'Well-connected' GOP donor linked to Rick Santorum scored $65 million in government investment for one-person company

'Well-connected' GOP donor linked to Rick Santorum scored $65 million in government investment for one-person company
Photo via Screengrab.

It is going to take approximately half of forever to sort out the corruption of the Trump years—presuming we eventually get to that point. A new scandal of the sort that would in past years result in weeks of televised outrage seems to crop up every few days.

The Associated Press brings us yet another. A "well-connected" Republican donor managed to score up to $65 million in government investment for a new method of processing blood plasma, including plasma to be used for treating patients in the COVID-19 pandemic. That seems unsurprising on its face: Of course the government is interested in investing in technologies that could help fight the pandemic. But AP reporters dug a little deeper and, as with everything in this new era of Republican cronyism, things are not quite that clear-cut.

The blood plasma company in line to get $65 million, Plasma Technologies, does not have any physical facilities. It is registered at the South Carolina home address of "connected" Republican donor Eugene Zurlo, a man who has been attempting to sell his technology for some time with no success. It looks like it has never produced plasma.

And, most curiously, the one-person shadow company appears to have gained the attention of the government solely due to the connections of its most prominent outside investor, ex-senator turned CNN pundit Rick Santorum. Santorum, it turns out, was one of the prime beneficiaries of Zurlo's Republican donations, and Zurlo previously "entertained Santorum and his family" at his now-sold South Carolina mansion, reports AP.

Santorum later invested his own money in Zurlo's struggling company, and it was Santorum who pitched the company to the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Santorum isn't shy about acknowledging that he'll be getting some coin, either, if government dollars happen to jump-start this tiny, unknown company headed by one of his prior funders.

All of that is beginning to sound a bit familiar at this point. Prominent conservative TV voice pitches the administration on a new, unproven medical technology mirroring one of Donald Trump's own most talked-about potential miracle cures. Though even a cursory look at the company shows that it barely exists, and though government scientists are themselves dubious as to its value, the government is eager to latch on. It turns out the conservative who pushed the product is himself an investor, and could profit enormously if the contracts go through.

It's not the My Pillow guy trying to sell Trump new anti-coronavirus nutritional supplements, mind you, but it's still a bit sketchy looking, eh?

In this case, although the AP reports that HHS scientists were not particularly impressed with the company's pitch, the government is "latching on" with $750,000 in funding for a proof of concept, with tens of millions for building a company facility from scratch if it works out. If it does, CNN talking head Santorum will see his sunk investment explode in value; if it doesn't, the government will have devoted another nontrivial bit of COVID-19 management and brainpower to a miracle that wasn't.

Still, as far as future scandals go, this one is comfortably familiar. We can take solace in the fact that even if this does turn out to be another case of government money being handed out solely because an administration ally is pushing the effort, it's a bit of old school American institutional corruption, not one of Trump's own crazy new inventions like "extort the president of Ukraine" or "invite Russian assets to give you a private sales pitch on how to damage your election opponent."

Any other year, Santorum would be getting a hard side-eye on this one, but now? Right now the swamp is so full-up you can barely see his nose peeking up out of the water. The actions of Trump's cabinet alone will take the combined attention of every last inspector general and federal investigator during any upcoming Biden term; they won't have a moment to even think about such embarrassingly normal political sketchiness.

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