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EXCLUSIVE: Infamous Astroturf Lobbying Firm Behind New Anti-Health Reform Group

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"EXCLUSIVE: Infamous Astroturf Lobbying Firm Behind New Anti-Health Reform Group"

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The new anti-health reform front group known as the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights, is being managed by the lobbying firm known as the DCI Group. After being contacted by ThinkProgress this afternoon about its sponsorship of CPPR’s press conference last week, DCI Group staffers acknowledged that they coordinate PR for the front group. Not be confused with Conservatives for Patients’ Rigths, another front group opposing health reform, CPPR has been organizing lobbying efforts against health reform and publishing op-eds across the country with misinformation about the public option.

Tom Synhorst, a former staffer to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Bob Dole, joined fellow right-wing operatives Doug Goodyear and Tim Hyde to form DCI Group in 1996. The firm quickly flourished working for the tobacco industry, coordinating a sophisticated astroturf campaign to build public opposition to tobacco regulations. Ironically, before helping to manage this “patients’ rights” campaign, DCI founded “Smokers’ Rights” groups across the country for the tobacco lobby. Indeed, DCI has specialized in manufacturing “grassroots” support — using telemarketers, PR events, and letter writing campaigns — to achieve policy results for narrow corporate interests:

– The DCI Group was retained by the pharmaceutical industry to whip up public opposition against House legislation that would permit the reimportation of FDA-approved drugs from Canada and elsewhere. [Washington Monthly, December/2003]

– The DCI Group worked with Republicans to form various “grassroots” front-groups to amplify President Bush’s call to privatize Social Security. [Center for Media and Democracy, 3/18/05]

– Chris LaCivita, a former DCI Group staffer, took a lead role in organizing the Swift Boat Veterans campaign to smear John Kerry and his war record. [CommonDreams, 8/31/04]

– The DCI Group was behind spoof videos mocking Al Gore and global warming. The firm has been retained by ExxonMobil to lobby. [Wall Street Journal, 8/3/06; Exxon Secrets, accessed 7/28/09

While it is unclear who is funding this latest CPPR front group, DCI has in the past worked for health insurance companies. In 2002, the American Prospect reported that DCI had been hired by the Health Benefits Coalition, a trade association of for-profit HMOs trying to “thwart congressional action on the patients’ bill of rights. ”

CPPR is led by Donald Palmisano, a tort reform consultant. Although the American Medical Association has endorsed the House health reform bill with a public option, Palmisano has been using his title as a former AMA president to smear reform.

Not only does DCI’s involvement in CPPR diminish its credibility as a genuine grassroots coalition, but Palmisano himself has proven less than committed to the interests of both doctors and patients. Under Palmisano’s tenure over the AMA, the organization pursued an arrangement known as “licensure,” a system that involved the AMA selling drug companies its “Masterfile” of doctor profiles, spanning everything from detailed biographic information to an individual doctor’s prescription-writing history. The program, which has generated millions of dollars for the AMA, is extremely controversial since drug companies in turn use the information to aggressively market their products to doctors.

Palmisano defended the practice, telling one Reuters reporter, “I use the analogy of a car dealership. If the dealer sells a car and that car causes damage, you don’t shut down the dealership.”

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