An ACORN Amendment for Pfizer

In the wake of the Congressional witch hunt
against the community organization ACORN, initiated by Republican
minority leader John Boehner and supported by all but seventy-five Democrats in
the House and ten in the Senate (Independent Bernie Sanders also voted
no), a small number of Democratic lawmakers are pushing back. Last week,
in response to the Defund ACORN
, which seeks to prohibit federal funds to the community group,
Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum, a member of the House Appropriations
Committee, introduced an ACORN act of her own. It is titled the "Against Corporations Organizing to
Rip-off the Nation Act of 2009
," also referred to simply as the
ACORN Act. HR 3679 seeks to "prohibit the Federal Government from
awarding contracts, grants, or other agreements to, providing any other
Federal funds to, or engaging in activities that promote certain
corporations or companies guilty of certain felony convictions."

While some lawmakers are focused on exposing the hypocrisy of targeting
ACORN and allowing the fraud- and abuse-plagued war industry to go
untouched, McCollum's legislation takes aim at massive healthcare
corporations. "It's time Congress get serious about taxpayer funding of
corporate cheats, crooks and criminals," says McCollum. "Last month
Congress took action to defund a nonprofit serving poor Americans but
failed to act against the corporate crooks that are actually guilty of
felonies--including defrauding taxpayers. Why are companies that break
the law as a business strategy allowed to receive taxpayer funds? A
government contract is a privilege, not a right. If a company commits a
felony against the people of the United States, then that privilege must
end." Significantly, McCollum's co-sponsors on the legislation include
Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, chair of the House Appropriations
Committee. Obey was one of those 172 House Democrats who joined
Republicans in voting to defund ACORN on September 17. McCollum, who
voted against the Defund ACORN legislation, says that her own
legislation is "modeled after" that one but "respects the Constitution
by requiring a corporation to be guilty of a felony before federal funds
are cut off."

McCollum's bill cites the 2008
Corporate Fraud Task Force Report to the President
, which found that
in fiscal year 2007, "United States Attorneys' offices opened 878 new
criminal health care fraud investigations involving 1,548 potential
defendants. Federal prosecutors had 1,612 health care fraud criminal
investigations pending, involving 2,603 potential defendants, and filed
criminal charges in 434 cases involving 786 defendants. A total of 560
defendants were convicted for health care fraud-related crimes during
the year."

McCollum's bill singles out Pharmacia & Upjohn Company Inc., a
subsidiary of Pfizer. Last month Pfizer agreed to pay a $2.3 billion
settlement, which the
Justice Department calls
"the largest healthcare fraud settlement in
the history of the Department of Justice." The settlement stemmed from
Pfizer's "illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products," where
the company marketed dosages that had not been approved by the FDA. The
company will also plead guilty to a felony violation of the Food, Drug
and Cosmetic Act for misbranding the anti-inflammatory drug Bextra "with
the intent to defraud or mislead." Prosecutors allege that the company
marketed "off label" uses of the drug, despite FDA bans. As the New
York Times
, "Pfizer instructed its sales
representatives to tell doctors that the drug could be used to treat
acute and surgical pain and at doses well above those approved, even
though the drug's dangers--which included kidney, skin and heart
risks--increased with the dose, the government charged. The drug was
withdrawn in 2005 because of its risks to the heart and skin." Pharmacia

& Upjohn will also pay a criminal fine of $1.195 billion, "the largest
criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter,"
according to the DoJ. Federal prosecutors also stated:

Pfizer has agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations under the
civil False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four
drugs--Bextra; Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and
Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug--and caused false claims to be submitted
to government health care programs for uses that were not medically
accepted indications and therefore not covered by those programs. The
civil settlement also resolves allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to
health care providers to induce them to prescribe these, as well as
other, drugs. The federal share of the civil settlement is $668,514,830
and the state Medicaid share of the civil settlement is $331,485,170.
This is the largest civil fraud settlement in history against a
pharmaceutical company.

On September 2, 2009, federal prosecutors, White House officials and
military criminal investigators praised the settlement. "Pfizer violated
the law over an extensive time period," said Mike Loucks, acting U.S.
Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. He added the fine against
the company "demonstrates that such blatant and continued disregard of
the law will not be tolerated."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called it a
"historic settlement" and said the government is looking "for new ways
to prevent fraud before it happens. Healthcare is too important to let a
single dollar go to waste."

Assistant Attorney General Tony West said, "Illegal conduct and fraud by
pharmaceutical companies puts the public health at risk, corrupts
medical decisions by healthcare providers and costs the government
billions of dollars," adding that the plea agreements "represent yet
another example of what penalties will be faced when a pharmaceutical
company puts profits ahead of patient welfare."

Patrick McFarland, inspector general of the Office of Personnel
Management, said the settlement "reminds the pharmaceutical industry
that it must observe those standards and reflects the commitment of
federal law enforcement organizations to pursue improper and illegal
conduct that places healthcare consumers at risk."

The head of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service said that
Pfizer's actions "significantly impacted the integrity of TRICARE, the
Department of Defense's healthcare system," saying "This illegal
activity increases patients' costs, threatens their safety and
negatively affects the delivery of healthcare services to the over 9
million military members, retirees and their families who rely on this

Yet, despite all of these tough statements--and many more by top
officials--Pfizer and its vast network of subsidiaries continue to win
massive government contracts. Last year Pfizer made more than $40
billion in profits, and in 2007 it had more than $73 million in federal contracts.

Loucks points out that "at the very same time Pfizer was in our office
negotiating and resolving the allegations of criminal conduct by its
then newly acquired subsidiary, Warner-Lambert, Pfizer was itself in its
other operations violating those very same laws." In other words, the
criminal conduct continues even as the company settles cases. "The CEO
and Board of Directors should have been indicted,"
former New York City Mayor Ed Koch. "That is truly the only
way to stop the practices which produce so much wealth for the company,
its stockholders, officers and directors."

The glaring question here is, Why is the "corporate felon" Pfizer still
on the federal dole? ACORN, which received a total of $53 million in
federal funds over fifteen years, much of it going toward low-income
housing initiatives, was singled out for a ban on funding over the
actions of a handful of employees that were promptly fired. The fact is,
Congress went after ACORN with a legislative nuke but, for years, has
greeted Pfizer with welcoming arms and open wallets.

McCollum's legislation states that no federal contract, grant or "any
other form" of agreement "may be awarded to or entered into with the
corporation or company for a 5-year period beginning 30 days after the
date of the criminal conviction involved" and states that "no Federal
funds in any other form may be provided to the corporation or company
for such 5-year period." The legislation also goes after criminal
corporations' ability to inject cash into the campaign coffers of
politicians, prohibiting "corporate felons" from "contributing to a
candidate for federal office, to a political party, or to a federal
political action committee for five years."

In 2008 Pfizer gave $980,048 in
campaign contributions
to Democrats, representing 52 percent of its
total campaign contributions. It was the first year since 1990 that
Pfizer gave more to Democrats than Republicans. The
biggest recipients
of Pfizer campaign dollars last year were
Democratic Congressman Allen Boyd, who serves on the Appropriations
Committee, and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, a senior member of the
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In the 2010 cycle, the
company has given 60
of its campaign cash to Democrats. Barack Obama blew out John
McCain in contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, taking in some
$2.1 million compared to the $668,000 contributed to McCain's campaign.

McCollum's legislation would limit the amount of lobbying expenditures
by "corporate felons" to $1 million a calendar year. In 2009 Pfizer has already spent $11,720,000 on lobbying.

ACORN does not have high-powered lobbyists, and its 400,000 member
families do not give major campaign contributions. If they did, the
Defund Acorn bill would never have passed Congress. The question for
those Democrats who voted to go after this community organization on
dubious allegations is a simple one: will you apply that standard to
actual corporate felons with real-life rap sheets whose actions have
actually harmed ordinary Americans and ripped off taxpayers?

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