How GOP Senate Candidate Tommy Thompson Cashed in Big on His Lobbyist Connections
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Like AGA, Novartis “entered in to a global civil, criminal and administrative settlement” with the federal government, paying a $425 million fine and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor criminal violation. In the 2010 integrity agreement with the Inspector General of HHS, Novartis acknowledged that it had promoted Trileptal, an epilepsy anticonvulsant, for uses not approved by the FDA, and that it had violated the False Claims Act in connection with Trileptal and other drugs. The FDA approved Trileptal in September 2001, while Thompson was HHS secretary, and Thompson and Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella staged a press conference in May 2001, announcing with great fanfare the speediest FDA approval of a drug in years, Novartis’ leukemia medication Gleevac.
In 2006, while Simonson was still running the HHS office overseeing emergency preparedness, the agency awarded Novartis a $220 million pre-pandemic flu vaccine contract. The company announced that it would build a plant in North Carolina partially funded by this contract, and in 2009, another contract was awarded for $486 million, covering a substantial share of the plant’s cost as well as a vaccine supply. Akin lobbied for the two contracts.
Vasella and Thompson became so friendly while Thompson was at HHC they rode motorcycles together through DC—Thompson aboard a Harley, and Vasella aboard a BMW 1200. New accounts last year indicated the Justice Department was conducting a new fraud investigation of the firm. Constella Group is a research consultant for Novartis, interlinking Thompson’s clients.
MDVIP—Thompson virtually invented this “Doctor-to-the-Stars” concierge company that charges annual fees just to get a physician to return patients’ calls, agree to see them quickly, or provide other “open door” services. Founded in Boca Raton in 2000, the company pioneered this VIP service and is now the largest provider in the country. When Congressman Henry Waxman wrote Thompson at HHS in 2002 protesting MDVIP’s practices as a violation of Medicare laws, charging that the company was requiring Medicare patients to pay an annual fee as “a condition” for them to receive Medicare covered benefits, Thompson replied with a ruling that, to this day, is described as “the legal authority” for these fees. Waxman complained that if permitted, there would be “no financial protection against overcharges” for Medicare patients, yet Thompson was in such a rush to approve it that he got an HHS legal unit to complete a review in two weeks.
MDVIP executives and their families have contributed $30,500 to Thompson’s senate campaign. Proctor & Gamble, which acquired a partial stake in MDVIP in 2007 and full ownership in 2010, has given another $15,000. The company retained Thompson as a consultant and Akin as a lobbyist in 2005, and Proctor & Gamble paid Akin $290,000 to represent MDVIP between 2010 and 2012. Thompson’s 2011 disclosure indicates it was still a consulting client. The company named him to lead its Committee on Cost Reduction Through Preventive Care, but his annual earnings from MDVIP have never been disclosed.
Akorn Inc.—One of Thompson and Wiley’s first clients at Akin in 2005, the company was awarded a breakthrough $21.9 million HHS contract in February 2006, announced by assistant secretary Simonson. Akin’s lobbying filings indicate that Wiley was part of the team lobbying Simonson’s office for this procurement contract, a shockingly cozy arrangement. Akorn has paid Akin $460,000 in lobbying fees. The Project BioShield contract generated what Homeland Security Newswire called “ever more intense criticism,” because “a major goal of BioShield is the treatment of acute radiation syndrome,” but Akorn’s products “will not do it.” The Newswire also pointed out that the bid solicitation only called for 100,000 doses and an option for another 100,000, while Akorn was awarded a 400,000-dose contract with an option for 500,000 more.