Corporate ties

I’m sure you’ve heard the news: There’s a new majority leader in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this week, Republicans made it official and chose Tennessee Senator Bill Frist to replace Trent Lott as majority leader. An accomplished surgeon, Frist has performed more than 250 heart and lung transplants, and has twice given medical aid to visitors in the Capitol building. Add to these impressive credentials his trips to Africa to bring medical relief to children suffering from AIDS, and you have the very picture of a “compassionate conservative.”

But there is also a troubling side to Senator Frist’s political career.

The senator wrote and sponsored a senate bill designed to nullify lawsuits against Eli Lilly & Company over the vaccine preservative Thimerosal. The language of this bill was cut-and-pasted into the Homeland Security Act (HSA) just hours before the act was passed by the Senate (see the e-Alert “Protection Money” 12/2/02). Although Frist apparently wasn’t the one who added his own wording to the HSA, he defended his bill and the provisions in the HSA, stating that they were necessary to protect Lilly in order to insure that the company would be able to continue making vaccines.

Unfortunately, Senator Frist has very close ties to Lilly. The Washington Post describes Lilly as a “major contributor” to the senator’s political campaigns. Lilly was also a generous contributor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee while Frist was the chairman of NRSC.

So, in addition to his compassionate side, Senator Frist obviously has a politically pragmatic side as well. He may be as genuinely compassionate as anyone, but when it came time to weigh compassion against corporate survival, his political side won out.

Is Bill Frist a drug company wolf in a compassionate sheep’s clothing? Now that he’s stepped up to a high profile role on the national political stage (along with rumors that he plans to run for president in 2008), the senator’s relationship with his drug company benefactors will be in the limelight too. So I’ll be watching, and I’ll let you know which way the chips fall whenever Majority Leader Frist’s compassion is called for.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute