The resistance to reforming our nation’s healthcare system has been fueled by entrenched corporate interests. Their deep pockets are funneling money into generating attack ads, funding lawmakers’ campaigns, and hiring lobbyists. These corporate interests are also funding various front groups to make up their own facts and scare the public.
Among the latest corporate front groups orchestrating a campaign of misinformation against health reform, ThinkProgress has learned, is an outfit called the “Center for Medicine in the Public Interest” (CMPI). CMPI was originally a project of the Pacific Research Institute, an older corporate front established in conjunction with Philip Morris to fabricate academic support for the tobacco industry. Some of CMPI’s recent attacks on health reform have included:
— CMPI produced a series of “US Policymaker” interviews about health reform featuring exclusively Republican lawmakers — such as Reps. Louie Gohmert (TX), Bob Inglis (SC), Jack Kingston (SC), Tom Price (GA), Joe Wilson (SC), Michele Bachmann (MN), Paul Ryan (WI); Sens. Jim DeMint (SC), Jim Bunning (KY), David Vitter (LA) — attacking health reform. CMPI also produced a series of videos mocking health reform and the public option.
— CMPI created various video games distorting health reform. They serve as gimmicks to recruit users to sign up for CMPI’s daily anti-reform talking points.
— CMPI launched a website called “Hands off my Health” showcasing the supposed horrors of universal healthcare programs in Canada and the UK. CMPI officials centered a media campaign around Shona Robertson-Holmes, claiming she had a brain tumor the Canadian system refused to treat. However, the Ottawa Citizen reported that CMPI has been exaggerating Holmes’ case, and that she in fact had a benign cyst.
— CMPI helped sponsor anti-Obama tea party protests.
— CMPI has subcontracted GOP consulting firm Political Media to develop a blizzard of online ads attacking health reform. In the weeks preceding the House vote on reform legislation, CMPI ran ads on sites like the Politico, DrudgeReport, WashingtonPost.com, WashingtonTimes.com with an animated sheep stating that the public option is a “baaaaaad idea.” CMPI plans to run many more ads as the Senate begins debate.
The head of CMPI, Peter Pitts — a former Bush administration FDA communications official and director of marketing at the Washington Times — has a long history of using his CMPI title to hawk the interests of corporate clients. The Bioethics Forum has noted that CMPI, which receives drug company money, aggressively defends almost any practice of the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, as Slate reported, Pitts appeared on an NPR special to downplay fears about the side effects of antidepressants like Prozac, but failed to disclose his position as a VP of the PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee, which at the time represented Eli Lilly Inc. (the maker of Prozac), GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer.
In March of this year, Pitts became the head of international corporate PR firm Porter Novelli’s healthcare division. Despite the fact that CMPI’s latest 990 tax form states that Pitts spends 40 hours a week at CMPI, a representative from Porter Novelli told ThinkProgress that Pitts actually works on a day to day basis in his office at Porter Novelli. Asked about how the firm engages in the health reform debate, ThinkProgress was told by Porter Novelli that Pitts is “pretty much our voice.” Porter Novelli specializes in using social networking and other stealth marketing techniques to help drug companies avoid FDA regulations on marketing pharmaceutical products. Since Pitts joined Porter Novelli, CMPI has continued to shill for drug companies.
Although CMPI refused to tell ThinkProgress about its funders, Pitt’s firm Porter Novelli has a financial stake in blocking reform. Porter Novelli is a subsidiary of the global lobbying and communications giant Omnicom Group. Other Omnicom Group subsidiaries include Frank Luntz’s firm Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research — which counts insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Health Insurance Plans of New York as clients — and Clark and Weinstock, a major lobbying firm representing healthcare clients like the health insurance company HealthNet.
Porter Novelli has also created front groups for the insurance industry in the past. In 1998, Porter Novelli managed the insurance industry’s “Health Benefits Coalition” group to kill the Patients Bill of Rights. As former insider Wendell Potter explained, Porter Novelli helped the industry form alliances with right-wing groups like the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, as well as conservative talk radio. Similar to how CMPI is currently working closely with tea party groups to attack “big government healthcare,” Porter Novelli developed a message that the Patients Bill of Rights was part of a “big government agenda” the “Democrat” party failed to pass 1994.
CMPI is among a constellation of mysterious corporate front groups attacking reform. As the Associated Press reported over the weekend, a secretive group called Americans for Quality and Affordable Healthcare has operatives placing anti-health reform columns, booking anti-reform pundits on talk radio, and organizing anti-reform panel discussions. AQAH also refuses to disclose its backers, but it is apparently being managed in part by the North Carolina law firm Moore & Van Allen.