When Julie Puett Howry collapsed on an Austin tennis court in 1994 few people could have foreseen how much money Texas politicians and lobbyists would collect as a result of deaths such as hers.
Puett Howry was taking a weight-loss supplement containing the stimulant ephedra, which is similar to illegal methamphetamines known as “speed.” The Texas Department of Health (TDH) quickly blocked sales of Nature’s Nutrition Formula One, an ephedra product linked to health problems in Puett Howry and more than 100 Texans.1
The next year, TDH and a FDA medical panel proposed banning ephedra sales without prescriptions. A $1 billion industry switched to defense.
† Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey
Current TX Ephedra Lobby Contracts Client Lobbyist Contract's
Metabolife W. James Jonas† >$200,000 Trade group* Gordon Arnold $50,000 Metabolife Murray Van Eman† $10,000 Metabolife Jonathan Snare† $10,000 Metabolife Noe Rangel† $10,000 Metabolife Lisa Mayes† $10,000 Metabolife Robert H Finney† $10,000 Metabolife Allen Beinke† $10,000 TOTAL: >$310,000
* American Herbal Producers Assoc. Ephedra Com.
Since 1997, herbal supplement trade groups and ephedra industry leader Metabolife International have reported 28 Texas lobby contracts with a total value of between $870,000 and $1.3 million (lobbyists report their incomes in ranges). Metabolife lobbyists who were at Arter & Hadden before forming Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey in 2001 have dominated this lobbying since 1999.
Absent from these lobby lists are Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Rep. Rick Green. As they oversaw TDH’s budget as legislators, Wentworth and Green drew Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey paychecks to privately lobby TDH on Metabolife’s behalf (Wentworth separately disclosed representing Metabolife before TDH; Green did not.). The Travis County Attorney is investigating if this conflict broke state law.
The ephedra lobby’s big-lie tactics are worthy of the tobacco industry, which boosted sales for years by burying regulatory efforts and denying that its product hurt people. Metabolife founder Michael Ellis wrote the FDA in 1998 that his ephedra products never prompted “one notice from a consumer” about “any serious adverse health event.” When the Justice Department revealed a probe of an alleged Metabolife cover-up this year, the company suddenly released 13,000 complaints—with 80 citing serious injury or death.
The industry has torpedoed repeated efforts in Texas to mandate ephedra prescriptions and delayed TDH’s implementation and enforcement of rules requiring ephedra products to carry a FDA number where consumers can report complaints. Failing to convince regulators that the product does not require such regulation, Metabolife lobbyists did a 180, arguing that the FDA could not handle all the calls that the policy would generate.
* Run by a Bush "Pioneer" fundraiser.
Ephedra Money Dispensaries ('97-'02) Source Ephedra
*Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey Lobby $608,094 Arter & Hadden Lobby $177,268 Metabolife International Vendor $73,900 Wellness International Vendor $28,000 Friends of Jeff Wentworth Lobby $7,970 Mark Nutritionals Vendor $6,000 AdvoCare Vendor $6,000 *Youngevity, Inc. Vendor $5,259 Dutko Group Lobby $2,000 TOTAL: $914,491
Fat war chests
To help this medicine go down, ephedra vendors and lobbyists made at least $914,491 in political contributions from January 1997 to July 2002.
This money was highly concentrated, with 65 percent going to six statewide officeholders led by the current governor and his predecessor. After press reports recounted how Metabolife’s Michael Ellis and Michael Blevins were busted as a result of a 1988 raid on a speed lab, ex-Governor George Bush returned $10,000 that he received from these men in 1998.
Another big recipient of ephedra money is Jeff Wentworth, the Metabolife lobbyist and state senator. Wentworth appears to have kept $55,000 in donations from Michael Blevins and Ellis’ wife, Monica. Another San Antonio legislator who carried Metabolife water, Rep. Frank Corte, Jr., also appears to have kept $2,000 that he received from Michael and Monica Ellis.
Top Recipients of Ephedra-Linked Cash
(Jan. 1997 through June 2002)
Recipient Latest STATE
Rick Perry Governor $230,903 George W. Bush Governor $141,201 Carole K. Rylander Comptroller $108,406 Jeff Wentworth Senate $68,100 John Cornyn Attorney General $55,004 David Dewhurst Lt. Governor $35,094 Susan Combs Agriculture Com. $25,878 Todd Staples Senate $25,000 Tony Garza Railroad Com. $24,823 Greg Abbott Attorney General $24,730 Frank Corte Jr. House $17,000 Wallace Jefferson Supreme Court $10,250 John Shields Senate $10,000 Rick Green House $7,111 Florence Shapiro Senate $6,000 *Leticia Van De Putte Senate $6,000 Michael Schneider Supreme Court $5,623 *Pete Laney House Speaker $5,500 William Siebert House $5,500 TOTAL: $812,123
San Antonio, which is home to Metabolife’s Texas lobbyists, also boasts a company that has sold ephedra products: Mark Nutritionals. Company head Harry Siskind is a partner in several limited liability corporations with Loeffler Jonas & Tuggey attorney Stanley Rosenberg. In state filings, Rosenberg uses this law firm as the address for these ventures (MCWS, HPNL and PTM Holdings), the purposes of which are unknown. Ex-Rep. William Siebert, who voters rejected after a San Antonio City Hall lobby scandal, also is a partner in PTM.
Although this Texas ephedra money mainly benefited the GOP (and Metabolife sponsored the 2000 Texas Republican Party Convention), Metabolife is an equal-opportunity employer. Nationally, Democrats received 65 percent of the $1.6 million in soft money that it doled out since 1999, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Moreover, after losing his 1998 gubernatorial bid, Texas Democrat Garry Mauro became a paid Metabolife consultant. Mauro arranged a February 2000 meeting in Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel between Ellis and California’s Democratic governor. Metabolife contributed $50,000 to Gray Davis’ campaign then, an amount that it soon doubled. Later that year, Davis vetoed an ephedra-labeling bill, saying it was a federal matter.
1 This product appears to have been fortified with synthetic forms of both caffeine and ephedra.
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