Last December, the Senate Finance Committee’s Chuck Grassley sent letters 33 medical advocay groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and American Academy of Family Physicians for details about the money they and their board members received from drug and device makers (background here).
The move came several months after Grassley and his staffers discovered that the National Alliance on Mental Illness received sizeable pharma donations while also conducting lobbying efforts with drug makers and pushing legislation that benefits these companies. Since then, NAMI has posted that sort of info on its web site (look here). But what about the others?
Well, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has done an update by checking in with the various organizations and found that the groups Grassley is investigating receive more than $100 million in aggregate each year from drug and device makers in the form of donations, advertising revenue, exhibit fees, corporate memberships, andsupport for continuing medical education.
However, the amount of disclosure varies. The paper writes that 14 offered info about corporate contributions, while 12 more provided only limited data. The remainder - including The American Dental Association, the American Medical Association and the American Society of Anesthesiologists - declined to say how they responded to Grassley and post very little or nothing on their web sites beyond names of corporate donors (see this and this).
“You have to preserve the confidentiality of donors and respect donors’ rights,” Paulette Maehara, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, tells the paper. “Donors do have rights regardless of what Senator Grassley might think.”
Then there's the other point of view: “These patient-advocacy groups have kind of gotten a free pass,” says Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch, adding that some drugmakers treat them like “an extension of the marketing department.” He suggests there has been less scrutiny of groups such as the American Cancer Society, because they seem like “God, mother, and apple pie.”