Bush Advisor’s Meeting with PhRMA Sparks Conflict of Interest Talk
A June 5 "lobbying visit" by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America president Alan Holmer with Karl Rove, President Bush's top political strategist, "has raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill" because at the time, Rove owned stock in two large drug companies, the National Journal reports. Rove owned about $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock and about $100,000 in Pfizer stock at the time of the meeting. He sold all his stocks on June 7. During the visit, Holmer and Rove "presented their general ideas" about several "key drug industry concerns," including prescription drugs for seniors and Medicare reform, former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a PhRMA "outside lobbyist" who arranged and attended the meeting, said (Stone, National Journal, 7/21). PhRMA spokesperson Jackie Cottrell said that the group's representatives "emphasized" the view that any Medicare prescription drug benefit should be managed by private health plans rather than the federal government.
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Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the meeting seems to be "a violation" of federal ethics rules. He added, "How serious a violation depends on what role [Rove] played at the meeting and what actions he took subsequent to the meeting" (Lardner, Washington Post, 7/21). Executive branch officials are forbidden by government ethics rules from participating "personally and substantially" in a "decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, (or) the rendering of advice" about matters in which they have financial interest. Employees also must recuse themselves or obtain a waiver to participate in matters in which their financial interest or conduct "would raise a question in the mind of a reasonable person." Waxman has written White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to request a Justice Department review of whether Rove had a conflict of interest by attending the meeting (National Journal, 7/21). "If someone is in a key policy position at the White House, he should not be meeting with executives from corporations where he owns a substantial amount of stock," Waxman said. White House spokesperson Anne Womack said, "On broad policy issues, it is completely appropriate for Karl as senior adviser to the president to meet with constituent groups" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/21). She added, "The discussions were general, and the details of the issues were not raised." At the time of the meeting, Rove was waiting for a certificate of divestiture from the Office of Government Ethics that would have allowed him to sell his stock, Womack said (National Journal, 7/21).