GEORGE W. BUSH: Doubts Arise Over ‘Diet Drug’ Rules
Texas Health Commissioner William Archer softened his restrictions on sales of dietary supplements containing ephedrine, after lawyers close to Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) began working for a leading manufacturer and "funneled $40,000 to Bush's reelection drive," Time magazine reports. Archer defended his position, describing the rules as a "starting point. We have something where nothing existed before." An Archer spokesperson added that the change was a result of the "industry's strong opposition" and "threats of litigation," not campaign contributions. When Archer first imposed the restrictions on ephedrine, an amphetamine-like stimulant derived from a Chinese herb, leaders of the $1 billion industry launched a lobbying blitz, claiming that their products were "safe if taken as directed." Despite numerous reports linking ephedrine to heart attacks, strokes and seizures, the herbal industry pressed its case further, tapping Bush allies for help. One manufacturer, Metabolife International, hired a San Antonio law firm headed by some of Bush's "closest political associates," including state Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R). Wentworth arranged a meeting between Metabolife president Michael Ellis and Archer on July 2, 1998. A "closed-door affair," the negotiations between Archer and Metabolife began on Aug. 11 without any outside doctors or consumer advocates present. And at its conclusion, Archer "accepted several industry positions," such as allowing higher dosage limits and creating a smaller task force comprised mainly of industry officials to settle the remaining issues. Although Archer made another attempt to crack down on the industry in mid-September, the industry claimed that his restrictions "would wipe its products off the market." Ellis and Wentworth, after contributing $10,000 to Bush's reelection fund, asked for a meeting with Archer. On Oct. 20, they received an audience, and Archer backed off the tougher rules. The same day, Tom Loeffler, a lobbyist for Metabolife, contributed $25,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaign.
According to Ron Lindsey, Bush's health care adviser, the governor and Joe Allbaugh, his chief of staff, were "kept informed" of the Metabolife situation, but "there was no pressure from the top (other than to) just work this thing out if you can." Allbaugh added that Metabolife lawyers "did not discuss the issue" with him or Bush. Copies of Bush's calendar, however, reveal meetings with Archer in mid-July and mid-September, key dates in the ephedrine talks, and he also saw Wentworth twice at political events during that period. But a spokesperson from the governor's office confirmed that Bush "did not get involved" in Archer's meetings and "had no discussions" with Metabolife lawyers. Wentworth offered a similar denial. Doug McBride, an Archer spokesperson, added that "there was no connection between Archer's actions and industry contributions to Bush's campaigns" (Weisskopf, 5/22).