Money's the Best Medicine | Seven Days Vermont

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Money’s the Best Medicine 

Inside Track

Bernie Sanders

Published May 24, 2000 at 7:09 p.m.

It certainly would have been a huge public relations headache for the pharmaceutical industry if little Vermont had followed Maine’s lead and passed a law that threatened to cap the exorbitant prices Big Pill charges sick Americans for their precious little tablets. One state standing up to the most profitable industry on Earth is an aberration. Two states makes it a growing trend. So Big Pill readied the checkbook and wrote its own prescription.

In Washington, Congressman Bernie Sanders has led the charge against Big Pill. His bus trips to Montréal with senior citizens have made national news. If you compare prescription drug prices between a Vermont pharmacy and a Canadian pharmacy, you don’t have to be a police detective to realize there’s a crime in progress.

Money is no object. The pharmaceutical industry is, after all, awash in the cash of the sick and dying while benefiting from taxpayer funded research. The numbers don’t lie. Big Pill is the leading political campaign contributor in America, the cock of the rock. So it’s not a shock to learn that despite the support of Gov. Howard B. Dean, M.D., and the Democrat leadership in both House and Senate, the pharmaceutical bill, which would have threatened the pill industry with price regulation, died a brutal and ugly death.

We count no fewer than 18 Statehouse hired-gun business lobbyists from six established Vermont lobbying firms on the payroll of Big Pill this session. Unprecedented! That’s enough meat and muscle to field two complete baseball teams. In living memory, we cannot recall more business sector lobbyists ever signing on to work the hallways for one special interest before. Corporate Greed won this one hands down, and it’s only appropriate to give credit where credit’s due — to the winning team.

The envelope, please!

This year’s Corporate Greed Oscar for best performance by a multinational monster in a horror movie goes to — Big Pill! Hearty congratulations! Accepting the Oscar on behalf of Big Pill are the following Vermonters:

Andrew MacLean, David Wilson and Christopher Rice, representing the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, Big Pill’s national trade association. Mr. MacLean was the point man on this one. Nice job, Andrew! Congratulations.

Attorney M. Jerome Diamond (former Democrat attorney general) and the Capital Strategies Inc. trio of Susan Auld, Betsy Bishop her daughter, and Will Adams, who toiled on behalf of Bristol Myers Squibb.

Allison Crowley Demag, daughter of former State Sen. Tom Crowley, and Jerry Morris of New England Public Affairs Inc., who carried the cause of Pfizer, makers of Viagra, the hot erection-maker blue pill.

John Hollar and Lisa Birmingham for GlaxoWellcome.

Anthony Otis and Timothy Meehan, who did stellar work on behalf of the chain drug stores and the retail pharmacists. Bravo, boys!

The Shouldice Associates team of William Shouldice III, daughter Shawn Banfield, and David Rice, representing the wishes and dreams of Merck. Nice work, gang!

Margaret Laggis, the eyes and ears of Monsanto, the multibillion dollar, multinational chemical giant of BST fame that is now into pharmaceuticals, too.

And last but not least, Col. Ed Miller, who voiced the viewpoint of the National Wholesale Druggists and Monsanto, too.

In the weeks after the civil-unions bill passed, the Statehouse emptied out. The daily throngs that packed the building all winter vanished. In the vacuum, the Bill Pill lobbying team stood out like muscle-men lifeguards at Bikini Beach.

House Speaker Michael Obuchowski, the man with the moustache, called it “an incredible, no-holds-barred lobbying effort.” Obie, speaking from the losing side’s dressing room, told Seven Days it was “the most intensive lobbying effort” he’s seen in 28 years at the Statehouse. Up against Team Pharmaceutical, he said, “Regular Vermonters didn’t have a chance.” Democrat majority leader, John Patrick Tracy, could not hold his majority together. It wasn’t pretty.

The handful of “white hat” lobbyists representing the elderly and consumers, like AARP and the Council on Vermont Elders, and the once potent liberal Democrat leadership got stuffed. Crunched. Steamrolled. (Both on prescription drugs and the paid-family-leave bill). It was like watching Notre Dame against Norwich. A complete mismatch.

And there’s more. The drug bill died in the House because of the key 12-18 swing votes controlled by the moderate Democrats, the Blue Dogs. And when it comes to prescription drugs, a couple of the Blue Dogs are very familiar with the subject matter.

You see, Reps. Michael Flaherty of South Burlington and Hank Gretkowski of Burlington are retired sales reps for Big Pill. Mike retired from Merck and Hank retired from American Home Products. All that meant, said Flaherty, was that “We were more knowledgeable” about the issue. Blue Dog Mike told Seven Days the high prices charged for prescription drugs is a “national issue” that requires a “national solution” — not a Band-Aid from one little state. Logical, right?

Against a team like that, you see why grandma and grandpa didn’t stand a chance. Big Pill signed up almost every single-hired gun lobbyist in the Statehouse. They’re a talented, seasoned and persistent bunch. And you know what?

It worked!

But Big Pill’s victory comes with a warning attached: “I believe that there is a corrosive influence of money on our political system,” said State Sen. Cheryl Rivers. “We saw it in Montpelier with the defeat of the drug bill. I think democracy is in trouble.”

Great. Who’d like a couple aspirins? Show of hands?

Polish Connection

You bet Speaker Obuchowski attended Sunday’s keynote address at the Middlebury College graduation given by one of his true heroes — Lech Walesa. Obie’s championing of the have-nots in this state has earned him the title “The Lech Walesa of Vermont,” in honor of the man who led the famous strike at the Gdansk shipyard and went on to overthrow communism and become Poland’s first democratically elected president. Obie told Seven Days he shook Lech’s hand four times!

“One of the finer experiences of my life,” said the kid from Vermont’s Polish enclave of Bellows Falls. “It was very emotional to think of what the man has done,” said Obuchowski, “and to see how humble he is.” Middlebury even served kielbasa and sauerkraut, said Obie.

LaTulippe On Tip-Toes?

One of the big questions remaining in the UVM Hockey Hazing Story is whether or not the former freshman tryout goalie will face any consequences for lying under oath to the attorney general’s investigators. Corey LaTulippe and his lawyers blew the whistle on hazing on the hockey team last fall and have a lawsuit pending against UVM President Judith Ramaley, Coach Mike Gilligan, other administrators and a bunch of former teammates.

You’ll recall Mr. Sorrell saying at the press conference, at which he released the report of his investigation, “What happened to Corey LaTulippe was a crime.”

Over the weekend we ran into Mr. Sorrell at the Democratic Convention at Memorial Auditorium and asked if he still thinks what happened to LaTulippe was a crime.

“We were very careful in saying,” replied the general, “Corey LaTulippe told the truth about the so-called ‘Big Night.’ We did not buy hook, line and sinker other aspects of Corey’s statements about the use of a credit card, about the use of a fake ID in a bar. In terms of what went on that night, the October 2 initiation night, yeah, I think there were a number of crimes committed and I stand by that.”

In fact, two upperclassmen have been charged with furnishing booze to minors. But should LaTulippe, with his tarnished image of sweet young innocence, be prosecuted for perjury?

“We would not make that decision,” answered Sorrell, “since we were the ones asking the questions. That issue would he turned over to the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s office,” he told us. Mr. Sorrell said he’d be “surprised if a prosecution for perjury came out given the situation and the issues he allegedly lied about.”

State’s Attorney Lauren Bowerman told Seven Days Tuesday she was awaiting the reception of the transcript of LaTulippe’s sworn deposition. Until she has the opportunity to read it, she said, she won’t comment on the matter.

The Pollina Law

Hey, c’mon, let’s call it what it is. The new Vermont campaign-finance law caps cash contributions, out-of-state contributions and limits campaign spending, too.

When the law was still just a bill taking shape under Montpeculiar’s golden dome, it was but a gleam in the eye of his biggest lobbyist/supporter — Anthony Pollina of VPIRG.

And now that’s it’s a law, who’s the first to nuzzle up to the trough of public financing?

Anthony Pollina, Progressive Party candidate for governor! Tony the Prog is on track to meet the requirement of raising $35,000 from 1500 contributors, with no contributions over $50. He’ll then qualify for $265,000 in public financing to run a slam-bang campaign with all the bells and whistles Republicans and Democrats use, like lots of quality propaganda in the form of slick television commercials.

But Tony the Prog says his 2000 race for governor was not the reason for the gleam in his eye at the Statehouse last year. Pollyanna insisted that he did not decide to run for governor until this February. Of course, if there wasn’t such a law in place, Pollyanna conceded, he would have chosen to remain on the sidelines.

“I’m very proud of the role that I played in passing the strongest campaign-finance law in the country to get Big Money out of Vermont elections,” replied Pollyanna. “And I’m just as proud now to be involved in a campaign for governor which is going to replace that Big Money with people and grassroots organizing ... I’m very proud of the role I played in passing the law and I’m proud of the role that I’m playing in moving it forward.”

Okay, okay, he’s proud. Soon he’ll be rich. But will you vote for him?

L’il Sleazy Testifies

The campaign finance trial in federal court has featured a veritable who’s who of Vermont politicos. But among our favorite witnesses was Steve Howard of Rutland, a former state rep, Democratic Party chairman and tarnished boy wonder. L’il Stevie Blunder is a political consultant these days and he testified for the Republican Party, which wants the new law overturned. Under oath, L’il Stevie said his political star fell after he came out of the closet. He suggested the Vermont press turned on him because of his sexual preference.

“Often the media focused on the fact I was gay,” testified Howard. “I could speak on 12 issues, but the thing they reported was that I was a gay candidate.”

Horse feathers!

First of all, L’il Sleazy Howard’s political star sunk soon after he got caught offering his primary opponent, Deb Markowitz, a political bribe to drop out of the secretary of state’s race. Steve promised her the number two job upon his most assured victory.

Second, it was L’il Sleazy himself who made a big deal about his coming out. The Statehouse press corps already knew his sexual preference and, frankly, didn’t give a damn.

State Sen. Cheryl Rivers, a witness for the state, has a hard time stomaching L’il Sleazy’s spin.

“He voted for the campaign-finance bill,” noted Rivers, “while saying (on the witness stand) it trampled on the Constitution. I describe that as a bizarre statement, since we take an oath of office that says we won’t vote for anything that tramples on the Constitution.”

Yeah, but the rules don’t apply to L’il Stevie, do they?

Hail! King Anus!

The color picture at the top of the Vermont section in last Thursday’s Burlington Free Press has been quite the talk around these parts. “OUR ANUS GOVERNOR TRADED COWS FOR QUEERS,” read the sign proudly painted by Joe King of Huntington. He was referring to the new civil-unions law.

When asked about it Tuesday, Ho-Ho replied, “I regret that the tone of civility is not able to be maintained in this debate. Folks do have a right to their opinions and they have a right to say them in whatever terms they want. I’d prefer that my kids didn’t see that sign on the front page of the second section of the Free Press, but they did, and a lot of other people’s kids did, too. That’s a matter for the editor of the Free Press and the person who puts up the sign to decide whether that kind of stuff deserves that kind of publicity.”

Maybe Mr. King will form a new group called “Anuses Anonymous.” Stay tuned. This could be huge.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.


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