The antivaccine movement buys Representative Darrell Issa for $40,000

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about antivaccinationists, it’s that they’re all about the double standards. For instance, to them if Paul Offit makes money off of his rotavirus vaccine, he’s a pharma shill, a hopelessly compromised “biostitute” (as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called him) or “Dr. Proffit“, and therefore to be dismissed on that basis alone regardless of his knowledge of science. If I happen to get a small grant from a pharmaceutical company, even though it isn’t even enough to pay the full salary of a postdoctoral fellow, or receive a small amount of money for my blogging from a company that has run pharmaceutical ads then, of course, I’m hopelessly compromised. On the other hand, if someone like Andrew Wakefield accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars for “research” to find a link between vaccines and autism so that trial lawyers could sue vaccine manufacturers, they think nothing of it. If, as I described last week, Wakefield owns a company known as the Autism Media Channel and tries to shop around a reality show about “biomedical” practitioners swooping in to help parents with autistic children who are difficult to manage or even violent, that doesn’t affect his objectivity. He’s just campaigning for autistic children. If a journalist like Sharyl Attkisson, who is known to be tight with antivaccinationists and biomeddlers does a biased story that lies by omission, failing to reveal key information that would put the story into proper context, all in the service of a message that a mother who murdered her autistic teen did it out of love, it’s all good. I could go on and on and on with innumerable examples, but you get the idea.

That’s why Anne Dachel’s hit piece on Matt Carey on the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (AoA) amused me so much. It’s also why I thought it was worth blogging about, as it demonstrates very strongly the utter hypocrisy of the denizens of AoA. Dachel, as you might recall, is the “media editor” of AoA. For those of you not familiar with her, her job at AoA involves spamming the comments of stories and articles on either vaccines or autism (or both) with antivaccine screeds. It also involves posting links to stories, so that she can send AoA’s flying monkey squad to dive bomb such articles with antivaccine poo. Particular favorite targets are any articles that refute antivaccine lies or support the safety of vaccines. Because that’s all she seems to do, I was rather surprised to see her write an actual 1,300+ word post for AoA instead of her usual link dump designed to give marching orders to her squadrons of flying monkeys. But write it she did, entitling it IACC’s Matt Carey and the November Autism Hearing.

The title of Dachel’s post refers to what I referred to as a mummers’ farce, and quite rightly so. It was a hearing that seemed to have been arranged by the current chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa (R-CA) in honor of the old chair, Dan Burton, the most antivaccine member of Congress, who fortunately retired at the end of the last Congressional term after three decades of promoting pseudoscience and quackery. Here’s what upset Dachel. A few days ago, Matt Carey wrote an excellent post One year and $40,000 later and another hearing. In his post, Matt pointed out that our good old buddy, the looniest of the loons, Patrick “Tim” Bolen, reported that $40,000 had been donated the Political Action Committee (PAC) for Darryl Issa. Matt, of course, acknowledged that the source of the report was “far (far, far, far) from reliable” (which is actually quite the understatement). So he was skeptical, but one does have to remember if there might have been a quid pro quo going on, as so frequently happens in Washington politics. So Matt investigated and found evidence in public records that Darrell Issa might very well have been bought and paid for by the antivaccine movement. Or at least he’s been bought, and a substantial downpayment of $40,000 has been made.

Why does Matt suspect a quid pro quo? Well, Jennifer Larson, a wealthy backer of the antivaccine group The Canary Party (just search it on this blog if you want to see how completely off base it is) issued a press release stating:

“We are thrilled that Rep. Darrell Issa will be holding a second round of vaccine hearings this fall in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to examine just what is happening in the VICP,” said Canary Party President Jennifer Larson. “We are eager for Congress and the American people to see just how far the program has strayed from what it was intended to be when Congress put it in place in the 1980s. It has failed families and become nothing more than a tool to protect vaccine makers and cover government malfeasance in the vaccine program, to the detriment of countless children.”

Not surprisingly, this is the same press release that announced The Canary Party’s recent video, narrated by Rob Schneider, that spread misinformation about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). Clearly, seeing how last November’s hearing went over like the proverbial lead balloon (and didn’t lead to anything as awesome as Led Zeppelin), the forces lobbying for such hearings have—shall we say?—retooled their message into something that drops autism altogether, at least on the surface. Instead of trying to use these hearings to convince people that vaccines cause autism, they have apparently decided that the way to go is straight antivaccine and launch an attack on the VICP, which, as I described, actually functions quite well.

So here’s what Matt said about the donations:

The donations were reported to have been made from Jennifer Larson, who is with the tiny “Canary Party”. Tax documents indicate that Ms. Larson is a large financial backer of the Canary Party. Searching for what donations Ms. Larson has made (using OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics) I found a total of $40,000 donations to Congressman Issa, his PAC and the Republican National Committee though Ms. Larson and her company Vibrant Technologies.

The bulk went to the Republican National Committee. I’d love to see what, if any, arrangements the RNC has to support Issa with those funds. If you think that the $10,200 given directly to ISSA and his PAC is not enough to get noticed, keep in mind that this is the 5th highest amount given to the Congressman this year

In a followup post, Yes, that $29,800 donation is going to Congressman Issa too, Matt expands on that “bulk of the donations” that went to the Republican National Committee, which totaled $29,800:

Well, I found out about the donation to the Republican National Committee. The Federal Elections Commission shows that that $29,800 donation was earmarked: JFC ATTRIB: DARRELL ISSA VICTORY FUND

Looks to this observer like those funds are going to support Congressman Issa through the “Darrell Issa Victory Fund“.

So those funds appear to be going: Straight to Darrell Issa, $40,000 worth. That sure looks like a potential conflict of interest to me. It sure looks like a potential quid pro quo, as well. If a pharmaceutical company (or Paul Offit) had donated an equivalent amount of money to a Representative, and that Representative did something like holding a hearing about, say, improving vaccination rates, you can be sure that Anne Dachel would be screaming to high bloody heaven about corruption and “buying” legislators. So what, I wonder, does she say about Matt Carey’s revelations? One wonders one does.

Well, wonder no more. She starts out with some excerpts from the transcript of last year’s hearing in which Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) castigated a CDC official, badgering her over why there has never been what antivaccinationists like to call a “vaxed vs. unvaxed” study. (Actually, there have been such studies, just not of the type that antivaccinationists want.) Then she does a bit of ranting about a “CDC coverup,” including an oldie but moldie, namely the old Simpsonwood conspiracy mongering that was one of the things that happened in 2005 that sucked me into devoting a major portion of this blog covering the nonsense spread by antivaccinationists. She then includes the Rob Schneider video, complete with its napalm-grade burning stupid, exulting about the November hearing that it “will shed more light on the subject of vaccine safety.” (More likely it will shed more of the fetid stench of Issa’s pseudoscientific flatus all over the halls of Congress.)

Then, only then, does she address Carey’s criticism. And what do you think she says? She shrugs her shoulders and says, “So what?” Take a look:

Carey thinks that last year’s hearing was a waste of time and he was upset that “members of Congress berated government public health employees.” He charged that the upcoming hearing scheduled by Rep. Darrell Issa (R. CA) for this November was just a payback to Canary Party executive, Jennifer Larson, because she made a substantial donation to the Republican National Committee.

Come on. A $40,000 donation doesn’t have that kind of influence. Darrell Issa isn’t holding a pretend hearing just to make Jennifer Larson happy. The truth is, he’s concerned about hundreds of thousands of disabled kids out there that no one at the CDC can reasonably explain. He came to Autism One in Chicago last May and said so.

Finally, it’s almost laughable that Carey is suspicious about a mere $40,000. It pales in comparison to the dough pharma is spreading around on Capitol Hill.

She then writes:

It should also be pointed out that Darrell Issa was described by CBS in Los Angeles last month as “the richest man in Congress.”

“Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was ranked number one among The Hill’s 50 Wealthiest lawmakers with an estimated net worth of at least $355 million by the end of 2012.”

Issa certainly doesn’t need the money. Maybe he’s interested in this because there’s something terribly wrong here. Industry isn’t accountable—AT ALL, our health officials aren’t doing their jobs and our kids are getting sicker and sicker.

doublefacepalm

Facepalm. Double facepalm, actually.

Does Dachel really think that Issa can’t be influenced by campaign contributions because he’s rich? If he’s that rich and doesn’t need the money, then why on earth would Larsen have bothered to donate to his campaign at all, given that she is not a California voter and lives in Minnesota? Out of the goodness of her heart? I don’t think so, and, I daresay, neither does Dachel, unless she is even stupider than I thought. Unless Issa is using his own money to fund his campaign, that was a very silly excuse on Dachel’s part. Of course, Dachel is a very silly woman.

If you go to OpenSecrets.org and look up Darrell Issa, what you will find is a list of donations to both Darrell Issa’s campaign committee and PAC. As Matt pointed out, if you look at donations to Issa’s leadership PAC and campaign committee combined, Vibrant Technologies is in the top five donors. Indeed, if you peruse the list of Issa’s donors, you’ll soon find that $10,200 is not too shabby at all, and if you include the $29,800, making a total of $40,000, Larson rapidly leaps to among the very top donors to Issa’s campaign. Now, this sort of money may not be that much for a Presidential campaign and, to a lesser extent, for a Senate campaign but for a House campaign, we’re talking big bucks here, which is why Larsen’s contribution puts her in the top five of Issa’s contributors and, if the $29,800 is included, catapults her even higher.

Yes, Ms. Dachel, that is indeed more than enough money to get Darrell Issa’s attention, at least enough to show up at the Autism One Quackfest for its Congressional Panel this year. Of course, it appears that it is not enough to actually get anything substantive. It’s not surprising to me that Issa might have been attracted to vaccine-autism pseudoscience through a whiff of cash. He is well known as one of the foremost science denialists in Congress right now. For example, he’s an anthropogenic global climate change denialist, and he has been known to try to defund already funded grants from the NIH that he happens not to like, thus subverting the peer review process with political meddling. However, as has been pointed out, Issa is not actually a member of the Congressional Autism Caucus, nor has he sponsored or supported any relevant autism-related legislation. He doesn’t care. Sure, he’ll throw The Canary Party a bone every now and then as long as the campaign cash keeps coming. Just don’t expect him to take any political risks for it. One wonders whether Issa, savvy political operator that he is, has taken The Canary Party to the cleaners. Dachel includes a picture of a cup with change in it and the caption “chump change” at the top of her post, as though $40,000 is “chump change.” As Matt showed, that isn’t chump change for House races, not by any stretch of the imagination. However, it does look likely that Issa took Larsen and The Canary Party for chumps.