Conservative group says Shumlin schmoozing with Big Pharma

A conservative watchdog group wants to know why Gov. Peter Shumlin was rubbing elbows with high-rolling pharmaceutical executives at a soiree in Washington, D.C., last month.

Shumlin has long touted his adversarial realtionship with the health care industry. Big Pharma and private insurers, especially, have landed in the crosshairs of the governor’s rhetorical fire.

But he broke bread and clinked glasses with some of those same industries’ top dogs last month at a pair of events sponsored by the Democratic Governors Association.

In one event, open to donors who have given at least $100,000 to the DGA, Democratic governors – Shmlin among them – gave face time to represenatives from Allergan, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Pfizer. A separate event for donors in the $250k-plus group (the Founders’ Circle, in DGA lingo) included execs from Bristol-Myers Squibb and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Records made public by Judicial Watch, an organziation that airs the ill-doings of (mostly) Democratic elected officials, include an email exchange involving a Pfizer exec who asks to be seated next to Shumlin at one of the events.

“Steve Janson with Pfizer requested to sit at Governor Shumlin’s table,” Frank Bergold, deputy Finance Director for the DGA, wrote in a Feb. 23 email to Shumlin aide Allison Richards. “I wanted to run that by you to make sure it was okay.”

A little more than an hour later, Richards responded:

“Governor Shumlin is great with that.”

Shumlin Chief of Staff Bill Lofy says there’s no ‘there’ there. Janson, Pfizer’s VP of public affairs, was a former staffer of Gov. Howard Dean and is a “longtime friend” of the governor’s.

That’s why they sat next to each other, he said.

Tom Fitton, head of Judicial Watch, said Shumlin was nonetheless seated at the intersection of money and politics, where special interests use their money to buy access and favor with high-profile elected officials.

“I’m not saying it’s extortion or bribery. But it’s pay to play, and it’s an ugly business,” Fitton said today. “I think Gov. Shumlin shoud explain why it is he thinks it’s appropriate to offer access to special intersts in exchange for donations, and what policies, if any, were discussed at these meetings.”

Lofy says they’ve picked the wrong target. Shumlin’s record against the pharmaceutical lobby in particular, Lofy said today, is unassailable.

“No governor in the country has a stronger or more consistent record of standing up to the pharmaceutical industry than Gov. Shumlin,” he said. “From fighting for fair drug pricing to standing up to predatory data mining, Gov. Shumlin has time and again fought Pharma on behalf ofVermont consumers. This attack illustrates just how little this extreme right wing Washington group knows about the governor’s record andVermont’s history of opposing the pharmaceutical industry.”

It’s worth noting that the Judicial Watch story stemmed from a March 7 records request relating to a totally different story the organization was working on. All the Democratic governors were FOIAed. Shumlin’s office just happened to be the first to respond, and the documents they produced included an itinerary documenting the DGA donor dinners.

The DGA donor events occurred while Shumlin was in the nation’s capital for an annual meeting of the National Governors Association.