On Friday, I wrote a letter to the Susan B. Komen Foundation asking that they stop using money that was raised for cancer research to pay Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Senator Joe Lieberman, as a spokesperson for the organization. The organization issued a statement saying that they refuse to do so.
As a three time breast cancer survivor, I do not believe that those who “race for the cure” and donate their hard earned dollars think they’re doing it so the money can go to Hadassah Lieberman. So today, I’m asking the celebrities who lend their names and their time to Race for the Cure like Ellen DeGeneres, James Denton and Christie Brinkley to join me in asking the Foundation to end its ties with Lieberman, whose professional agenda is antithetical to the cause they purport to advance.
For decades, Hadassah Lieberman has worked for the insurance-pharmaceutical-lobbying complex. Like Newt Gingrich, Dick Gephard and Tom Daschle she never registered as a lobbyist to avoid the official taint, but nonetheless worked at the powerhouse lobbying shops Hill and Knowlton and APCO. She also did stints at Pfizer and Hoffman-La Roche.
When she was hired at Hill and Knowlton as a senior counselor in the health and pharmaceutical practice in 2005, the company issued a press release which said “she hopes to draw on her political experience in concentrating on health care policy and public health initiatives.” It is unquestionable that she has used her association with her husband the Senator, who was instrumental in killing the Clinton health care reform effort in 1994, in order to secure these lucrative positions and advance the interests of her clients.
How much is she being paid? It’s hard to tell — the Senate Finance report only indicates that it’s “more than $1000.” But money paid to spouses is one of the primary ways that members of Congress manage to wander into serious money while in office, and Hadassah made $328,000 in speaking fees in one year. From 2004 to 2008, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates that Lieberman’s net worth has increased by a million dollars. That’s impossible to do on a Senator’s salary alone.
According to Larry Nobel, former executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics: “Unless it can really be shown that there is a reason that an individual is being paid for her expertise, then it does look like she is getting paid as a substitute for his speaking…In perspective, I think it falls in a category of ongoing issues that arise having to do with the proper role of spouses and whether someone is trading off of a spouse’s influence.”
And what is Joe Lieberman using his influence for these days? After running hapless Harry Reid around in circles with his endless demands, Lieberman is holding the health care bill hostage and says he will join a Republican filibuster to once again torpedo reform.
The death of health care reform will no doubt please the clients of Hadassah Lieberman’s lobbying firms, but it would appear to be out of step with the goals of the Susan B. Komen Foundation. In 2008, Komen for the Cure listed $266,314,501 in assets, and Komen for the Cure Affiliates listed $138,428,012. They are by far the biggest breast cancer organization, with close ties to the Republican Party. Executive Director Nancy Brinker was appointed by George Bush as Ambassador to Hungary in 2001, shortly after the Komen Foundation helped defeat a meaningful Patients Bill of Rights and promoted the watered down version Bush advocated.
According to Breast Cancer Action, the rate of breast cancer incidence among women was 1 in 22 in the 1940s. In 2007, it was 1 in 8. Despite the obvious questions this raises about the impact of environmental factors on breast cancer occurrence, the Komen Foundation focuses its resources on developing treatments that increase the profitability of pharmaceutical companies like the ones that employ Mrs. Lieberman rather than prevention. Unlike other breast cancer organizations, they refused to sign on to the 2006 Consensus Statement on Breast Cancer and the Environment.
The drugs that are developed by the Komen money are being put out of the financial reach of average middle class women by Hadassah Lieberman’s lobbying firms. Her pharmaceutical employers lobbied heavily for Rep. Anna Eshoo’s PhRMA-friendly biologics amendment to the health care bill, which grants “indefinite monopolies” (according to Henry Waxman) on life saving breast cancer drugs that can cost $50,000 to $100,000 a year. This keeps them from ever becoming available as affordable generics. When the underlying causes of breast cancer are never addressed in a way that benefits women who will never be able to pay those high prices to stay alive, the name might as well be the “Race for the Cure You Can’t Afford.”
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among women age 35-44. The people who are anguished over the suffering of those they love and want to help in some meaningful way are attracted to Komen by celebrity names like James Woods, Andie MacDowell, Neil Patrick Harris, Jennifer Tilly, John Ondrasik, Kimberly Locke, Marcia Cross, Mimi Rogers, Ann Curry and Aimee Teegarden. They are racing their hearts out because they think it will help others to keep from suffering, they aren’t doing it so the money can be used as a pass-through to Joe Lieberman through his wife to block health care reform.