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Congressional Caucuses Formed As Avenue of Private Influence

Congressional Caucus Formation: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation President and CEO Robert J. Beall and Vice President of Public Policy and Patient Affairs Suzanne Pattee stand behind Rep. Edward Markey and Rep. Cliff Stearns as they form the Congressional Cystic Fibrosis CaucusCF Foundation Develops Congressional Cystic Fibrosis Caucus in the USA, writes Cystic Fibrosis Foundation staffer Kathryn White in a moment of candor. (You can’t find this document directly on the internet anymore, but if you search for the headline on Google, then select the option “View as HTML,” you can review a cached version.) This isn’t the politic way to phrase the relationship between private entities and public officials, but in many cases it is the most accurate.

In this image from the Congressional Cystic Fibrosis Caucus Web Page (written and maintained by the CF Foundation itself), you can literally see CF Foundation President and CEO Robert J. Beall and CF Foundation VP for Public Policy and Patient Affairs Suzanne Pattee standing behind the new Congressional Cystic Fibrosis Caucus Co-Chairs, Rep. Edward Markey and Rep. Cliff Stearns, watching over their shoulders as they sign the caucus into existence in 2006. In case you were wondering, Suzanne Pattee was registered with the House of Representatives as a lobbyist for the CF Foundation from 2001-2006.

I’m not writing this as someone who’s against finding a cure for cystic fibrosis: two of my cousins had the disease, and I agree with those who’d like to rid the earth of this scourge. I also am not writing to denigrate the sincerity and good intentions of Suzanne Pattee and Robert J. Beall. The word “lobbyist” is too often tossed about as a denigration, but consider that every time you write your member of Congress or make a call to Capitol Hill, you are “lobbying” just as much as Suzanne Pattee.

What strikes me as important isn’t whether a particular cause is saintly or evil, but rather the fact that every good or bad effort has to compete for limited attention and limited resources. To promote government intervention in the effort to find a cure for cystic fibrosis a private group “developed” a congressional caucus, to use its own word. And the CF Foundation is hardly the only private group to stand behind a congressional caucus in some way, shape or form. There’s the Congressional Community Pharmacy Caucus, backed by the National Community Pharmacists Association. There’s the Biomedical Research Caucus, backed by the Coalition for the Life Sciences. There’s the Congressional Boating Caucus, backed by the the American Boating Congress. There’s the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, backed by the Bosniak American Advisory Council. There’s the Congressional Internet Caucus, backed up by a huge array of telecommunications corporations and big corporate players on the Internet.

A lot of people interested in understanding private influence over public policy pay attention to campaign contributions, and rightly so. But I think a bit more attention to, and transparency regarding, congressional caucuses is due.

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