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Interim Kennedy Replacement Has Deep Corporate Connections

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is set to name former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk, 71, the interim senator to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kirk, a close Kennedy confidante, was the choice of the late Sen. Kennedy's close family.

Kirk would come into office at an important moment as the Senate prepares to vote on vast legislation to reform health care and regulate the financial sector. Kirk's current and previous employment may not make him look like the best choice for this moment. Kirk is the CEO and Chairman of Kirk & Associates, a business consulting company, and sits on the board of both an insurance company, The Hartford Financial Group, and a timber and real estate company, Rayonier, Inc. Kirk also previously worked as a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company, Aventis.

The Hartford Financial Group (known as The Hartford) stands out particularly among all of the Kirk's connections as the firm's clout fell dramatically after the September 2008 financial collapse. In November 2008, the firm received $3.4 billion in TARP aid from the Treasury Department. The firm has been downgraded by analysts multiple times this year.

Kirk sits on the Compensation and Personnel Committee for The Hartford in charge of employee compensation and executive bonuses. While compensation fell significantly from 2007 to 2008, this did not keep The Hartford from escaping criticism for compensation policies. Ramani Ayer, CEO and Chairman of The Hartford, was named by Forbes Magazine one of the most overpaid executives in 2008. This despite his compensation being reduced from $15.8 in 2007 to $9 million in 2008. Ayer's stewardship of the firm sat at the center of his placement on Forbes' list. According to Forbes, Ayer's six year average compensation stands at $13.5 million while the annualized six year total return was -17%.

In 1999, Kirk represented the pharmaceutical company Aventis as a lobbyist for Sullivan & Worcester. Kirk listed on his lobbying disclosure forms "FDA reform" as the sole issue and the Senate as the only body he was lobbying. In 1997, Congress passed and the President signed into law the FDA Modernization Act. One provision of the bill sought to curb red-tape and regulation to streamline the drug approval process. After the bill's passage pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying arm, PhRMA, complained about the FDA's speed at implementing the legislation and continued existence of some regulatory barriers. In 1999, the Senate held hearings on the subject with PhRMA President Alan Holmer told the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee that the legislation "fails to provide the regulatory relief Congress intended and actually codifies some of the agency's prior-approval practices that Congress wanted to eliminate." Kirk's focus on "FDA reform" for Aventis was likely related to the complaints about the FDA Modernization Act and its implementation.

Rayonier, one of the largest holders of land in the country, is currently lobbying the United States Senate on the definition of biomass in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The Senate is likely to take up ACES soon after it completes work on health care reform legislation.

Kirk previously worked as a special assistant to the late Sen. Kennedy from 1969 to 1977 and is the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.