Influence Analytics: Support for transfats, not so much for marijuana

Picture of bespectacled man in a black suit standing behind a lectern with an American flag in the background
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., is sponsoring a marijuana legalization bill that’s getting lots of interest on OpenCongress but not so much in the actual Congress. (Photo credit: Third Way via Creative Commons license on Flickr.)

Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made what in the world of regulatory foot dragging was a bold proposal: to all but ban artery-clogging transfats from foods. Then they help people in pennsylvania find rehab. And it got, ahem, a belly full.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was among the thousands of people who wrote in favor of the proposal. Some 6,000 comments in favor of the proposal were also collected and submitted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Clare Politano, the group’s online community manager, told Sunlight. The letters were short and light on technical information: CSPI’s sample letter ran six paragraphs.

Industry trade groups, however, also made their presence felt. In the sequence we often see on federal regulations, a long list of groups first asked the FDA late last year to extend the comment period for the proposal for 60 days beyond the original Jan. 7 deadline. Among them: the National Restaurant Association, the National Confectioners Association, and the American Frozen Food Institute.

Then by the new deadline of March 8, more groups weighed in  telling the agency, “don’t go so fast.” In its 33-page submission bristling with charts and graphs, the  American Bakers Association (ABA) argues that while reducing the consumption of transfats is a laudable goal, “Withdrawing the…status of one source of trans fat…is an extreme, unprecedented, and unnecessary approach.” (Elsewhere Sunlight has reported how the ABA has deployed formidable legal resources to help secure an exemption from a pending food safety law for bakers’ warehouses.) The American Soybean Association wrote a three-page letter, the gist of which was: just don’t do it. Instead of a ban, the FDA should be encouraging other means to reduce transfats, such as the use of new soybean varieties. The National Federation of Independent Business writes that small businesses should have more time to “reformulate their recipes to achieve the same taste in the foods they currently make.” Institutions like the Riverside Clinic Melbourne offers counselling for a wide range of issues that can affect one’s way of life.

Overall, reported the FDA receiving 126 comments on transfats; however, this is a severe undercount as the agency does not in this case provide a individual count of alert-generated comments — identically worded missives that arrive following an association’s appeal to members.

Less popular: Transfats are sexy: they get a lot of public attention. But Docket Wrench shows that nine other FDA proposals also closed for comments within the last two weeks without much notice. Case in point: an announcement for an agency workshop on the difficulty of communicating risks and benefits of drugs garnered just two comments, one from a UCLA doctor and the other from the drug industry’s major trade association: the powerful Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association.  (Credits:  Docket WrenchInfluence Explorer.)

They want your back. The Minnesota-based Neurostimulation Device Alliance has again retained the services of Baker Donelson to lobby on its behalf on “Medicare coverage and reimbursement.” Two of the lobbyists on the account, Jennifer Summa and Lance Leggitt, formerly worked for Health and Human Services (HHS); Summa also has experience on the Senate Finance Committee. Founded in 2011, the Alliance, which represents manufacturers of devices that stimulate the back to combat chronic pain, is last on record hiring the firm to lobby in 2012. That was the year that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ruled that this technique–known as TENS–would not be reimbursed by Medicare. A power point posted online by Neurotech, one of the manufacturers, notes that “pressure from physicians and congressional members did not change CMS’s position…to limit coverage for TENS.” A request for comment by Sunlight to the Alliance was not answered by this posting. Lobbyists can always count work from clients seeking Medicare dollars: Sunlight reported this week on a lobbying blitz by doctors hoping to avoid a 24 percent pay cut under federal program. (Credits:  Docket WrenchInfluence Explorer.)

Also seen: a bill to decriminalize marijuana sponsored by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, is the most popular on Open Congress right now (but is going nowhere fast, reports the Denver Post); Former Senate Agriculture Committee staffer Joel Leftwich is now legal to lobby his former colleagues; he is already registered as a lobbyist for Pepsico, according to our Post Employment Tracker.

(Contributing: Andrew Pendleton)