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Bernie Sanders

Serious Drug Money

Sanders gives a speech at a Burlington Rotary lunch, calling out corporate greed in politics and the pharmaceutical industry.


Published August 11, 1999 at 1:00 a.m.

Quite the shindig underway this week down at Burlington's Radisson Hotel — the annual Eastern Regional Conference of the Council of State Governments (CSG). According to CSG's veteran director, Alan V. Sokolow, 300 state legislators from Puerto Rico to Maine and 200 reps and lobbyists from Corporate America have gathered for "an exceptional and unique networking opportunity." Mr. Sokolow told Inside Track Tuesday that the participants are involved in packed seminars "on issues current or on the horizon.”

The CSG annual conference is prime summer play school for state government-level politicians — visionary leaders one and all — and this summer Montpeculiar's Statehouse A-Team gets to play host. Republican State Sen. Bill Doyle and Democrat State Rep. Sally Fox are the official co-hosts. Hey, we're talking a top-shelf, first-class operation with dinner at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, boat rides on the Great Lake Champlain and hospitality suites where, several thirsty lawmakers told us, the bar tab is all taken care of. Got to love that networking stuff.

Of course, there's serious business, too. That includes workshops like "Strategies for Smart Growth," chaired by Sen. Elizabeth Ready. One on the future of the Internet, chaired by Rep. Matt Dunne. Another on “Team Building and Leadership in the New Millennium,” led by Sen. Dick McCormack and Speaker Michael Obuchowski (who could sure use a few pointers on reining in the Blue Dogs). And on the healthcare front there was a seminar, Tuesday morning, on “Managed Care: Lessons Learned for the New Millennium,” chaired by our own Sen. Helen Riehle.

But you won’t find any workshops on the big prescription drug rip-off despite the fact it’s currently a front-burner issue in Statehouses across the country and on Capitol Hill. That may be explained by the fact that the CSG extravaganza is bought and paid for — literally — by more than a dozen giant pharmaceutical companies, along with Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, General Electric, a bunch of banks and insurance companies and a Super Bowl list of corporate donors longer than three football fields.

However, the issue of the prescription drug scam was raised at the Radisson Hotel Monday, purely by coincidence.

Congressman Bernie Sanders was the guest speaker at the Burlington Rotary lunch. Because of the CSG shindig, the Rotarians were parked in the Seasons on the Lake restaurant on the second floor (great new chef, we hear). Ol' Bernardo, in his usual cut-through-the-bullshit style, railed against the "real pollution in politics" brought on by the "obscene" amounts of money Corporate America pumps into the Republican and Democrat campaign treasuries. Unaware of the CSG event, Bernie tore into the legal corporate drug-dealing sector, noting the United States, with the highest prescription drug prices on Earth, is the only nation that does not regulate drug prices. American taxpayers, he noted, even pay for the research for new drugs through the National Institutes of Health, yet still pay through the nose when those very same drugs hit their local pharmacies.

Mr. Sokolow told Seven Days our suggestion of a relationship between pharmaceutical funding and the selection of seminar topics is "not fair at all." He said he was "offended by the suggestion that we're run by anybody." He said, "It's important to have corporate perspectives to present." Besides, he added, "HMO reform is a much hotter topic."

Sure it is.

By the way, the CSG conclave attracted a couple national media stars as speakers: Chris Matthews of CNBC's "Hardball" and Mara Liasson, White House correspondent for National Public Radio. Ms. Liasson offered such insights as "Al Gore is not as stiff as people think."

Hmmm. She sounded like she misses Monica awful bad.

Afterwards we caught up with her on the hotel elevator as she rushed to catch her flight back to Foggy Bottom. We asked how much she was paid for her speech. She said, "I don't know." She said, "Call my agency," and gave us a number.

We rang up Keppler Associates in Arlington, Virginia. Vice president Gary McManis politely informed us, "We don't discuss our clients' fees."

Bad girl, Mara! If you can’t trust National Public Radio, who can you trust?

P.S. CSG Director Alan Sokolow said Mara-Hari’s check was “probably in the $7500-$10,000 range.” Jeezum crow, Inside Track is available for dirt-cheap rates and a much better political rap. Yeah, yeah. It’s all name recognition.

Fantasy Update — Seems like a long time since noted local impresario and professional stripper Shawn Cliche was arrested on assault charges following a little punch-up at Rasputin’s in the wee hours of December 1, 1997. Cliche allegedly punched out a brother and sister duo. Most assault cases, however, move a bit more quickly through the criminal justice system. “Speedy trial” is not something Mr. Cliche’s defense lawyer has been pushing for. Au contraire.

The Cliche case is still hanging around a year and a half after the incident. A check of the court file down at the Palace of Justice on Cherry Street indicates Shawn’s attorney, Karen Shingler, is apparently going for the Guinness Book of World Records title for most continuances granted in a Vermont barroom brawl case. So far, Crafty Karen has won seven continuances. But Judge Brian Burgess has finally put his foot down, or his robe down, or whatever it is that judges put down, and declared — no more continuances! The judge has requested two court days be set aside for the trail. The date will be set as soon as Deputy State’s Attorney Rosemary Gretkowski gets his witnesses all lined up.

"We look forward to putting the truth before the jury," said Shingler. A conviction in district court on a felony assault charge would sure put a damper on Mr. Cliche's future in the saloon business.

Don't you wish we had a local version of Court TV?

Jeffords' Fairholt Connection — There's a big fundraiser scheduled for Friday September 24 at Fairholt, Burlington's most expensive address. Fairholt owner Amy Tarrant is currently battling city hall over the palatial property's assessment for tax purposes, but the September event is purely political — a fundraiser for the reelection of U.S. Senator James Jeffords! Up to 300 contributors are expected. But it looks like the press won't be covering it from inside the locked gates. "Invited guests only," says Jeezum Jim's Burlington-bred chief of staff, Susan Boardman Russ. She didn't have a ticket price yet, but, gee whiz, Fairholt's certainly worthy of the $1000-a-plate clientele.

Just Passing Through — Democrat Party Chairman Dave Curtis passed away over the weekend. On Vermont's political landscape Dave will be remembered for pulling Democrats back together after the divisive reign of Chairman Steve Howard and facilitating the success of Doug Racine and Deb Markowitz while maintaining a Democrat majority in the state senate.

Personally, Dave Curtis will be fondly remembered for the lesson he gave on living out life’s final chapter, a freedom fighter to the candle’s last breath.