Politics & Policy

The Tvc Scandal: An Update

Bribes can backfire.

This morning, I reported on a controversy that had developed in the House of Representatives. The Traditional Values Coalition, a social-conservative organization, had launched a mail campaign accusing at least 25 pro-life congressmen of betraying the unborn. The organization claimed that these congressmen, by supporting a bill to allow Americans to import drugs from Canada, were voting to flood this country with RU-486, the “abortion pill.” The congressmen disputed this characterization, questioned why they had not been contacted before being attacked, and suggested that TVC was doing the bidding of the pharmaceutical industry. Other social conservatives, whatever their views on the merits of the importation bill, condemned TVC’s campaign as scurrilous.

Today, Republican congressmen took action against the TVC, and the evidence of links between it and the pharmaceutical industry lobby, PhRMA, grew.

Conservative congressmen declared that TVC would not be welcome at their Capitol Hill meetings for at least one year. The House Values Action Team, an organization bringing social-conservative congressmen together, sent the TVC a sharply worded note to this effect this afternoon. Its chairman, Pennsylvania Republican congressman Joe Pitts, opposes importation. Nonetheless, he writes that TVC has shown “a lack of regard for the truth” and “a lack of forthrightness.” He also notes that “not one congressman has argued that [TVC’s suspension] is the wrong course of action.” Many demanded the suspension based both on TVC’s “recent actions” and its “overall reputation.” Pitts concludes that he had wanted to hear TVC’s side of the story, but that its leaders had not returned calls from his chief of staff or accepted an invitation to meet with him.

The Senate version of the conservative caucus is expected to suspend the TVC, too.

This morning, I asked a spokesman for PhRMA about its involvement in the TVC’s campaign and got this answer: “Unfortunately we have an ironclad rule and we don’t discuss strategy.” This afternoon, the spokesman called back. “Because this is such an important issue. . . we are breaking our ironclad strategy.” He said that “many individuals” had asked PhRMA whether the importation bill would allow RU-486 in. “So we wrote a legal memorandum that the answer is unquestionably yes. And we have supplied that memorandum to people who have asked the question.”

Did the memorandum make clear that PhRMA was its source? The spokesman did not know. Were the “many individuals” who requested and received the information lobbyists paid by PhRMA, or employees of organizations paid by PhRMA? “I think this is as far as we want to take it because we do have an ironclad rule that we do not discuss strategy.”

The TVC has sent out several documents under its letterhead on the alleged link between RU-486 and the importation bill. Because the documents were e-mailed as Word documents, it was possible to discover their authors by looking at their “Properties” (under the File menu). It turns out that a set of TVC’s talking points was written by a PhRMA lawyer, and a TVC letter to congressmen by a PhRMA lobbyist.

The TVC is not letting up. Today, it sent an “alert” to its supporters on the bill. It refers to the controversy obliquely: “Now some members of Congress are in denial because they are embarrassed that they have signed on to a destructive bill which would open the floodgates for RU-486 and other harmful drugs to enter America. For example, the FDA’s ban on purchasing RU-486 on the internet will be history if [the importation bill] passes. Any 14 year-old with her Dad’s or Mom’s credit card is in business when it comes to buying RU-486.” No expert who is not directly or indirectly on PhRMA’s payroll, or strongly suspected of being on it, believes these claims.

The TVC’s alert does not mention its relationship to PhRMA.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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