Watch LIVE

Libs Argue Romney's Pro-Business Beliefs Partly Responsible for Deadly Meningitis Outbreak -- But Wait Until You See What We Found

Video

"The fatal meningitis epidemic sweeping the United States can now be traced to the failure of then-Gov. Mitt Romney to adequately regulate ..."

AP

It has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks that the Obama campaign and its supporters have abandoned altogether their attempts to make the case for the president’s re-election and have instead decided to focus solely on attacking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a far cry from the "hopenchange" message of 2008.

Team Obama, for example, has recently renewed its attacks on Bain Capital in the hopes that the "vulture capitalism" thing will finally stick. At the same time, left-leaning journalists have increased their attacks on Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts.

And here's the latest in the “Romney is Awful and That's Why You Should Vote for Obama” campaign: A Salon article published on Tuesday suggesting that Mitt Romney may be responsible for the recent outbreak of meningitis in the U.S. that has already claimed 25 lives. But what we dug up severely hurts that argument.

“The fatal meningitis epidemic sweeping the United States can now be traced to the failure of then-Gov. Mitt Romney to adequately regulate the Massachusetts pharmaceutical company that is being blamed for the deaths,” Craig Unger, author of “Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power” (of course), writes for Salon.

The Salon report suggests that because the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy (MBRP) showed the New England Compounding Center (NECC), the Massachusetts pharmaceutical company at the center of the outbreak, leniency during his term as governor, Romney may be responsible for the meningitis-related deaths.

“It goes all the way up to Mitt Romney,” a Michigan lawyer representing a few of the victims told Salon (because what better source for an impartial opinion than a lawyer?). “It goes directly to the heart of what Romney says about regulation, ‘Hands off. Let the companies do their thing.’”

“When the person who is supposed to be in charge of oversight does not believe oversight is necessary, this is what happens,” the lawyer added.

Philip Johnston, who served as Massachusetts’ Secretary of Health and Human Services before Romney took office, weighed in on the matter as well:

The philosophy of the Romney administration was to have lax regulations across the board.

It speaks volumes about the tragic outcome of Romney’s view on regulatory issues. There are two dozen people who died needlessly. It was clearly the responsibility of the company to protect them, but it was also the responsibility of the government at various levels, and, as far as I’m concerned, they failed.

The Salon report goes on to emphasize donations made to both Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown by the NECC in the hopes that readers will see this as an explanation for the MBRP’s soft approach to the pharmaceutical company.

So let's talk about this soft approach.

State records show that “between 2003 and 2006, there were six complaints regarding NECC and its co-owner, Barry Cadden. At least one of these complaints alleged that NECC’s methylprednisolone acetate failed to comply with pharmaceutical standards. This is the same drug involved in the current epidemic,” the Salon report reads.

“In October 2004, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy, a state regulatory agency reporting to Gov. Romney, offered to let NECC enter into a consent agreement that would have acknowledged professional misconduct by NECC warranting disciplinary action, a public reprimand and three years probation,” the report adds.

Let's dig deeper into this reprimand.

AP

The AP provides some background:

The pharmacy board recommended the reprimand after an investigation that followed a confidential report filed with a U.S. Food and Drug Administration district office in Stoneham in 2002. The report alleged that two patients had an unspecified "adverse effect" after taking an NECC compounded Betamethasone Repository Injection ...

However, in a letter dated Nov. 11, 2004, NECC attorney Paul Cirel pleaded with the MBRP to refrain from imposing a public reprimand on the company, arguing that it could be “potentially fatal” for their business. He also claimed that the NECC would gladly agree to all probationary terms and would even “bear the burden of cost and monitoring and reporting compliance” so long as a public reprimand could be avoided.

The MBRP eventually agreed to drop the reprimand.

This is where the Salon article tries to implicate Romney in the deadly outbreak. Because board members are appointed by the governor, and the board reports directly to the governor, and because the board wasn't more stringent with NECC, Mitt Romney is therefore responsible for meningitis. But let’s back up a second and get our timeline straight.

Romney was sworn in as Governor of Massachusetts on Jan. 2, 2003. But as the AP report notes, the NECC's troubles date back as far as 1999.  Moreover, as noted in Cirel's 2004 letter, the NECC actually passed FDA-assisted MBRP inspections prior to being offered the consent agreement.

In February 2004, NECC was inspected by a representative from the FDA and MBRP enforcement agents Leslie Doyle and James Emrey, both of whom were with the agency before Romney became governor. NECC passed the inspection. There were two more inspections later that year, one on Sept. 23 and one on Sept. 28, performed by Emery and Leo McKenna (who joined the MBRP as a “quality improvement coordinator” during Romney’s term as governor). The NECC passed both of those inspections.

Now it should be noted that although NECC passed said inspections, the FDA inspector cited previous concerns against the the company, and wrote: "It is this investigator's opinion that a formal reprimand should be issued."

In October of 2004, the MBRP offered NECC the consent agreement and Circel, in November of the same year, asked for the board to drop the public reprimand. The MBRP decided to take a vote on whether they should modify the terms of the consent agreement. Members of the board at that November 23, 2004 meeting included the following [Romney appointees in boldface]:

  • James T. DeVita
  • Karen Ryle
  • Marilyn M. Barron
  • Harold B. Sparr
  • Donald D. Accetta
  • Joel R. Berman
  • Steven Budish
  • George A. Cayer
  • William A. Gouveia
  • Sophia Pasedis

But according to the minutes of that meeting, these were the members who actually voted on the resolution [Romney appointees in boldface]:

  • James T. DeVita
  • Karen Ryle
  • Marilyn M. Barron
  • Joel R. Berman
  • George A. Cayer
  • William A. Gouveia
  • Sophia Pasedis

James T. DeVita, a member of the board before Romney became governor, motioned to deny Circel’s request and the Romney-appointed William A. Gouveia seconded the motion. The vote was “unanimous in favor.”

So far, so good, right?

Well, the motion to deny the request didn’t last long and the case ended “without disciplinary action as part of a different consent agreement reached with the board in 2006,” according to the Associated Press.

“Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state's office of health and human services, said the state has expanded its investigation to include how the 2006 consent agreement was reached, including why the board never issued the reprimand and whether that was related to the protest from the company,” the report adds.

AP

That’s strange. Why would they do that? As the investigation is ongoing, it’s hard to say. What we do know, however, is that the board took a vote on May 23, 2006, as to whether they thought NECC had sufficiently complied with the new terms.

This is who was on the board at the time of that vote [Romney appointees in boldface]:

  • Karen Ryle
  • James T. DeVita
  • Marilyn M. Barron
  • Harold B. Sparr
  • George A. Cayer
  • William A. Gouveia
  • Donald D. Accetta
  • Kathy Fabiszweski
  • Joel R. Berman
  • Steven Budish
  • Sophia Pasedis

However, according to the minutes of that meeting, this is who actually voted:

  • Karen Ryle
  • James T. DeVita
  • Marilyn M. Barron
  • Harold B. Sparr
  • George A. Cayer
  • William A. Gouveia
  • Joel R. Berman
  • Steven Budish

Harold Sparr, a pre-Romney board member, motioned to find NECC in compliance with the new consent agreement, Romney era George Cayer seconded the motion, and the vote was passed “unanimous in favor.”

That it’s. That’s Salon’s story. For reasons that we won’t understand until after the investigation is complete, the MBRP never issued the public reprimand, they worked out a new consent agreement with NECC, a board member who was there before Romney became governor motioned to vote on whether the pharmaceutical company was in compliance with the new agreement, and all members voted in favor of the motion.

Yes, Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007. Yes, he appointed certain members to the MBRP. Yes, they answer to him. But considering that there is nothing even hinting at his involvement in or knowledge of the NECC situation, the fact that the outbreak occurred ​five years ​after his term as governor, and the fact that the MBRP board at that time included members who were there before he was governor (and both votes were unanimous), is it really fair to write an article titled "Romney’s lax regulation may have fueled meningitis outbreak"?

Apparently, if you are a self-described liberal or if you work for a state-owned news agency, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Because Republicans:

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

All photos courtesy the AP.

Most recent
All Articles