CrossFit Directs Campaign Against Illegally Concealed Soda and Pharmaceutical Payments to CDC and NIH

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ByCrossFitFebruary 8, 2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have failed to effectively address unprecedented increases in chronic disease rates and deaths. U.S. life expectancy is in a three-year-decline. Troublingly, this failure on the part of our public health institutions coincides with shadowy payments made by the pharmaceutical and food/beverage industries to these federal agencies through their respective foundations, the CDC Foundation (FCDC) and the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH).

We have a professional money-laundering facility at the Centers for Disease Control Foundation.

—James O'Callaghan, CDC researcher, in "Firm Pays Government to Challenge Pesticide Research," 2011

CrossFit first discovered illegally-concealed corporate donations to the foundations of the CDC and National Institutes of Health in 2018. When Congress created these foundations in the 1990s through the Public Health Service Act, it demanded that they publicly report each year the source, amount and restrictions of each payment they received (NIH requirement, CDC requirement). We searched for such reports from the FNIH and FCDC online and did not find anything remotely in compliance with the law. While the foundations admitted receipt of funds from some major opioid manufacturers, soda companies, and other conflicted parties, they did not fully disclose the extent of the donations or their stated purpose. Some grants were even listed as coming from “anonymous” sources. When we contacted FCDC and FNIH directly, each organization failed to produce any compliant reports, confirming our conclusion that they were violating federal law.

CrossFit’s government relations arm (led by director Russ Greene and lobbyist Brett Ewer) informed Congress of these violations; Congress then instructed the foundations to begin complying with their legal transparency requirements. When the FNIH first heard of this directive’s inclusion in the report on the appropriations bill, they responded with the claim that the directive was not legally binding, promising “if and when Congress puts language into the appropriations bill that directs FNIH to do something, FNIH will do it.” FNIH did not understand, or chose to ignore, that Congress’s 2018 directive precisely reiterated the foundation’s legal obligations pursuant to legislation passed a generation earlier. President Trump signed the appropriations bill containing the FCDC and FNIH-relevant directive into law later in 2018.

CrossFit continued the push for transparency, sending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the CDC and NIH seeking information regarding the missing congressionally-mandated funding reports. Whereas our legislative efforts targeted future compliance with transparency requirements, our FOIA requests were aimed at historical donations. The CDC partially responded to our request; the NIH ignored it.

Can they (the CDC Foundation) skate by with types and amounts of contributions lumped together and then a general list of contributors, like they have now?

—Diana Yassanye, CDC, 2015, in an email discovered through CrossFit's FOIA request

The CDC’s partial response proved they were aware they were “skat(ing) by” with legal transparency requirements; the NIH’s refusal to respond suggested they had even more to hide. On October 4, 2018, CrossFit sued the CDC and NIH’s parent organization, the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding full compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

Additionally, CrossFit recently discovered similar malfeasance at the USDA and FDA’s foundations and has targeted this behavior with FOIA requests as well. There appears to be a systemic problem of “professional money-laundering,” to use a CDC researcher’s own language. (Congressionally-founded and -funded foundations, though created explicitly to support and fund federal agencies, are not considered federal agencies. They are therefore not subject to standard levels of oversight and accountability, such as the Freedom of Information Act, requiring the targeting of their parent agencies in terms of FOIA requests, rather than the foundations themselves. This area is ripe for reform. Senator Robert Portman has also introduced legislation to make congressionally-mandated public reports more accessible. We support this common-sense legislation: public reports should be public. And we are working with congressional staff to encourage them to include federally-funded and -founded non-profits in this and similar legislation.)

These quasi-governmental foundations often claim to acquire corporate funding without allowing corporate influence. Yet scandals and controversies regarding Coca-Cola, alcohol, pharmaceutical, sugar industry, and pesticide funding at NIH and CDC indicate that this is more of a platitude than the reality. For example, the soda industry’s funding of the CDC and NIH coincided with an NIH effort to insert Coca-Cola’s Exercise is Medicine campaign into medical school curricula—a topic we will expound on later.

Comments on CrossFit Directs Campaign Against Illegally Concealed Soda and Pharmaceutical Payments to CDC and NIH

Comments 2

Sean RockettFebruary 9th, 2019 at 2:51 am

The health of our nation depends on getting answers to these questions.

Russ GreeneFebruary 9th, 2019 at 12:19 pm

An update on this: The CDC Foundation recently published its 2018 report. Despite our lawsuit and Congress' instructions, they are not complying with the law. Their report still hides donor amounts and restrictions. Worse, there are three anonymous donors. https://www.cdcfoundation.org/FY2018/organizations What the foundation does disclose strongly suggests corporate interests in conflict with CDC's avowed mission. For example, the CDC Foundation's board includes Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President of Becton Dickinson (BD), a medical device company. BD donated to FCDC in 2018 (and years prior going back at least to 2014). The private public partnership is motivated by a concern for AIDS in Africa. That's what they say. On the other hand, check this out: "U.S. investigates bloodstream infections for link to heparin syringes" https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bectondickinson-recall/u-s-investigates-bloodstream-infections-for-link-to-heparin-syringes-idUSKBN1IC2JC "Health agencies are investigating an outbreak of bloodstream infections in children from four U.S. states that may be linked to heparin and saline syringes made by Becton Dickinson and Co ... The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 14 cases of bloodstream infections in children caused by the same strain of the Serratia marcescens bacterium ... Becton Dickinson said it was cooperating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC ... Dr. Kiran Mayi Perkins of the CDC’s Public Health Program, who is leading the investigation, said if there is contamination, it’s “probably a very low amount,” which makes it very hard to test for." Prima facie, we have a CDC investigation into an infectious outbreak caused by BD products, while BD is funding the CDC Foundation, and a BD executive serves on the CDC Foundation's board. That itself is concerning for anyone aware of the massive evidence showing the impact of financial relationships on research and policy. Now, the CDC may object that it's perfect capable of investigating a sponsor and CDC Foundation board member. Yet to even begin evaluating the CDC's ability to separate BD's funding and influence from its investigation would require a minimum level of transparency. The CDC and its Foundation would need to begin following the law and disclosing BD's payments and restrictions. FNIH and FCDC have so far refused to follow clear legislation, despite CrossFit's litigation and Congress's express concern, and despite numerous examples of apparent conflicts of interest. It makes one wonder.