NY Times: NAMI Board Member Resigns in Protest Over Drug Money
Source: The New York Times
A top Republican senator, Charles E. Grassley, has sent letters to the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and 31 other disease and medical advocacy organizations asking them to provide details about the amount of money that they and their directors receive from drug and device makers.
Such financing amounts are often considered proprietary by the organizations and their directors, but critics contend that the industry’s sway over such groups leads them to lobby on the industry’s behalf.
Mike Lynch, a spokesman for the A.M.A., said the organization had received the senator’s letter and would respond. Mr. Lynch said industry financing made up less than 2 percent of the organization’s budget.
Steve Weiss, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society, sent an e-mail message stating that the society “holds itself to the highest standards of transparency and public accountability, and we look forward to working with Senator Grassley to provide the information he requested.”
Kate Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Alzheimer’s Association, which also received a letter from the senator, said the organization “was going to answer all of his questions,” but she would not immediately say what share of the organization’s financing comes from drug or device makers.
The letter is part of Mr. Grassley’s long-running investigation into the influence of drug and device makers on the practice of medicine. Mr. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has also long been interested in how charities get and spend their tax-deductible contributions.
“These organizations have a lot of influence over public policy, and people rely on their leadership,” he said. “There’s a strong case for disclosure and the accountability that results.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Grassley sent a similar letter to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The group told the senator that more than two-thirds of its donations came from the pharmaceutical industry. In response to the disclosure, Dr. H. Richard Lamb resigned from the group’s board.
Dr. Lamb joined the board of the organization in 2005, when he was “shocked to learn that approximately half of NAMI’s income comes from the large pharmaceutical companies,” he wrote in a resignation letter that Mr. Grassley made public. Alliance officials assured Dr. Lamb that the situation would change. “However,” Dr. Lamb wrote, “very little has changed, right up to the present day.” In an interview, Dr. Lamb said that NAMI’s dependence on the drug industry made some actions impossible. For instance, Dr. Lamb said that NAMI should consider warning against the use of some mental health drugs with life-threatening side effects. But Dr. Lamb said the organization could not consider such a move because it could threaten much of its financing.
Michael J. Fitzpatrick, the organization’s executive director, promised that the industry’s share of the group’s fund-raising would drop significantly next year.
Mr. Grassley’s request that organizations provide details about the outside income of directors may cause some consternation. While a few large patient advocacy groups have provided general guidance about their reliance on industry, almost none have given such details about their leaders.