We can’t help but note that the other shoe dropped on nonprofit agencies (as we predicted back in April) and their lack of disclosure and transparency about their funding sources. Will anybody really be surprised to find that 50% or more of many of these organization’s budgets come directly or indirectly from a pharmaceutical company?
The list of organizations that Sen. Grassley sent a letter to is even more extensive this time around and, while including big organizations like the American Cancer Society, the American Dental Association and the American Psychological Association, it also includes smaller organizations like the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, NARSAD, Screening for Mental Health Inc., the National Center for Mental Checkups at Columbia University (TeenScreen), and of course, Mental Health America.
The funny thing is, when NAMI was sent its letter back in April, any of these organizations could’ve easily seen the writing on the wall and simply released the data that Grassley’s office was looking for. If they had been proactive in releasing this information — like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance had done — they wouldn’t have received this letter (or the additional unwanted negative attention focused on their funding sources).
As Grassley’s news release noted,
Grassley said his inquiry follows a review of industry support for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, where he questioned the organization’s national office and state chapters. The Alliance subsequently adopted a new policy of publicly releasing industry support over $5,000. “It’d be good for the system if other organizations would follow NAMI’s lead in this area,” Grassley said.
The noteworthy resignation that occurred after NAMI disclosed that nearly 75% of its donations came from the pharmaceutical industry was Dr. H. Richard Lamb’s from its board:
Dr. Lamb joined the board of the organization in 2005, when he was “shocked to learn that approximately half of NAMI’s income comes from the large pharmaceutical companies,” he wrote in a resignation letter that Mr. Grassley made public. Alliance officials assured Dr. Lamb that this would change. “However, very little has changed, right up to the present day,” Dr. Lamb wrote.
Michael J. Fitzpatrick, the organization’s executive director, promised that the industry’s share of the group’s fundraising would drop significantly next year.
Indeed, how can an organization as large as NAMI (or any other large nonprofit organization that relies on more than 50% of its donations from a single industry) completely turn around the ship in a year or two? As I noted back in October when news broke of pharma’s significant involvement in NAMI, there’s no easy way to replace that money. Which means lots of advocacy and educational programs will simply go away.
Fitzpatrick’s claim that pharmaceutical’s contributions to the organization would “drop significantly” are neither here nor there. When your hand is caught in the cookie jar — e.g., the public relies on you to be unbiased (or at least publicly disclose your biases) and serve the public interest as a charity — it’s a little disingenuous to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll stop taking any more cookies once these run out.” Besides, who wants to be seen doing business with these organizations now that they’re tainted by their history (one they jealously protected before Sen. Grassley came along) of their secret, close relationships with various pharmaceutical companies?
The saddest part is that so many of these nonprofit organizations actually do really good advocacy work in the promotion of education and research in mental health. The loss of significant chunks of their budgets is going to have an impact in the years to come that will likely be felt far outside the agencies themselves.
Read the full news release from Sen. Grassley’s office: U.S. Sen. Grassley: Grassley works for disclosure of drug company payments to medical groups
Read the NY Times coverage on the letter: Senator Grassley Seeks Financial Details From Medical Groups
Hat tip: Furious Seasons (In the middle of a fund drive worth contributing to)