestically-produced competitors.

 

What’s disturbing is the drug industry’s secretive funding of groups that advocate its opposition to importation of cheaper drugs, often made by the drug industry itself. Instead of engaging in an honest debate and political campaign, the drug industry, effectively is funding a misleading and dishonest scare campaign to discourage consumers from buying imported drugs on the Internet or during trips to Canada, Mexico and other countries.

 

This is just another example of the extremes that drug industry marketing executives will go to in protecting their very profitable block buster drugs. Are they acting unethically? That’s debatable, but they certainly are setting themselves up for more Congressional investigations and media attacks. They must think the positives outweigh the negatives.

 

www.give.org provides this profile of the Seniors Coalition.

 

The Seniors Coalition flier screams:

 

“Public health alert: Investigative reports expose danger of imported medicines for seniors. Newspaper headlines such as “Phony Lipitor prompts recall, Washington Post” illustrate the point. At the bottom of the first page: “You’ve seen the questions raised in the news. Now see reverse for important warnings from U.S. and Canadian health officials about the dangers of imported and counterfiet medicines.”

 

On the reverse side of the card: “Urgent warning for seniors about imported medicines. Health experts speak out on the dangers of cut-rate, imported drugs.” Eight quotes from Canadian and U.S. health officials and others follow. Across the bottom of the page: “The experts agree. So should Congress. Imported medicines are dangerous. Call Congressman Tom Tancredo at xxx. Tell him to stand with seniors and public health officials to oppose unsafe imported medicines.”

 

Here is the AARP report:

Pulling Strings from Afar

Drug Industry Finances Nonprofit Groups That Claim to Speak for Older Americans

By Bill Hogan

February 2003

Records obtained by the Bulletin show that the pharmaceutical industry has been a formidable financial force behind United Seniors Association, the Seniors Coalition and 60 Plus Association.

 

In 2001, for example, United Seniors took in a total of more than $3.1 million from PhRMA and CBM, amounting to more than 36 percent of its revenue for the year. In 2000 the Seniors Coalition got nearly $2.1 million from PhRMA and nearly $170,000 from CBM, amounting to more than 17 percent of its revenue. In its 2001 fiscal year, 60 Plus got a total of $275,000 from PhRMA, CBM and three drug companies (Merck, Pfizer and Wyeth-Ayerst) plus another $300,000 from Hanwha International Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of a Korean conglomerate with chemical and pharmaceutical interests?amounts that made up about 29 percent of its revenue.

 

“We’re not a front for anybody,” James L. Martin, the chairman of 60 Plus, told the Bulletin. “I get money from lots of sources. I’ve received money from the pharmaceuticals?I wish it was more.”

 

Records obtained by the Bulletin show that the pharmaceutical industry has been a formidable financial force behind United Seniors Association, the Seniors Coalition and 60 Plus Association.

 

TROJAN HORSES?

All three organizations are rooted in the ultraconservative political movement and have frequently veered sharply from issues related to aging and older Americans.

 

Charles Jarvis, the chairman, president and CEO of United Seniors, is a former executive vice president of Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based organization run by conservative activist James Dobson.

 

In taking the helm of United Seniors, Jarvis succeeded Sandra L. Butler, a former Viguerie executive who remained on as the organization’s highest-paid director in 2000.

 

United Seniors announced in November 2001 that it was backing a plan “to allow more production of domestic energy in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” Its news release did not mention the organization’s receipt of more than $181,000 from Anchorage-based Arctic Power, which has promoted drilling in the refuge.

 

Jarvis did not respond to the Bulletin’s request for an interview.

 

The Seniors Coalition was formed in 1990 by Viguerie and Dan C. Alexander, a Mobile, Ala., school board official who had been convicted of extorting kickbacks on school construction projects and later served four years of a 12-year prison term. For some of the time Alexander was in prison, he and his wife drew $23,000 a month in “consulting” fees from the Seniors Coalition while their teenage daughter served as its president.

 

In a news release issued in November 2002, the Seniors Coalition claimed “four million members,” but the federal tax return it filed for 2000 identified PhRMA as its biggest donor and listed no revenue from “membership dues and assessments.”

 

John Powell, the organization’s chief operating officer, declined to be interviewed by the Bulletin.

 

Martin of 60 Plus worked for Viguerie for four years, and it has been reported that the group’s contract with Viguerie’s firm allows it to use 60 Plus’s contributor list “in any manner, for any purpose, for its own account,” at least until 2003.

 

The relationship goes back a long way. In 1994, for example, Viguerie helped 60 Plus raise $1.3 million, but the organization was left with less than $93,000 after paying fees and expenses (including postage) to Viguerie’s operation.

 

The organization said in a 2001 news release that it is “supported by contributions from individual members?not corporations,” though financial records obtained by the Bulletin show sizable corporate contributions?and no dues-paying members.

 

Like its counterparts, 60 Plus often takes positions on issues that have few if any direct connections to older Americans. Last year, for example, Martin endorsed the controversial Yucca Mountain site in Nevada “as an appropriate and safe site for storing used nuclear fuel.”

 

THE SAME OLD SNAKE OIL?

In the mid-1990s, then-Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, blasted the Viguerie-connected nonprofit organizations as “fright factories,” advising those who received their fundraising solicitations “to keep their wallets closed unless they know exactly who is behind them.”

 

Indeed, the solicitations have often been laced with “histrionic and demonstrably false assertions,” as a study team at the University of Pennsylvania once put it. “The politicians in Washington have ‘stolen’ the Social Security Trust Fund,” blared one fundraising letter from United Seniors. “That’s right. Every penny is gone!”

 

The organizations also ran into trouble by using envelopes with official looking symbols and language that seemed designed to make recipients believe they were urgent government documents.

 

Now, nearly 10 years later, some of the same issues have resurfaced with respect to the fundraising solicitations of United Seniors. The Social Security Administration recently secured a cease and desist order against the organization for mailings the government alleges are designed to “mislead the public into believing the mail is officially sent or approved by the Social Security Administration.” United Seniors has appealed the order.

Bill Hogan is a contributing writer in Washington, D.C.

 

AARP is a left-wing organization that I’ve refused to join because I don’t believe it fairly represents seniors, but I also wouldn’t join Seniors Coalition. www.seniors.org, United Seniors or 60 Plus because they seem to be as far to the right as AARP is to the left. Apparently, the right-wing groups were organized to counter the positions of the AARP which has considerable but misplaced credibility among many politicians and members of the media as an advocate for seniors.

Posted by Donald E. L. Johnson on 06/18/2003 at 07:43 AM



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