Drug Firms Boost U.S. President Bush's AIDS Plan
May 1, 2003
With the encouragement of top White House officials, drug companies and other businesses with a financial stake in fighting AIDS in Africa are giving a big behind-the-scenes boost to President Bush's $15 billion plan to fight the epidemic internationally.Adapted from:
Among the biggest backers are pharmaceutical companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories, which are competing to promote their AIDS drugs domestically and abroad and win a slice of the $15 billion fund. Drug companies and other multinational firms are paying as much as $40,000 each to join two pro-Bush groups, according to several Republicans involved in the effort.
Abbott CEO Miles White said drug makers are involved because "we recognize the magnitude of the problem" that requires a "magnitude of resources and attention that is way beyond the ability" of one company.
Republicans are pitching the projects as a prudent investment. "Yes, it makes the companies look good. Yes, it helps them with the president," said John Vandenheuvel, a GOP strategist working for the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa. "But there really is a practical matter for all these companies doing business in Africa. All the major multinational pharmaceuticals have some type of [AIDS] program they are already using and would like to have it utilized as part of the [Bush] plan."
The president frequently calls on his biggest donors to build support for his agenda. The White House recently sent Barry Jackson from Bush's political shop and Joseph O'Neill, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, to a meeting of the Corporate Task Force on AIDS, said people who attended. The task force is run, in part, by former Bush campaign aide Terry Holt and headquartered at the Dutko Group, a Washington lobbying firm. Bristol-Myers, Abbott, Pfizer and several other corporations recently paid $15,000 each to underwrite what Holt called a "shoe leather" lobbying campaign to enact the Bush bill.
In some ways, Holt's group competes with the Coalition for AIDS Relief in Africa, which includes many of the same companies but focuses on generating support for the plan outside Congress. Co-chaired by four former lawmakers, including J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), the coalition is funded in large part by drug companies and other multinationals, including Coca-Cola, ChevronTexaco and General Motors. Members were originally asked for $250,000 each; most have contributed $25,000, said people familiar with the effort. The coalition recently hired a lobbying firm with close ties to Bush.
05.01.03; Jim VandeHei